|System: X360, PS3, Wii, PS2, PC, DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Vicarious Visions||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Activision||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: June 3, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Tony Capri
Gamers are all too familiar with the cookie-cutter process of video games made to support the latest big-budget action movie. Of course, it's now becoming increasingly difficult to determine whether such games are made to support their related blockbusters, or if those movies are merely two-hour-long advertisements for various merchandise. Either way, Kung Fu Panda DS is pretty much everything we've come to expect from a game like this, and though it does have some truly fun gameplay elements, it ultimately helps define "mediocrity" in gaming.
The game's story seems to follow that of its movie counterpart. You play as Po the panda, voiced by Jack Black. Po is a ramen maker by day, dreamer by night. He's oft found at work slacking off, daydreaming of great kung-fu adventures. Of course, one day those daydreams turn to reality, as Po is discovered to be the chosen dragon warrior, destined to save his people. Yeah, pretty cliché stuff here.
In a recent preview of the game, one writer likened Kung Fu Panda DS to "a furry version of Castlevania meets Spider-Man 3." (IGN.com) Fans of either of those games shouldn't get their hopes up about Kung Fu Panda DS. Though there may be some skin-deep similarities, this game neither offers the depth and polish of a Castlevania game, nor the smooth execution and overall enjoyment of Spider-Man 3.
Like Castlevania, though, Kung Fu Panda DS plays as a side-scrolling beat`em-up with a healthy dose of platforming. The combat is fairly simple. Using the touch screen to execute kung-fu moves, players will also use either the D-pad or face buttons to have Po move and jump. The set-up is sound, but the platforming makes controlling Po an uncomfortable and often un-fun process.
On the plus side, the touch screen reads commands very well. You can slash sideways on the touch screen to cause Po to do a side attack, slash sideways and slightly downward to have Po do a sliding, dash attack, and pretty much any direction you command Po to attack, he'll react accordingly. In essence, Po's combat moves work quite well. He can also jump and double-jump, he can grab enemies or other objects and then toss them, allowing you to either break the defenses of stronger foes, or crash through doors and obstacles. Along the way, Po will acquire various new moves, and they play into the level design fairly well.
What doesn't work quite so well are most of the platforming elements. For one, the controls - though well-suited for the game's combat - aren't set up to make for fun platforming. Unfortunately, Kung Fu Panda DS doesn't follow along the same lines as Castlevania in terms of keeping its platforming simple. The game calls for some complicated maneuvering, which is little fun to pull off when you've got a stylus in your other hand. Additionally, too often Po will end up stuck below platforms, unable to get back on track, and the only option will be to reload the current level. That said, if you can get past the impractical controls, there is some interesting, if not fun, platforming to be had. However, considering this particular title is likely aimed at the younger audience, the level of challenge makes little sense. Some of Kung Fu Panda's later levels can get downright grueling. Little tikes will likely give up somewhere after the game's midway point.