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Kung Fu Panda Legendary Warriors

Jack Black and his Panda alter-ego star in a decent, though flawed brawler
What's It All About:
I had no real interest in the film Kung-Fu Panda when it came out, despite being a Jack Black fan and enjoying the majority of Dreamwork's animated movies. It just didn't look like my cup of tea. So when I was on a flight from New York to California this summer, and it was the in-flight movie, I wasn't psyched, but I was certainly willing to give it a look. It's no surprise that Dreamworks did a great job technically, but it's far better than I thought it would be, .mixing humor, action and emotion very well.

Naturally, like most major kids films, it received a video-game adaptation that came out at the same time as the film's release, and it was a rather well-received platform game aimed at younger players that put Po the Panda and his pals on a quest on all the major consoles. Now, with the release of the film on DVD, a second Kung-Fu Panda game has hit shelves for Nintendo's systems, this time a brawler that pits Po and pals against the armies of evil Tai Leu. When the first one didn't set the world on fire, is two Kung-Fu Panda games in less than a year overkill?

I doubt I've played a shallower retail-released game in terms of gameplay recently that didn't involve a guitar. Basically, this game is fight, minigame, boss, repeat (at least in the main game.) If you're not teaming with a friend in co-op mode (the preferred way to play an brawler), you select one of the four available fighters (the absence of three of the Furious Five is explained in the story), each of whom have certain strengths and weaknesses, along with special chargable "chi" and "rabbit" attacks, and strike out to take on various groups of bad guys on their own turf to protect the locals. Like most brawlers, you'll tackle several waves of similar villains, knocking them off in groups. (Why they don't gang up on you is a question they've yet to answer in these games.) As you battle, power-ups that enhance your health and attacks pop up around the multi-tiered battlefields, and also appear when you destroy items around the area.

Once the thugs are eliminated, you get a motion-based minigame that involves targeting, speed shaking or drawing shapes. It's a welcome break from the repetitive crowd fights, but it's a brief respite before fighting the boss, who has even more henchmen to throw at you, and a wealth of health with which to fight you. The boss fights are just a slightly more involved version of the rest of the battle, as they don't require anything more complex in terms of technique to emerge victorious, outside of the chance to pit your chi attack against the boss'. Unfortunately, once you reach the final boss, it's just more of the same.

The game intends to get players to play through the handful of levels multiple times in order to unlock different game modes, including Master and Legendary Story modes, which require you to achieve near perfect grades in the game, accomplished by completing levels within a certain amount of time, completing a certain amount of combos and not losing a life (or actually not having to use a revival, as there are no lives in the game,) a triple-play that's not too easy to turn. Also unlockable are the enemies you face in the game, along with the arenas you fight them in, which you can take advantage of in the multiplayer fighting game mode. Up to four players can participate, using all of the skills and abilities from the main game. This can be played three ways, in a battle-royale style where last animal standing wins; a 2-on-2 team battle or a one-player moder where you fight the computer. The one-player mode is hardly any more entertaining than the standard game, but the multiplayer versions can be fun, if only to be a part of an animal smackdown with friends.

When the main thing you need to do is deliver blows, making the ability to do so difficult is not the best direction for game controls. Here, there are 21 button/motion combinations for attacks and defense, and many of them are ties to flicks of the Wii-mote or nunchuk. Because of how many different ways you can attack your foes and the speed of the action in the game, you'll often find yourself flailing to do any damage. Fortunately, the two moves that will allow to defeat any enemy, the mid-air Slam Down and the Dash Attack, are pretty easy to pull off every time. Many other moves, on the other hand, are hit or miss. The same goes for the various tracing events, which may or may not work, no matter what you do. Half the time I had to draw a "W," it would register correct after drawing just a "V." Also problematic is the inability to truly direct your attack, as you'll frequently activate a special attack and miss completely, costing you your saved up powers.

The animation in the game is simplistic, but captures the look of the film pretty well, with fluid movement and well-design character models, along with reasonably deep, detailed settings. You're not going to mistake the game for the film, but it still looks pretty good. The only problem is with the camera. The stages are 3-D, so you can go deep into a scene, but when you do, the camera doesn't follow, which shrinks you down to a small sprite, affecting your ability to really tell what's going on. When in the foreground though, it looks nice and there are no framerate issues. Where the look really shines is in the cut scenes between missions. Actually, it's during one kind of cut scenes, as there's one right after your mission that mimics the in-game graphics, and that's OK, but the other segments, which are done in a simple, yet effective Flash-like style (with an Okami-style paper texture,) look terrific, and help sell the game's story.

There's a lot going on in terms of the audio, starting with Jack Black's performance as Po, which is as good as what he did for the movie, a rarity for a game, as he gives it his all, lending the character energy and that goofy sense of humor he's well-known for. There's some dialogue presented for the other characters also, but nowhere near the amount that Black provides, a fact made abundantly clear in one boss battle, as your character will just repeat the same two lines over and over. On the other hand, the game's Dolby Pro Logic II soundtrack presents a variety of sound effects for strikes and attacks, and offers a subtle andunobtrusive musical soundtrack that won't annoy with repetition.

In a move that's either nifty or crappy, depending on your view and ownership of a DS and the DS version of this game, you can connect to your DS and unlock five additional playable characters to use in the versus mode. Forcing players to own a separate system and another game to unlock parts of a game feels pretty weak, but I guess you can just view it as very expensive downloadable content. Also available on the game, but far less interesting, are a move list, explaining all the moves available to use, a trailer for the Madagascar 2 game, and game credits.

And in the End...
With the right controls, this could have been a fun, if repetitive brawler, but with the so-so controls that are in place, it became just a repetitive brawler that might be entertaining for younger players, but it probably won't hold their attention. Even if it does, there's not that much game to enjoy, as the main adventure is short and not rewarding enough to justify multiple play-throughs, while the multiplayer is mainly fun if you're playing with others and acting like maniacs.