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Kung Fu Panda

Po the panda dreams of fame and fortune as a respected martial artist. One day he breaks into a fighting tournament to see his heroes the “Furious Five” (embodiments of Tiger, Crane, Monkey, Snake and Mantis kung fu) and finds himself named the legendary “Dragon Warrior”. Now Po must prove his worth to the sceptical Master Shifu and defeat the evil Tai Lung to become the protector of the Dragon Scroll and the Valley of Peace. So runs the basic plot of Kung Fu Panda, based loosely on the animated film of the same name.

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The game itself is a mixture of platforming and fighting. You can perform a fast attack, hard attack, rolling attack and jump on the face buttons. The left trigger performs a block and by combining button presses you can do combos, juggles, a dodge roll, a projectile attack and an attack that targets multiple enemies at once. Special attacks use Ki and this can be replenished via power-ups. Po can also collect coins and buy more power for his attacks on a menu screen between chapters. It’s a surprisingly complex system given that you only need to use the full range of attacks in a couple of boss fights.

Also included alongside the single player game are some multiplayer modes. These are somewhat similar to the Nintendo Smash Brothers games, in that four players can take part and the fights take place on a series of platforms. Players score by knocking opponents out of the ring or causing a KO. When the timer finishes counting down the player with the most points wins. It’s a fun little extra and more arenas and characters can be unlocked by collecting special coins and figurines in the story mode levels.

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Although the fighting is fun, fast and responsive and the platforming enjoyable and frustration free (the camera snaps behinds Po with the right trigger so camera related issues are not a problem) there are several things that impinge on the enjoyment of the game overall. To start with it’s very easy to trigger the end of a chapter and the structure of the game means you can’t freely return to a chapter and search for the special coins and figurines which are needed to unlock extras. Your only chance is to replay the game or disable the auto-save from the start. Replaying the game isn’t a huge inconvenience as it’s so very short. It can be completed in a couple of evenings at most, a little longer if you are aiming to get all the secrets and achievements.

There are also levels where you have to take control of Master Crane and steer him as he flies on the rails avoiding obstacles. These are surprisingly hard due to his sluggish responses and the speed at which said obstacles and enemies move. Throw in some rather suspect collision detection and these levels become a little frustrating, especially for the younger players this game is aimed at.

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Another difficulty spike comes in the form of several Quick-Time Events (QTEs for short) that make up the end of various boss fights. When facing off against Tai Lung, Po has to knock his health down to a certain level then a QTE kicks in. This is supposed to make the fight more impressive, but in practice it becomes a frustrating memory test requiring split second timing. In the final battle there is a sequence of six QTEs one after another with up to three button inputs apiece. Failing the QTE simply resets the fight to just before it kicks in, but in turns the final epic battle into something scrappy and irritating rather than spectacular and cinematic.

That said there is still a lot to like about the game. Po is a very likeable hero and his wide wide-eyed enthusiasm is very endearing. The animation is very impressive with the martial arts animals looking very natural as they perform combos and juggles. Textures are crisp and detailed with fur looking especially fluffy and realistic. The whole ambiance of the game captures the eastern flavour of the movie very well and despite the annoyances of the flying levels and the QTEs it’s generally fun to play and makes you yearn for more than the few short levels you are given.

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Taken as a whole though, the game can’t be scored too highly as it is very short, doesn’t really use its fighting system to full effect in the single player game, and there are better multiplayer fighting games to be had elsewhere. However it is better that your average movie tie-in game. It’s genuinely funny in places with cool characters and impressive environments. It’s just a shame it’s all over so quickly as a more epic adventure with Po and friends would have been most welcome.

6 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in June 2003.

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