There was a time, many years ago, when games were simpler than what we know today. It wasn’t always about deep, engulfing stories or even engaging, addictive multiplayer; it was all about gameplay. Simple, yet addictive and effective gameplay. Specifically, I remember games like Karate Champ, a game I easily poured hundreds of dollars in quarters into throughout my childhood to do the same thing over and over. That addictive property was all that it took and was more than enough to keep gamers interested not for days, or weeks, but often years.
That is exactly the mentality that the developers at Qooc Soft appear to be going for with Kung Fu Strike: The Warrior’s Rise. The game is an old-school, arcade brawler at its heart. In that sense, it shows signs of success; unfortunately it tries to do too much in addition to that that it ultimately ruins the experience.
You play as General Loh, a soldier during the years of conflict in the Tian Empire. War has been raging in the Empire for years and you have set out in search of Master Mo of the Talin Temple in order to set up a base of operations for a rebellion. Unfortunately, Loh doesn’t just get the answers and resources that he is looking for but finds himself set on a personal path of redemption in order to put an end to the tyranny corrupting the Tian Empire.
In fleshing this adventure out, the game tries to tell you an engaging story but it just never succeeds. There are storyboard cut scenes presented between levels, but they serve as nothing more than something to hold you over until the level loads. You never really care or get to know any of the characters and it feels like you are joining the tale somewhere in the middle rather than at its genesis. I felt lost from the start and never became engaged with the story being told and it is presented in a manner that feels disjointed. The fighting engine that drives the gameplay is solid enough that we really don’t need to know “why” we’re fighting, but they seem intent on giving validity to General Loh’s cause, which really hinders the overall experience.
As Loh, you will be placed in a variety of levels and charged with taking down waves of enemies and bosses in a different locales and scenes. This is where the game struggles as these levels just seem thrown together and don’t flow as you would expect a story-based brawler to do; there is no sense of progression in them they feel random. You see a lot of the same enemies and bosses over and over, which has a little bit of class-c appeal The only real goal in these scenarios is to take down your foes as quickly as possible and amass the highest score possible. Your score is based on both your completion time and the variety and style used in your attacks; keeping your attacks flowing between opponents and racking up consecutive hits can lead to huge scoring bonuses.
Like an old school beat-em up, that is pretty much as deep as the game ever gets. You do earn coins throughout the gameplay that you can use to purchase new / special moves in order to diversify your arsenal, but in the end I never found myself using more than just the most basic attacks. This was mainly because of two facts; first off, it takes a lot of time to earn the coinage required to buy all of various upgrades. The other reason is that the core fighting mechanics are so rock solid that you are never inclined to use anything other than the basics.
The core fighting system is incredibly simple and as I have alluded to above, effective. All that you have to work with is attack, deflect, jump, and evade. The attack system is all about timing and reading your enemies attacks and reacting accordingly. Yes, it ultimately becomes a button mashing frenzy, but it is driven by knowing and reading your enemies, just like the old arcade games. In the midst of your flurries of attacks, you enemies can easily shift their stances or styles, requiring you to adjust yours by either maneuvering around them or taking the battle into the air. When things head into the air, the game feels a lot like the classic wire-kung-fu movies; pretty much all realism is suspended and your character can remain in the air for an eternity, as long as you continue to launch attacks on your foes. The transition between these various positions happens frequently and in a blink of an eye, which keeps you on your toes at all times. It is also extremely easy to switch between offense and defense on the fly, in a manner similar to something like Arkham Asylum or Arkham City; you will find yourself attacking one foe and then shifting yourself around to deflect another enemy’s attack and continuing on from there. As long as you master the art of reading the enemies and responding quickly, you will plow through everyone in your path.
Effectively taking down your enemies will help you build your Chi gauge which allows you to unleash a devastating super-move on your opponent. These moves are helpful in not only inflicting a lot of damage on your opponent(s) but also in terms of clearing out the space around you. They become more or less a way out of scenarios where you feel overwhelmed than anything else. It is variations in your Chi-gauge driven moves that can be purchased from the in game shop; unfortunately none of them are more effective than the ones you start off the game with. There are other things to purchase as well, including extensions to your health and chi gauges and the ability to summon AI controlled partners on the field.
In keeping with the old school, arcade style gameplay Kung Fu Strike focuses heavily on the use of leaderboards to drive replay value and competition between you and your friends. Aside from that and replaying levels to earn coins, there isn’t anything else that urges you to come back for subsequent plays. Leadeboards only work when the popularity of the game keeps them active and that could be a serious issue here. That isn’t to say that there won’t be people who won’t love this game; Kung Fu Strike definitely tapped into the old-school part of me and reminded me a lot of late weekend nights in Aladdin’s Castle or Putt Putt, pouring tokens and quarters into games like Karate Champ and Pit Fighter. It the game had stayed focuses on simply providing that beat’em up experience, it would have excelled a lot more than it does, but unfortunately that niche-charm is drowned out by the other forced components such as the muddled story and unnecessary upgrade system.
In the end, Kung Fu Strike ends up being as bland as the title that it bares. The game provides a little bit of fun fir the first couple of plays, but it quickly becomes monotonous and bland. The one saving grace is the old-school, timing-based combat system that drives the gameplay; it is a ton of fun to battle it out against hoards of enemies but in the end, you wish that it was used for more. If only they had taken this fighting engine and wrapped it up with an engaging and interesting story with characters that players could grow attached to. That didn’t happen though and what resulted is basically a semi-entertaining game that could have been so much more.