IGN Review of Kung Fu Panda
Traditionally, videogames based on movies have several extra hurdles to leap over on the way to store shelves. Tight budgets, quick production schedules and the need to release alongside the movie whether or not the game is ready often result in less than stellar offerings for us gamers. Luxoflux, the team behind the Kung Fu Panda videogames, may or may not have had to face these challenges but if it did, the studio took them on in an intelligent manner. The production values are high, the graphics are clean and crisp, and the action even has some depth to it. This money well spent may be the cause of the game's single major issue: Somehow the game is only about twice as long as the film (depending on your skill set) but costs five times more than seeing it in the theater.
A note to Luxoflux: If your game can be beaten in three or four hours, don't include a game clock to let people know exactly how short the experience was.
So anybody that plays videogames on a regular basis can probably skip this one. The ride is short and there isn't much challenge to make completing the game feel rewarding. But then, core gamers aren't the target audience. Po the Panda and his crew of master ninja animals were designed by Dreamworks with the young and young at heart in mind and the videogame is no different. The game is rated by the ESRB as being fit for everyone 10 and older, but this game is fine for any young fan of the movie.
Kung Fu Panda follows the black and white hero with a TMNT-esque vocabulary across 13 brief stages, some featuring moments from the movie and others made specifically for the game, on his quest to become the Dragon Warrior and save the world from the over-ambitious Tai Lung. It's the inspirational story you've watched a thousand times in cartoon form: A young character has a dream, but isn't the traditional fit for that role. With a little perseverance and a bit of believing in himself, he beats all odds and becomes the hero. Everyone goes home feeling happy. Or in the words of Po, everyone feels "totally awesome."
Like all pandas, Po makes use of his natural gifts to take on the obstacles put in front of his oversized belly. His natural gifts, of course, have to do with his portly shape. He can do simple attacks and combos or start using some Chi to do belly bashes, roll around like a bowling ball or bounce enemies around with his gut. In between levels, players can spend coins to upgrade these moves, as well as unlock extra costumes or boost Po's stats.
It's the kind of gameplay all designers shoot for when they make games for kids, but rarely hit the sweet spot the way they do with Kung Fu Panda. The action is simple and easy to get into, yet still offers a bit of depth for those looking for a tad more. Most levels have primary and secondary missions, setting a low bar but encouraging players to excel with unlockable rewards and achievements. There's a nice mix of action too, splitting the game up into combat, light exploration, and platforming, keeping things from growing repetitive and stale. Gamers will even find themselves briefly taking control of a few other characters including the zippy Master Shifu to spice things up.
The real success in Kung Fu Panda is that it has a look and feel that isn't too far away from what you'd expect out of the movie itself. From the high quality lighting effects to the smooth combat animations, there's a lot to like here. It's not perfect -- there are occasional animation hitches when climbing and grappling and the game does reuse environments -- but the style and execution are high quality. The sound and voice work is also of a high quality. The sound-alike voice actors put on performances befitting of the target audience and the effects aren't half bad.
Kung Fu Panda features a small set of multiplayer mini-games to keep the whole gang occupied…as long as the gang is limited to four people. It's all offline, which is a bit of a drag, and several of the game features and modes must be unlocked by collecting special coins in the single player game. The mini-games range from traditional brawlers in the vein of Super Smash Brothers (but not nearly as good) to a Kung Fu Panda themed Reversi. These distractions have the same level of polish as the main game, but aren't as much fun.
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