Kung Fu PandaESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
Category: Action Games
Developer – Luxoflux
Publisher - Activision
128KB to Save Game
Kung Fu Panda is a movie that I have been waiting for since the I saw the first trailer. And of course my kid was also anticipating its release too. A movie like this is pretty much a shoe in to have a videogame tied into it. I know what you are probably thinking: “Oh no, not another movie based game for the Xbox 360”. And to tell you the truth I can't blame you given how many dog titles based on movies are out there. Before you rush to judgement though I think it is fair to say that some of you are going to be pleasantly surprised with Activision's latest Dreamworks Animation film-based game. Released just days before the movie, Kung Fu Panda arrives on the Xbox 360 in all his bodaciousness and awesomeness. That being said the game is not without some issues but at the end of the day this one stands as one of the better movie based games in recent memory.
Only hours before I sat down to write this review I took my 5-year old daughter to see the Kung Fu Panda movie. Visually, as with pretty much all Dreamworks movie’s, Kung Fu Panda is top notch in the animation department. As for the game, Kung Fu Panda for the Xbox 360 is also a treat as it exceeded all my expectations. In many ways, the game is almost on par with the film itself. The developers did a wonderful job of not only re-creating some of visuals and environments depicted in the movie, but also expanding upon Kung Fu Panda’s world. Granted I don’t think any game could match Dreamworks’ stellar animations seen on the big screen, however the big panda himself makes a fairly smooth transition from big screen to next-gen console.
For starters, the characters animations are rendered to perfection and the detail is simply amazing. All the characters including, Po (our panda hero), Tai Lung, Master Shifu, Po’s father, and all members of the “Furious Five” look exactly as they do in the feature film. The facial expressions and character movements are also well done and they truly caught my attention. From Po’s paws to the fur on his back, the detail that went into the characters is impressive to say the least. Character movements are also very smooth and well animated as each one moves like any computer based animated movie character would. I was also impressed with the lack of frame rate issues. Even when Po was frantically fending off several enemies at once, everything ran very smoothly.
Also worth mentioning are the games cut-scenes. The game flows nicely from in-game action sequences to cut-scene movies and the transition of such is equally impressive. Of course there is lots of entertainment value as some of the scenes with our hero had me chuckling quite a bit.
Overall, the game is bright, colourful and vibrant. The environments found in the Kung Fu Panda game are visually appealing as well. They accurately capture not only the movie itself, but they also do a great job at creating that Chinese ‘Kung Fu’ feeling; if that makes any sense. Those of you who have grown up watching Bruce Lee movies will know what I mean. The water effects are also quite stunning. The detail that went into the water is solid and certainly comparable to the water effects found in other blockbuster games such as GTA IV, FarCry and Halo 3. I recognize I have had nothing but positive praise for the visuals thus far, and so I should as it is a good looking game. That being said, you should also keep in mind you should not expect Call of Duty 4 or Halo 3 graphics. Considering Kung Fu Panda falls in the movie-based family fun genre, Kung Fu Panda is arguable one of the better looking games in this category.
As far as the sound is concerned, Kung Fu Panda is strong but not the best we have seen in recent months. First the negative; I have to admit I was disappointed that the voice actors from the movie such as Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie and Jackie Chan are nowhere to be heard in the game. Although this would have undoubtedly skyrocketed production costs other recent Activision movie based games such as the Bee Movie Game were able to secure the films main voice over talent. Besides, I was under the impression Jack Black was huge gamer so it comes as a bit of a surprise that he does not do Po’s voice in the game. His replacement does a good job though but your typical Jack Black fan will likely recognize that Po’s voice is not his voice from the movie. Additionally, the other voice actors also do a good job but I could not help but think I was not getting the ‘real deal’ as the voices just didn’t feel authentic. In any event the in-game dialogue and humour is very effective. Lots of the scenes are quite funny and will entertain audiences of all ages. My five year old daughter even found herself laughing at some of the scenes in the game. On a technical note it was also nice to see that the dialogue was not out of sync with the characters mouth movements.
As far as the soundtrack is concerned, Kung Fu Panda is solid and many of those Martial Arts Chinese sounds are accurately depicted in the movie. It’s very repetitive though but this is intentional. Bottom line, the music fits the game. As for the rest of the in-game sound effects, they are very strong and compliment the rest of the audio. The fighting sequences feature terrific battle sounds and the breakable objects shatter quite loudly. There were actually a couple of times throughout the game that my subwoofer actually shook the floor. There is one moment in the game where a rather large gorilla launches a boulder and the sound of the boulder crashing the ground was fantastic and had my sub booming.
