Let’s be honest, video games that are based on motion pictures aren’t usually well received by the gaming-public. There are occasional standout titles that will come along, like the early Lord of the Rings games and maybe one or two of the Spiderman games, but most of the others do little more than earn a permanent spot on the clearance rack(s) at retail stores. This is even more true when it comes to games based on children’s movies; they don’t usually end up being “hits” in the industry. DreamWorks’ original
Kung Fu Panda seemed to sort of break through those standards and defy expectations for the title. The original game, which was published by Activision, ended up being a certified hit both critically and by retail standards. The Xbox 360 version of the game in particular sold over 3 million copies and earned a spot in Microsoft’s 2008 Holiday-console bundle. Now, two years later, the sequel is headed to theaters and consoles next week. This time around, THQ has the reigns for the video game adaptation and is doing something a little different with the project.
THQ is actually developing a different title for each system Kung Fu Panda 2 is being released on. While the game will be released on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, and Nintendo DS, each game will be completely different. The Wii game is designed to make use of THQ’s uDraw Tablet, the DS version focuses on stylus-based gameplay, the PS3 version is an action-platformer, and the Xbox version is built entirely for Kinect. I have been fortunate enough to get some hands on time with a pre-release build of the Xbox 360 version of the game, which is due in stores on May 24, 2011, just days before the new movie lands in theaters. As I mentioned above, the 360 version of the game is designed to fully incorporate the usage of Microsoft’s Kinect peripheral. I will be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect when this assignment landed on my desk but to be honest, I had a blast with this game.
Kung Fu Panda 2 for the Xbox 360 puts you into the roll of a companion to Master Po, the main character of the film(s). Po, voiced by comedian Jack Black, will interact directly with the player by instructing them on how to play the game and giving you directions on various missions and obstacles in the game. You will go back and forth from being on the receiving end of his conversation(s) and controlling Po directly in various gameplay sequences. I was able to experience three different sequences in the version that we were provided: combat training / combat, rickshaw racing, and “Noodle Management”.
The game starts you off with some basic combat training and a couple of introductory battles. Players can use both feet and both arms to throw straight punches and kicks which cause Po to do the same on-screen against his enemies; you can also block incoming attacks by raising either you left or right hands individually, or at the same time to block overhead attacks. The game gives you a brief moment to react before the attack is launched but you still need to stay on your toes. You can also launch a jumping, double kick by simply leaping straight up into the air. The game does a great job in tracking your movement and reacting to your gestures.
As you progress through the game, your enemies will increase in difficulty and more advanced techniques will be unlocked including double punches and the ability to call in assistance from some of the other members of the Furious Five. Calling for assistance is done verbally by literally calling the name of the character available for support. When prompted, players will simply need to call out their partner(s) for a quick knockout of their opponent. The game also allows players to choose from a variety of fighting styles which are selected prior to battle by striking specific poses; you will earn these along the way and add a bit of variety to your offensive arsenal.
Following a series of combat stages, players will shift into rickshaw races which challenge your ability to react quickly to an ever-changing environment. This part in particular was especially responsive and a ton of fun not only for myself, but for my wife and daughter who joined in to give it a try. In this portion of the game, Po gives chase to his enemies while pulling a rickshaw. Different obstacles will appear in your path which you will need to either step to the side of or jump over; there will also be powerups and point bonuses scattered along the ground which you can pass over to increase your score. At the same time, the enemies with you are pursuing will continuously throw objects back towards you which you will need to block using the same defensive mechanics introduced in the combat portion of the game. I was extremely impressed with how responsive the game was in the rickshaw races. The developers seem to have nailed the concept established in Kinect Adventures and set the standard for how well this sort of gameplay should be done. If Kinect Adventures was half as reactive as Kung Fu Panda 2, it would have been a much better game. The courses can get downright hard too with a constant barrage of obstacles and attacks which will have you jumping, dodging, and blocking at a frantic pace.
The final gameplay section that I experienced was entitled “Noodle Management” and had Po returning to his roots of serving noodles to customers in his father’s shop. You are given the choice of three different colored bowls and a batch of noodles. As customers take their seats at one of three tables, they will hold up a color coded sign indicating the “type” of noodles that they wish to order. You will have to correctly select the corresponding bowl, mix up a batch of noodles, and throw it to the correct customer in a timely manner in order to score points. You will also need to be on your guard as unruly customers often throw their bowls back at you as well which will require a bit of defense in the form of blocking. This mode can also get quite hectic as the seats can fill up fast and everybody seems to want something different.
Unfortunately, I didn’t find this portion to be nearly as responsive as the other two. It was admirable and worked pretty well, but failed to live up to the standards set by the responsiveness and accuracy of the combat and racing portions of the game. This is one area that I truly hope is addressed in the retail version of the game before it launches. It isn’t anything that will break the overall gameplay experience, but it is definitely the weak link in the chain that is Kung Fu Panda 2. My only other concern with the title is the pacing early on; during the first few levels of the game, you will spend as much time watching loading screens as you do actually playing the game. This is something that isn’t much of an issue 2-3 chapters in, but the existence of the issue early on could turn a lot of gamers away from the start. I do recommend that you stick with it though because the overall experience provided by the game is worth it in the end.
THQ has done a great job in presenting the world of Kung Fu Panda as well; delivering visuals that are on par with the original films and using the same Hollywood voice actors that provide the dialog in theaters. Fans of the series will feel right at home in the Valley of Peace, especially the kids. While these gameplay commands don’t necessarily break ground in terms of anything we have seen from Kinect in the past, they definitely nail the implementation in the game. The character(s) react very quickly to your movements and gestures with little to no lag or “mis-reads” by the camera. The development team has created something that I think is the ultimate compliment to the film: an immersive experience that will bring fans “into” the world and allow them to feel like a part of it.
No, Kung Fu Panda isn’t going to compete with the likes of LA Noire and Portal 2 when it comes to the hardcore gamers but this could possibly be one of the bigger family hits of the year. Strong success in the theaters could very likely lead to huge sales on the gaming side, and rightfully so. I haven’t been that impressed with the Kinect offerings thus far, but this one really made great use of the hardware and did a great job of immersing the player into the Kung Fu Panda world. This game has done more to convince me of the potential of Kinect than any other that I have seen before it with the exception of Dance Central. I smell a second Holiday bundle in this series’ future...
Look for Kung Fu Panda 2 in stores on May 24, 2011 on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, and Nintendo DS.