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Reviewed by Jason Thompson
aybe it will surprise you that “Kung Fu Panda” is actually a very solid, engaging and fun game to play. After all, it seemed to surprise the hell out of everyone that the animated film on which it is based was met with good critical approval as well. It’s OK to be surprised, though. As we know, most video games based on movies are often just quick cash-ins to simply make money, and to hell with the actual substance of the product. That “Kung Fu Panda” is such a success, though, is probably going to make it one of the best sleeper surprises in video games this year.
But let’s turn back the clock just a little bit. As you’ll recall, thanks to Nintendo and the whole “Super Mario Bros.” craze, platform games became a staple of video game culture. The platform genre was alive and well up until this latest gen of video game consoles hit the market. For some reason, gamers have been treated to less platforming and more first and third-person shooter games the past few years. This is a shame really, as it seemed that the platform games (at least the ones who actually tried) could always rake in some dough from the fans enjoying them. So it was nice to see that “Kung Fu Panda” succeeds as a new platformer, and contains all the classic elements that a good game of this type should have.
“Kung Fu Panda” the game is not a literal remake of the movie. Players control Po (yes actually voiced here by Jack Black like in the movie – a good move on Activision’s part), the rotund panda who loves martial arts and daydreams about being the greatest Kung Fu champion in the Valley of Peace. Soon enough, he finds himself named as the Dragon Warrior and must be trained under Master Shifu and battle alongside the Furious Five, each of whom also believes that they are entitled to the title of Dragon Warrior. Together they must work together to try and defeat their enemy, Tai Lung, and stop him from taking the Dragon Scroll and destroying the Valley of Peace.
Anyone familiar with a platform game will feel right at home here. Po must traverse different levels, smashing objects to gain coins which can be used for upgrades, completing side quests such as finding a set amount of different objects or rescuing captured citizens from cages, all the while battling bad guys using Kung Fu attacks and also jumping from surface to surface to scale walls, buildings, and the like to reach other areas of the game maps. Classic stuff 101. Those who love such series as “Ratchet and Clank” can pick up this game and intuitively know how to play without cracking the manual.
At times, players will control Master Shifu as well as individual members of the Furious Five. The Shifu levels play just like the Po levels, but the Five’s moments throw in a nice dash of variety to the game. Crane gets two missions to complete, one of which is flying through storm clouds while attempting to dodge lightning, and knocking down vultures. The second one involves carrying Po down the length of a river while a giant crocodile attempts to take him out. The camera is such that the action is pointed towards the player a-la those great old “Crash Bandicoot” levels where Crash would be racing toward the screen while a giant boulder or crazed animal chased after him.
In addition there are a few “God of War” moments in which players have to execute a series of button commands that appear on screen to defeat opponents. A few of these will take repeated attempts, but nothing that becomes exasperating in the end. This is one of the game’s biggest strengths. There is actually enough challenge here to give even the most seasoned player a run for his money. And with three difficulty settings, anyone can basically enjoy this game.
The other great thing about “Kung Fu Panda” is how absolutely beautiful the graphics are. Great attention was not given just to the cut scenes, but to the in-game play as well. This is a most welcome surprise, given that games such as these usually don’t have much care put into them when it comes to the details. Water reflections are actually gorgeous and the backgrounds are always a delight to view. Occasionally, the game seems to have a bit of an odd “wavy” look on the screen from time to time, as if there is some slowdown occurring, but it doesn’t happen often enough to dock the overall rating too seriously.
However, this sort of game is definitely going to appeal to a certain faction of gamers. That’s not a bad thing at all, but it’s a safe bet that those who are into their hardcore gaming modes will find “Kung Fu Panda” a bit of a trifle and a breeze to play through. So be it. For everyone else – and yes, the kids, too – it’s simply a wonderful game that actually does have some fine replay value to it. It won’t take the older gamers long at all to beat – you could do it in a day if you really wanted to – but “Kung Fu Panda” is indeed a great surprise and plenty of fun to experience. If only all movie games could be this enjoyable.