IGN Review of Kung Fu Panda
Kung Fu Panda, a Nintendo DS kung fu adventure based upon the Dreamworks animated release, is essentially an evolution of the stylus-focused combat design that Vicarious Visions employed in the excellent DS rendition of Spider-Man 3. In the time between releases, the designers tweaked the engine a bit here and altered a bit there but the core remains pretty similar to last year's webslinging game. Kung Fu Panda features a solid and fun experience but it's hard to ignore the awkwardness of some of the new touch-screen mechanics.
Though Vicarious Visions' past Dreamworks-to-DS adventures such as Shrek the Third and Over the Hedge have been "side-quest" situations to the theatrical release, Kung Fu Panda is a bit more of a straight-forward retelling of the movie it's based on. Plot points have obviously been shifted around a bit in the story conversion from film to videogame, but the whole idea of Po the panda going from idiot fat bear to Kung Fu Master is still the central theme in the DS title.
The designers definitely "borrowed" a little more than a bit of inspiration from Castlevania and Metroid for Kung Fu Panda – hey, if you're going to lift ideas, might as well take from the finest games out there, right? The main difference is that Kung Fu Panda is controlled through D-pad and stylus combinations. Like Spider-Man 3, players kick and punch with combo attacks by swiping their stylus on the touch-screen – Po the Panda will react contextually to whatever you're doing on the touch panel. A slash right or left is different than, say, an upward swipe, as is a diagonal downward stylus slash. It's not just relegated to attacks – you can pick up and throw items using the stylus
Like Castlevania and Metroid, at the start of Kung Fu Panda you're weak in capabilities, only able to kick and punch at enemies with limited attacks. But as you progress through the adventure structure you'll open up new moves and features, like a belly flop that can destroy log bridges and – in a shameless ripoff of Metroid – roll up into a ball to access smaller passages. Because the game lifts its foundation from the fantastic Spider-Man 3 engine, Kung Fu Panda offers a similar satisfying stylus-based game design. The combat system is clever in its structure, requiring a little more thought to get rid of enemies: ones with shields must have an object thrown at them first before you wail on them, ones in green armor must be crushed with a special move and then you can go to town with Kung Fu kicks. Many levels are action-focused but others have clever puzzles where you'll need to throw enemies around the environments in order to trigger switches and doors.
But even with the design thievery the developers stay a little too rigid and linear in the world's structure. In Castlevania and Metroid, you'll wander into rooms with areas you might not be able to access, but with the upgrade in abilities you'll open up the branching path to the other parts of the world. In Kung Fu Panda, there are very few instances of this – instead, you'll just unlock a new kung fu move or skill, and then a door will open to the next portion of the map. There's very little in the way of exploration here, and that's just a little disappointing for a game with adventure potential.
Another missed opportunity is the lack of "po ball." Hey, if you're going to steal the Samus morph-ball as a feature for your game, you might as well go whole hog. But the only real opportunities you have to roll into a ball is to "crawl" into smaller exits and to get an extra boost of speed to leap over wide gaps. There aren't any "morph ball" mazes or anything that puts this bouncy panda to use. Kung Fu Panda teases a cool physics engine, but it's only used for throwing boxes around with a meaty bounce. But it could have been cool to have this physics engine used for Po ball level designs.
And the further you go into the game the more moves get added to the touch-screen motions – and yes, many times you'll want to do one move and it'll force you into another. Kung Fu Panda's touch screen attacks are a little weird in that any time you hold the stylus to the touch panel time stands still until you perform a move. Perhaps this was added to make sure that the game does what the player wants, giving the player time to change his mind…but some motions share moves, and others depend on where the enemy is on the screen. Give it time and you can figure out what the game wants, but even when you do you'll still occasionally find yourself doing moves you never intended.
But it's hard to hate on Kung Fu Panda because even with its little quirks and rigid level designs there's definitely a good amount of fun and cleverness. It's certainly not a quickly-developed license cash-in of a DS game.
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