Kung Fu Panda Review for the Nintendo DS (NDS)

Kung Fu Panda Review for the Nintendo DS (NDS)

Crouching Panda, Hidden Fun

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.

Kung Fu Panda screenshot

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.

Kung Fu Panda screenshot

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.

Kung Fu Panda screenshot

If the platforming doesn’t throw the little ones for a loop, the lack of clear objectives likely will. For the experienced gamer, figuring out what to do at various points in the game is often an exercise in frustration. For younger gamers, this could mean simply giving up on the experience altogether.

Kung Fu Panda screenshot

Luckily, the levels are short, as is the entire game. Those folks who actually purchase Kung Fu Panda DS will be glad to see the experience wrap up quickly, as the majority of the level design feels uninspired and often poorly executed. Most gameplay elements are lifted right out of classics, such as Metroid or Super Mario Galaxy; however, it’s clear the inspiration here was not to make a fun game, but rather to cash in on a movie franchise.

Unfortunately, though the game is indeed quite short, much of its length is stretched out via backtracking. Thankfully, you’ll frequently gain new moves to help you make your way back without having to re-navigate previous platforming portions. But when the levels aren’t necessarily fun to begin with, going through them a second or third time doesn’t help to endear fans to the game.

In the same way the gameplay comes off as somewhat slapped together, the graphics, sound, and overall presentation seem to have had little love injected into them. Kung Fu Panda DS uses a decent 3D-graphics engine, but the finished product looks quite rough around the edges – the term “rushed” comes to mind. Surprisingly, however, the game contains a host of voice work, quite a bit from the movie’s main star, Jack Black. However, even Jack Black fans will find his acting to be less than convincing. As with pretty much everything else that went into the game, Black’s voice work sounds like…well, it sounds like work.

Vicarious Visions (Kung Fu Panda DS’ developer) have churned out some decent portable games in the past, even a decent movie-based game here and there (see Over the Hedge DS). Kung Fu Panda DS, however, isn’t one of the developers’ finest products; it’s really not even recommended for fans of the movie. The game is short, there are no multiplayer options, no extras, and little reason to come back to Kung Fu Panda DS after its completion. It does, however, offer some mildly enjoyable, beat`em-up fun, but you’ll have to venture through a lot of frustrating platforming, as well as senseless backtracking, to get at it. Overall, the package is perhaps a poster child for what we’ve come to know as the typical, uninspired, fast-food gaming of movie tie-ins. If the game were priced relative to fast food, Kung Fu Panda DS might be worth a look for fans of the movie. But at the premium price, gamers are advised to save their cash.

The graphics engine is solid, but the finished product looks rushed. 3.0 Control
The touch-controlled combat works, but with so much platforming going on in Kung Fu Panda, things can get a bit clunky. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
It’s always nice to hear voice work on the DS, and Kung Fu Panda has plenty of it. That said, the voice work sounds pretty uninspired, and the music and sound effects are forgettable. 2.5

Play Value
The level design feels slapped together, the game’s quite short, and there are no extras to satisfy fans of the movie.

2.8 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • Kung Fu Awesomeness: Players embark on a legendary journey to fulfill Po’s destiny to become the Dragon Warrior. Learn and master Po, Shifu, and the Furious Five’s specialized Kung Fu fighting styles, abilities, and upgrades in order to defeat formidable bosses like the Great Gorilla, the Wolf Sergeant, and the ultimate enemy, Tai Lung.
  • Bodacious Humor: Kung Fu Panda’s unique brand of humor, quick-witted dialogue, and hilarious situations bring the game to life for players of all ages to enjoy.
  • Play as all Your Favorite Characters: Gamers learn to utilize the special abilities and combat skills of Po, Shifu, Monkey, Tigress, Viper, Crane, and Mantis. As gameplay progresses, unlock and experience each character’s special moves and upgrades.
  • Master Po’s signature “Panda Style” maneuvers, including the Panda Quake, Panda Stumble, and Iron Belly Blast. Plus, earn awesome Kung Fu upgrades increasing Po’s strength, speed, and agility, as he progresses from the unlikely hero to the powerful Dragon Warrior.

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