Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting
Earlier this year, Kung Fu Panda released in theaters as well as making its way across gaming platforms. Though a movie sequel isn’t due out anytime soon, the fat and cuddly brawler, Po, has returned to DS for another adventure, presumably in support of the film’s DVD release this month. Our last experience with Kung Fu Panda on DS was less than stellar, but we’re happy to report that Activision does a much better job providing value for players this time around.
For starters, Legendary Warriors is a very different game from the first Kung Fu Panda DS. Whereas the last game attempted to provide a side-scrolling adventure in the vein of Spider-man 3 (DS), Legendary Warriors is a no-bones-about-it beat-‘em-up, á la Golden Axe or Streets of Rage. The game has a very basic structure with fairly simple combat, yet it trumps the first game in almost every way.
Once again, you’ll play as Po (the Kung Fu Panda), but you’ll also take on the role of his fellow Furious 5 member, Tigress. Though some levels are recycled later in the game, Po and Tigress play differently enough from each other to make playing through each character’s levels fun and interesting. Po is slower yet more powerful; Tigress is graceful and quick on her feet. Both characters have light and heavy attacks as well as the ability to block, dodge, and jump. Po and Tigress can also chain attacks, using simple combinations of the X and Y buttons.
The gameplay in Legendary Warriors is broken up into straight-forward levels that are a nice slice of on-the-go gaming. Though the game spices things up a bit with boss stages as well as stages where you merely stay in one area and fend off constantly spawning foes – for the most part, levels are a simple matter of scrolling from one end of a stage to the other, defeating baddies and building up a multiplier (called Ki) along the way. Legendary Warriors takes inspiration from games like Fable and allows you to maximize your strength and ability to collect points by successfully defeating enemies without being hit. When enemies are defeated, they release blue orbs that stack on your Ki meter, building your multiplier. Within each level, there are destructible elements that also release these orbs. Like Fable, if you take damage or go too long without collecting orbs, your multiplier will diminish. However, the higher your multiplier goes, the more damage you’ll do and points you’ll receive.
Though the game isn’t an epic adventure, there are incentives to go back and redo stages. You collect stars during levels by reaching certain point caps, and only by collecting a set number of stars will you unlock the game’s later levels. Additionally, Po and Tigress will gain new abilities as you progress through the game and earn more stars, though some abilities are not explained quite clearly enough. Regardless, combat is fun and oddly addictive. The game also does a much better job than the first Kung Fu Panda DS of matching its gameplay difficulty with its targeted audience. There’s enough challenge here to entertain most gamers, but it’s also a forgiving adventure that should work especially well for young fans of the franchise.
Along with Po and Tigress’ other abilities, they can each heal themselves at any time throughout a level by simply holding the R-button. It costs nothing, really, except time. It might sound like an addition that makes the game too easy, but time is orbs in Legendary Warriors. It’s a system that actually balances gameplay quite nicely. More experienced gamers who won’t need to rely on this technique will be able to keep their Ki up, affording them better scores, more stars, and accelerated progress throughout the game. On the flipside, novice gamers can break for ramen, thus regaining their strength for the next encounter.
In addition to being able to heal, each character will gather Chi, either through attacking or being attacked. As your Chi (stress) meter increases, you’ll eventually be able to unleash a powerful attack that cannot be blocked by enemies, and you’ll be impervious to damage for the duration of the Chi attack. These specials are executed by tracing random symbols that appear on the screen when you tap the Chi meter. Though these attacks add to the game’s overall entertainment factor, the execution can be a bit clumsy. That said, a finger works almost as well as the stylus, as tracing Chi symbols requires no real accuracy.
We applaud Activision for giving us a much better Kung Fu Panda to play on DS, but the game is far from perfect. Perhaps the most common issue players will come across is merely being able to see enough of the battlefield at various points throughout a stage. Environmental objects will often pop up in front of your character, completely obscuring your view, thus leaving you vulnerable to cheap enemy attacks. Another problem has to do with some of the game’s platforms, as the geometry doesn’t always match up quite right with the gameplay. Lastly, some of the DS-centric, touch-screen elements don’t work all that well, and they’ll often bog down your level progression as you reach for your stylus.
On the production front, Legendary Warriors seems to follow the “less is more” philosophy, as there is no voice work, no animated cutscenes, yet the game is better for it. The 3D graphics seem to be produced using the same engine as before, but Legendary Warriors sticks with a slightly more basic style that works well to complement its straight-forward, beat-‘em-up gameplay. Character models aren’t greatly detailed, but they animate smoothly. The backgrounds, however, are perhaps the game’s graphical highlight, showing off lovely trees and Chinese architecture. Overall, though the visuals still lack some polish, Legendary Warriors remains easy on the eyes.
The soundtrack, too, is improved, as sound effects and themes do a much better job of…doing their job. Cool attack sounds and Oriental-inspired sound effects, along with music that sits well in the background, all lend something entertaining to the presentation as you make your way through stages.
Kung Fu Panda: Legendary Warriors for the DS does a lot right, and Activision gets a big pat on the back from us for it. It’s a simple beat-‘em-up that stays within the realm of tried-and-true gameplay conventions, but it’s addictively fun and offers real replay value. It could use a bit more polish in the graphics department, and not all the touch-screen elements are welcome additions to the adventure. Regardless, it’s a game Po fans will be happy to bring with them for a bit of portable fun.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.3 Graphics
The environments look pretty good and there’s plenty of variety, but objects often obscure the view, causing issues with the gameplay. Slowdown isn’t uncommon when things get busy onscreen. 3.9 Control
It’s a button masher, but a fun one. Moving between buttons and stylus can get a tad clumsy, but it’s nothing that truly hinders the gameplay. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Sound effects are fun and effective, and the music works well as a backdrop to the gameplay. There’s no voice work this time around, but we really didn’t miss it. 3.4
The game’s pretty short, but there are incentives to revisit stages. Lack of multiplayer is disappointing.
3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.