Review by Johnus Maximus
In the summer of 2008, DreamWorks Animation brought to the silver screen a new breed of action hero, one who is clumsy, lazy, overweight and extremely hairy. Jack Black was the voice of this animated hero, Po, also known as the Kung Fu Panda.
Around the same time, video game adaptations appeared on Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, Wii, DS and PC. The Xbox version, developed by Luxoflux and published by Activision, loosely follows the storyline of the film and is a fun and easy to grasp platform adventure game suitable for all ages.
The Valley of Peace is normally a peaceful place, hence the name, but a disturbing vision leads kung fu master Oogway to hold a tournament to see which of the valleys inhabitants is destined to become the Dragon Warrior, a fabled hero that will hold incredible power and defeat the menacing villain, Tai Lung. Each of the members of elite fighting squad The Furious Five believe it will be them, but little do they know of the ambitions of a lowly noodle-seller’s son.
This unassuming hero bumbles his way into the stadium where the tournament is being held and is chosen by the sagely turtle Oogway to be the new Dragon Warrior, to the dismay of the Furious Five and their trainer, Master Shifu, who all believe the destiny of the land to be forsaken. The game follows the movie plot pretty closely, but with some additional content to bulk it out a bit, so that you get more than two hours of play.
From its opening scenes you are instantly aware of how much this game visually resembles the movie, huge attention to detail has been made to get the look and feel of the environments and character art spot on. Additionally, the voice talent is incredible and will definitely fool you for quite a while into believing it really is Jack Black narrating and providing vocal effects for the panda, instead of the slightly less well known Mick Wingert.
You won’t be sanding decks and painting fences in this dojo
The game play is very easy to access, combining combat, platform exploration and basic puzzle solving – imagine if you will a cross between Crash Bandicoot and Devil May Cry. Although ultimately quite easy for competent gamers, I would imagine that for the younger gamers at whom the title is aimed the learning curve is steep enough to allow completion yet provide a challenge. In addition to the single player story mode there are some multiplayer minigames and a host of unlockable extras to offer value for money.
The first of thirteen levels sees you controlling Po and learning all the basic fighting moves at his disposal. Although he is no hero yet, he has watched a lot of Kung Fu movies and so is familiar enough with the concept of chop, kick and block to allow you to defeat minor opponents. As you progress through the stages you are able to upgrade these skills and learn new ones using the gold you collect during each mission, shaping the progression of Po from noodle boy to dragon warrior.
As you traverse the different environments in the game you will be able to see some impressive graphics, I was most impressed by the way water behaved, on a level where you jump from lily pad to lily pad and create ripples and waves, it seemed so realistic and is probably the best water I have ever seen in a video game. It’s the shame that the game itself gets a bit samey after a while, although you get to fight different types of enemy, they can all usually be dispatched quickly by the use of one move – the belly flop.
Po clamps down on the illegal trade of baby turtles
Although the game does tend to get a bit repetitive and retread ground so often covered by platform games that have preceded it, Kung Fu Panda is really saved by the genuine effort made to imitate the style of the film it is based on. Improvements could have been made on the replayability side of things, for example being able to choose to play a previously completed level, rather than start right from the beginning would have definitely made collecting hundreds of coins and rare statues more fun.
As with a lot of games, the multiplayer is not the strongest element, but does provide some fun. A couple of the games involve combat and are clearly styled on Super Smash Brothers, but as well as games to test your physical prowess there are also puzzle games to strengthen your mind. These didn’t hold my attention for long, but probably because I prefer my minigames a bit more wacky and random, like in Wario Ware.
This game has been one of the better movie tie-ins that I have played of late and I’m hopeful that Activision will choose an equally good developer for their next DreamWorks game, Monsters vs Aliens. At the moment you will probably be able to find Kung Fu Panda bundled along with the brilliant Lego Indiana Jones and an extra wireless controller for around £40 at play.com, which is a really great deal.
The villainous Tai Lung faces his Master Shifu
That about covers the game, it doesn’t have a lot of depth but certainly is fun for a while. It is a fantastically good representation of the film and although a little repetitive is easy to grasp and relatively unthreatening, perfect for the younger gamer.
Kung Fu Panda scores three and a half deadly throwing stars out of five