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Kung Fu LIVE

13:0516/12/2010Posted by Simeon PaskellNo Comments

With the launch of Kinect on the Xbox 360, the concept of being able to put yourself within a videogame is very much the flavour of the month. Not to be outdone by Microsoft’s technology, developer Virtual Air Guitar test the controller-free gaming capabiliites of the PlayStation 3 and its PS Eye camera with Kung Fu LIVE – a game that literally places you on the screen and tasks you with kicking seven shades out of anyone (and anything) that crosses you path. But is Kung Fu LIVE just another example of a technology looking for a satisfying application, or does it deliver a knock-out blow?

The technology that is at the heart of Kung Fu LIVE is pretty impressive. Using the PlayStation Eye, the game scans the image, extracts the player and dumps them onto a 2D plain – they are then free to punch, kick and flail their way through a series of combatants, with the only restrictions being the physical limits of the player themselves. When the technology is working well – within a fully optimised room – the effect is both impressive and hilarious; seeing a gurning, video representation of yourself fighting it out with ninja warriors is a lot of fun in and of itself (even before you explore the quality of the actual game design on offer) and for many will prove to be wish fulfilment at its most pure.

Unfortunately, issues arise when you investigate what is actually required to ‘fully optimise’ your play area. For starters, considerable distance between yourself and the camera is needed (the official word: “2.5 x 3 meters of space to play comfortably if you are adult size. The smaller you are, the less distance you need to fit inside the camera view”), though in fairness, the game does function under other conditions, with the upshot being that your on-screen character might not have any feet… The other hurdle to overcome is lighting – without a sufficient amount, body parts may disappear and punches, kicks and menu selections may struggle to be recognised. In many ways it is quite dull to dwell on these problems (veterans of PlayStation Eye/Eye Toy and Kinect will be well versed in such issues), but when a game is so clearly structured around the application of a specific technology, they have to be acknowledged.

It should be noted however that Virtual Air Guitar have generally done a good job of making Kung Fu LIVE at least playable (if a little glitchy) in less than perfect conditions. Our reviewing space was deemed by the game as being ‘very dark’, but for the most part our on-screen kung fu (for lack of a better word!) worked well enough.

But what of the game itself? Kung Fu LIVE is best described as an old-school 2D brawler that plonks you into smallish-levels and throws a series of foes (of varying difficulties) at you. Though actually moving around the levels feels a bit fudged (as there is no analogue stick, you must shuffle about by pointing in the direction you want to move or by performing slightly unreliable back-flips), the combat just about works, with punches and kicks connecting realistically enough and often encourages a more imaginative move-set (for example, enemies vary in height, with shorter foes demanding different moves to taller enemies). The game also does a reasonably good job of supplying you with more fantastical moves – a dragon-punch-esque leaping attack can be performed by ducking down and punching vertically, and later in the game lightning bolts can be spewed form your finger tips by striking a specific pose.

The biggest problem with Kung Fu LIVE, however, is that no matter how well the video scanning technology works, as a fighting game it’s hard not to long for the immediacy and responsiveness of one of those old-fangled joy pads. The benefit of the latter is actually emphasised by the game itself, with a multiplayer that pits one scanned player against up to three joy-pad wielding ninjas. The controls for the latter work as well as you’d expect, and it’s hard to shake the feeling that the scanned player is at a distinct disadvantage.

If you’re approaching Kung Fu LIVE hoping for a deep, satisfying fighting game, it seems inevitable that you will be left wanting. However, jettison such hopes and embrace the sillier side of gaming, and there’s a lot of fun to had here – making a fool of yourself in front of friends has become a motion controller mainstay, and – true to form – it is in this that game finds it’s speciality. Especially noteworthy are the comic-book styled cutscenes, prior to which you are asked to strike a range of poses to be photographed, with these still images then being superimposed into the frames. This works surprisingly well, and the b-movie zero-to-hero plot is shallow yet knowingly – and satisfyingly – cheesy. Sensibly, an option to save and share the comic pages you have created is also included.

As a game, Kung Fu LIVE is by no means a great one…in fact, it’s barely even a good one –the technical demands and lack of immediacy in the controls can be frustrating, and underneath the technical showboating is a fighting game of the most rudimentary kind. And yet, there is still much here that can be recommended – the novelty factor of being the hero is certainly strong, and the comic capers into which you are inserted make for a nice little keep-sake from your time with the game. Additionally, with Christmas around the corner it’s the ideal time for a game that serves up cheap laughs so readily to hit the PlayStation store. But be warned – if you’re not likely to be entertained by striking a kung fu pose and pulling off your best Bruce Lee impression (or by watching others do so)…then you might want to go and get your fighting thrills flexing your thumbs on Street Fighter IV….

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