Reviewed: June 25, 2008
Released: June 3, 2008
It seems like every summer we have a little war of the high profile CGI movie companies Dreamworks Animation and Disney-Pixar happening in theaters across the nation. Over the years we have seen ogres taking on monsters, ogres taking on superheroes, woodland animals taking on racecars – we could go on and on.
As this summer of 2008 rolls around, the Dreamworks vs. Pixar battle is back – this time we find a Panda with a penchant for martial arts squaring up against a glorified vacuum cleaner with a heart, as Kung Fu Panda and Wall•E hit the big screens across the nation.
And as gamers, we know the given inevitability that any CGI movie release comes with a game release in tow – so we have the first of the warring titles, Kung Fu Panda for the Wii
Kung Fu Panda is a fairly standard 3D platformer that mixes in a bit of karate-style combat against waves of animalia attackers that include a score of punk rock biker pigs and a crew of looney monkeys.
The game is heavy with jumping puzzles; often requiring gamers to pull off precise leaps between small hanging platforms – a feat that is made unnecessarily difficult by an unwieldy camera (to be mentioned below). While missing a platform does not generally result in a fatal ending, it does pose an inconvenience as gamers often fall into previously explored areas and must retrace their steps to return to the platform locations – which are often quite a distance away.
For the Wii set, the game utilized a few motion-based puzzles, in which gamers have to use the rotation of the nunchuk attachment to balance Po as he crosses tightropes and narrow ledges. The inclusion of the balance mechanism takes a few tries to get used to, as Po’s top-heavy momentum will often act to overshadow controller’s twist. As with the jumping puzzles, falling from a wire generally leads to lengthy backtracking, so gamers will want to master their skills quickly.
The combat is carried out with a combination of button-based and motion-based input. Light attacks like rapid licks and punches are carried out with quick taps of the B trigger, while heavy attacks come from grand slashes and swings of the Wii remote. None of the enemies require much pummeling before they vaporize, including the regularly positioned minibosses.
Each stage plays out very much like a room-based brawler; our hero advances to an empty space in which four or five enemy minions appear, he quickly dispatches of them and in so doing unlocks the next empty space. Rinse, lather, repeat until the requisite level-capping boss character.
The actual boss characters require a bit of thought to exploit their attack patterns, lowering their health to the predefined level to initiate a button-based or motion-based puzzles similar to the PS2’s Sly Cooper or God of War. The trouble with the Wii is that the button callouts are not as detailed as they should be, and it is often hard to distinguish whether the game is requiring a shake of the Wii remote or the nunchuk. Still, after a handful of attempts, most bosses can be brought down quite easily as the button patterns do not change and simple memorization reigns.
Kung Fu Panda has all of the ingredients of a passable platformer, but the game simply lacks in overall implementation. It does not take long for the game to become tiring, frustrating, and even at times, infuriating – but seldom rewarding. This may be more a result of the console limitations than that of the developers’ skill (Luxoflux are generally tops in my book) – but the result is what counts and on the Wii, Kung Fu Panda just doesn’t cut the mustard.
If Kung Fu Panda was composed entirely of online screenshots, it would look awesome. The problem is, we gamers like to have our onscreen action to actually move around – and that’s right where Kung Fu Panda’s graphical prowess begins to disintegrate, literally.
I cannot count the number of times in which clipping was a serious issue – with Po often appearing to be wading thigh-deep in stone pathways and bridges, or finding himself momentarily stuck to objects in the scenery.
To further add insult to injury, the unwieldy and overly-sensitive camera was constantly getting in the way of the fun – often blocking the view of oncoming enemies, and making even the easiest of jumping puzzles entirely too precarious. In fact, we have often made reference to disorienting cameras in games, but Kung Fu Panda’s wild camera swings actually induced twinges of motion sickness in more than one gamer in my home.
That’s not to say there aren’t bright spots – the game supports true widescreen, has a stable of well-animated characters, and features quality texturing. It just falls apart when everything goes into motion.
Kung Fu Panda’s audio package is only a titch better than the visual package, coming mostly as a result of the quality voice acting throughout the game’s cutscenes. Ironically, while the voices are not those of the actual film’s stars, they are close enough impersonations that few gamers would notice.
Other than that, the Kung Fu Panda is fairly mundane on the audio front. You know you are in for trouble when a game recycles its entire library of one-liners and tag lines throughout each battle – and with Po repeating the same three phrases over, and over, and over, it does tend to get a bit tedious after a while.
Likewise, there is nothing compelling about the sound effects used in the game, other than noting that the audio effects library could have easily have been borrowed from a public domain samples collection.
Kung Fu Panda does little to further the movie-game genre – seeming a bit more like a rehash of previous games than adding anything new. The fact that the game only lasts about 3 to 4 hours does little to emphasize the overall value (although it did help put an early end to our suffering) – and even the inclusion of a handful of multiplayer modes (co-op battle, concentration-style matching, and ballista targets) can’t help save Kung Fu Panda.
After 10 years of reviewing movie-to-game conversions, I cannot say I expected Kung Fu Panda to be good, but if it were not for the poor controls, worse camera, and myriad technical guffaws it might have been an OK game. Some of the ideas are cool, but the execution is definitely not.
And while some may accuse me of being too hard on Kung Fu Panda, all I can say is that while there was definitely merit to the overall game design, this particular game frustrated me as much, or more, as any other game I have ever played on the Wii. And that is why Kung Fu Panda finds itself sitting square on the “rent before you buy” list.