Kung Fu Panda Review
Written : Saturday, June 14, 2008
By: Alan Pettit (GT: The Pants Party)
Kung Fu Panda is the latest adaptation of a family movie, this time centering around a Dreamworks film about a panda and his quest to be a grand Kung Fu master. I've played my fair share of awful kid's games so I was a bit reluctant to get into this one but the movie looked pretty funny and Jack Black was doing the voice-work so I agreed to take it on. I researched it a bit at work before picking it up, noting that the devloper was Luxoflux who have not worked on a game in over four years, their previous effort being Shrek 2 on the last-gen consoles. Again, reluctance crept over me. I stayed true and paid my eight dollars after work to rent it. I must say I was surprised when I sat down the following day and played.
The story focuses as mentioned around a panda named Po and his search to be a Kung Fu master. It so happens that a tournament is being held near his village so he sets off to watch. Unfortunately he is locked out so he cooks up a crazy plan to strap some fireworks to a chair and rocket over the walls. As he crash-lands inside the old master tortoise Oogway is about to choose who he believes to be the next "Dragon Warrior" and his finger lands directly on Po. The actual Kung Fu trainees (Tigress - a tiger, Viper - a viper, Monkey - a monkey, Crane - a crane and Mantis - a mantis... so they don't get points for originality) are dumbstruck but do not want to question him, as is the case with their trainer Master Shifu (also a panda, but a Red Panda, which are much smaller). They all go along with the choice and are surprised to see Po develop over the course of the game, learning the ways of Kung Fu and developing his own style to fit his portly physique.
Surprisingly good graphics for a family game.
The game is very much a traditional platformer but it expands upon the fighting system better than others have in the past. You have your normal light and heavy attacks, along with block and dodge. However, the biggest addition is Po's special attacks, namely the belly flop which causes splash damage and the panda stumble which turns you invincible as you bounce around the levels like a bowling ball, defeating your foes in the process. The special moves use up a meter called Chi which you will need to replenish with blue orbs earned from fallen enemies or broken boxes. The screen is very nicely laid out and the controls are quickly learned with the help of small tutorials through the first few levels.
In addition to the expanded fighting system, there are times when you'll need to perform quick button-pressing sequences to progress. These mostly come during the boss fights, but they are a nice touch to ward off the monotony of simply doing the same fighting combos all day long. You'll also have the chance to play as some of Po's friends at certain points. For instance, two flying sections require Crane and a few parts will leave Po needing help from Shifu or Monkey to pass certain areas. Unfortunately you only get to use Tigress, Mantis and Viper during the button-pressing sequences.
The graphics are surprisingly well done for this type of game. I remember playing Shrek the Third and wondering why I was back in 1994 on my Sega Genesis. Kung Fu Panda doesn't even come close to that problem, both in-game graphics and cut-scenes looking excellent. I wouldn't say they're anything like the heavy-hitters like BioShock but they are by far some of the best I've seen in a kid's game, looking more like the movies they are portraying than an old-school arcade port. Once in a while there were some camera issues where I'd be looking through the trees in the background or some boxes up close, but for the most part it followed at safe distances and avoided objects. One thing this had that most family games lack is the ability to move the camera yourself, giving an excellent control of your fighting and treasure-hunting.
The multiplayer is an added bonus for fans.
Speaking of treasure-hunting, each level is comprised of mini-objectives and extra hidden items that will either serve toward 100% level completion or unlock extra art and movies in the extras menu (respectively). Some collectibles also unlock extra multiplayer levels. Multiplayer consists of 14 levels when all is said and done, each focusing on a specific game. There are a few simple mini-games much like Memory or Bejeweled as well as some basic deathmatch (or "brawler" as they call it) maps. The others are team games, either total co-op or 2v2 matches. Not exactly the best collection of multiplayer out there, but for children I can imagine this would be a very welcome addition to the game.
Also during the levels you'll want to grab all the shiny gold coins dropped by enemies and found in smashed items, as you can upgrade Po at any point (or wait until the post-level recap screen) to increase an impressive number of things. There are the obvious life and Chi bars, as well as fast and strong attacks. However, you can also increase specific combos (such as a "juggle" combo of X, Y) as well as all your special moves. Depending on how you fight, increasing each area will be a huge help. Myself, I'm a fast attack button-masher, so that and health went up first since I tend to go head-on into a group of enemies and slap them around. I end up getting overwhelmed and run away for a second to get my bearings, then the dance repeats itself. Great fun. There are also a few extra costumes to unlock, though they are by far the most expensive things in the game and don't offer anything other than a different look for Po.
No match for the Dragon Warrior!
The voice-work in the game is superb. Even when companies spend that extra dough to sign the movie's actors on, the actors usually phone it in and sound completely unenthusiastic to be a part of the project. Jack Black in the role of Po was fantastic. He really delivers his lines and gives the game the same enthusiasm he does in the movie. Granted, I haven't seen the movie, but the trailers all look great. And to be honest, playing this game made me want to see the movie even more, something a good movie tie-in should do, regardless of the medium. Video game tie-ins almost always come out before the movies they represent, most likely for this exact purpose: to hook people into seeing the movie. Mission accomplished, Dreamworks.
The achievements are a bit annoying and somewhat more difficult than you'd expect for a family game, but they are good achievements overall. You're forced to play the game twice which I never agree with but this one pulls it off much better than some other games. There are 13 secret achievements for getting 100% level completion on the hardest difficulty and one for finishing the game on said difficulty. Another 13 achievements are awarded for 100% completion on any difficulty and one for beating Medium difficulty, but these do not stack together with the secret achievements. To get 100% in a level you have to finish every mini-objective in the levels, mostly for finding a number of hidden items or protecting certain things from being stolen or destroyed by enemies. There are a number of other achievements for performing hit combos or avoiding damage in a level, as well as one for not dying through the entire game and finding every collectible. A very balanced list but still a fairly quick 1000.
Excellent voice-work by Jack Black and an overall decent collection of background music and sound effects are a nice surprise.
For a family game, this is fantastic. Excellent character graphics, backgrounds and even nice water detail. Not exactly up there with Gears or BioShock but it is ahead of its class in the Family department.
More controls than usual for a family game, but they're all easy to grasp and useful enough that you'll want to remember them. The camera movement takes a bit to get used to as it seems backward but after a level or two you'll feel right at home.
Being dead honest, I enjoyed this game. Good graphics, controls, voice-work and all the humor you'd expect from a Dreamworks film. A plot that actually makes sense and makes good use of the characters and control system. I didn't even mind going through the game twice for the achievements.
More and more games are requiring multiple plays through, but the downside is most of those games you'd never want to play twice. This one was enjoyable both times and I was able to squeeze every achievement but one during those two plays. I did have to grind for coins a bit to purchase every upgrade and I had to replay a few levels to find missing collectibles, but mostly everything is right out in the open. You are tasked with two tough ones: beating the game without dying and finishing a level without being hit. Fortunately you can reload a save if you fail either task and continue from where you left off without upsetting the achievement. A quick, easy 1000 but an enjoyable one.
Except maybe Viva Pinata, this is the most enjoyable family game I've played thus far. I can't in good conscience give it a score to rival any of the fabulous shooters or RPGs on the console, but it is far removed from the dredges with Golden Compass or Jumper. A fun story filled with excellent humor (all delivered with grace by Jack Black) alongside good graphics and simple controls. That's a good video game in a nutshell right there.