Overall I have no major concerns with the games total sound package however there is some room for improvement.
Before I get into the nuts and bolts of the gameplay, first I will touch upon the story which essentially shadows the film’s plot. If you have seen the movie, you will already have a good understanding of the games storyline. A Panda named Po (our Kung Fu Panda hero) dreams of becoming a Master Kung Fu Artist and but finds himself pushing a broom at his father’s noodle shop. Without giving much away, a series of events takes place and Po is declared the ‘Dragon Warrior’. Meanwhile, the main villain, Tai Lung, escapes from prison and threatens all that live in the Valley of Peace, including Master Shifu, who trains Po, and The Furious Five who are known as the “most awesome fighters of china”. Po has to take matters into his own hands to protect the Valley and stop the evil Tai Lung before he claims the Dragon Scroll. You mainly as play as Po throughout the game however there are points where you play as Master Shifu and The Furious Five. Overall the story is a captivating one and does not deviate a great deal from the movie. The only notable exception between is that the movie does not have Tai Lung’s hordes of evil followers chasing down and attacking Po from beginning to end like the game itself does.
Kung Fu Panda at heart is an action game which contains 13 levels. Many of the levels mirror some of the scenes from the movie, however many go beyond the film and take you into some large environments where you will be called upon to solve puzzles (similar to Tomb Raider), battle hordes of enemies (similar to Shrek The Third) and overcome dangerous obstacles (similar to the Bee Movie game). One of the strong aspects of the game is the fact you get great deal of variety as you never know what you are going to get from one mission to the next. It’s enjoyable and I found that once I started playing I had a hard time putting the controller down. On the downside, the single player experience is a little on the short side as I managed to finish the game in about five hours. It's not like I rushed through the game either. However there is plenty of replay value as you can collect coins to upgrade your player, search for other unlockable goodies, and of course go after some of those ever so addicting Xbox Achievements. There are 39 achievements in all and it will take you some time to get all 1000 points.
Make no bones about it, Kung Fu Panda is a bit of a button masher and in that sense it very much reminds me of Activision’s Shrek the Third. Yes, you can use various attack combos and all sorts of ‘special moves’, however the majority of the fighting you do in Kung Fu Panda is a lot of mashing away. It only gets a little tricky when you run into some of the bigger enemies where you are called upon to use more of the heavy attack buttons. Regardless, even though there is a good degree of button mashing it does not get tirelessly boring as there is, as I mention above, lots of variety.
The controls are pretty straightforward and it doesn't take long to get acquainted to the control scheme. The first mission has plenty of these hovering in mid-air scrolls located throughout the level which gives you tips on how to use fast attacks, heavy attacks, panda rolls, etc. There is also a level early in the game which features timed areas where you need to complete a certain training objective within an allotted time. It's all about refining your skills and helping Po become a Kung Fu Master.
If you have read any of my reviews in the past you will know I am not a fan of context-sensitive button pressing in games. Well Kung Fu Panda included these in its game and once again I am not sold on the concept. For instance, you will get to certain point in the game where you are forced to press a sequence of buttons as they are briefly displayed on the screen. It very much reminds me of the Bee Movie Game and Jericho for the Xbox 360. It seems to be a trend these days and for the most part I find it takes away from a games momentum. That being said, the save system for the game is fantastic. Whenever I would hit the wrong button in that dreaded sequence, which happened quite regularly, the game would re-start only seconds prior to where I left off. So unlike other games where you are re-starting entire missions (*cough GTA IV cough*), Kung Fu Panda features plenty of checkpoints and so the game never really losses momentum. On the downside, some of the younger gamers out there, or gamers who are not familiar with the Xbox 360 controller, will find the context sensitive button pressing frustrating and difficult. So keep this in mind before you purchase the game.
When you get tired of the single player game Kung Fu Panda also features a variety of multiplayer games. Unfortunately there is no online co-op mode or big team death matches. Rather, Kung Fu Panda’s multiplayer is geared towards you and some friends kicking back on the couch and beating each other up on the screen. It is very similar to the multiplayer modes found in Spider-Man: Friend or Foe as it is all about fighting. There are some mini-games to pass some time as well where you need to solve puzzles or shoot targets, similar to Shrek The Thirds mini-games. Overall, it's a nice change of pace from the single player games however the multiplayer aspect of Kung Fu Panda is fairly limited compared to other 'Triple A' games on the market.
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