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Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists of Plastic

As a child, the world of Rag Doll Kung Fu would have been a glorious land that fulfilled our wildest dreams. We’ve all played with action figures and various toys, creating a universe of outlandish escapism that’s not only exciting, but also mightily personal. Whether you had an Action Man, GI Joe, or even a Barbie, hours could be spent on great adventures each day, all of which gave us the chance to avoid the nagging wrath of those pesky adults, as the plastic companions firmly grasped in our hands never misunderstood our true feelings. Parents aside, Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists of Plastic brings those infantile dreams to life, along with an interchangeable cast of quirky assassins, in a PSN exclusive that oozes style directly from the realms of Little Big Planet.

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From the outset it’s clear that Fists of Plastic isn’t your most serious downloadable title. If the name hadn’t pointed out already, you’re going to be loosely throwing various characters around a host of stereotypical Japanese arenas in the bid to become a plastic fighting champion. With visuals that’ll have many reminiscing about the excellently textured and contemporary flair of the excitable Sackboy population, on first glance it seems that everything has been put in place to make this game a must-have product. Trying to improve on the PC formula of 2006, the light-hearted and smile-inducing humour of Fists of Plastic is swiftly diminished; as taking to the arena for the first time highlights that the series cannot rely on visual splendour to make up for a half-hearted and unfinished experience.

Luckily, Fists of Plastic is remarkably simple to play, meaning that once the tutorial is over, you’ll need little practice to tackle any of the challenges on offer. Whether it’s a classic 1-on-1, frantic king of the hill battle, or even the humorous Capture the Fish mode, your tactics for each event will remain largely the same: get rid of your enemies as quickly as possible, and then fulfil the desired objective. By combining a mixture of button bashing and SixAxis utilising moves, you have a control scheme that acts as a slackly implemented and tirelessly frustrating mess. Of course, the punching and kicking is straightforward (and often amounts to a lot of damage), but the motion controlled commands need too much effort to pull off successfully. Granted, a flick of the wrist in the direction you want to dragon punch would be acceptable, but unfortunately, this isn’t the case. For any budding Liu Kang’s out there, get used to thrusting your hands viciously to one side in the hope that your physical effort connects with an opponent, as developers Tarsier Studios make this virtually impossible to play in the close proximity of friends. Although ironic, I’d rather not ensure that our real-life opponent gets a face of plastic, as the PS3 controller lodges into the roof of their unsuspecting mouth in the heat of our world-beating martial arts moments.

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Regrettably, the looseness and lack of control over each character means that the core fun of the game is instantly lost. Although it became a little more inviting once a few challenges had been cleared and the game moved onto the more inventive stages (the best of which involves no fighting, and solely gymnastics), it’s impossible not to feel a major opportunity has been missed with regards to how your characters fight. You’ll often receive weapons to help your cause, but the Team America like handling renders them largely a gimmick and unneeded for the most part. The odd challenge will have you firing ninja shurikens towards targets, but other than that, the best way of eliminating threats is with the annoyingly over-the-top motion controlled moves. Laughably, Fists of Plastic is most enjoyable when there isn’t any fighting involved, as it allows the player to marvel in the beautifully created scenes whilst pushing the high-flying physics engine to its limit with death-defying leaps and daring last second escapes. If you’re going to deem this one a success, it seems that you’re going to need your childhood memory firmly in tact, as needless to say, there aren’t many stages without the presence of a recognisably stereotypical fighter to dispatch.

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A major loss for Fists of Plastic is that the developers have decided against online multiplayer, in a move that only serves to kick themselves right between the legs. With the aforementioned modes on offer, it’s mightily difficult to understand why this has been missed out, as you’ll need a friend at home to play this competitively. It’s a real shame that the basketball-like fish capturing mode won’t be experienced between gamers from all walks of life, as landing our squirming, gill-ridden friend into the preparation basket is not only funny to watch, it’s unashamedly amusing to do. It’s a mode that underlines the entire ridiculousness of the product, as although you may not crave to be a part of it, you just can’t get away from wanting to throw your foe off a mountain as you place supper into it’s bowl with a quivering-legged slam dunk.

Needless to say, Fists of Plastic rewards high-scores and large combos with unlockable clothing for your customised characters. There aren’t many options available to begin with, but once you start winning, you’ll be able to create a fighting legend that bears an uncanny resemblance to many world-renowned superstars such as Jackie Chan, Jimi Hendrix, and even David Beckham. By mixing and matching the heads, torsos, gloves, and legs of your hero, you’ll be able to come up with some ultra-cool ninjitsu masters, or if you prefer, a cross dressing, make-up sapping geisha. Although only an aesthetic difference, these extras do add a smattering of incentive to proceedings, as all costumes are intricately detailed and outrageously presented.

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As a package, Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists of Plastic is a missed opportunity. By tightening the controls, sharpening the objectives and adding online multiplayer, Tarsier Studios would be on the end of unassailable praise rather than frustrated criticism towards their unfinished product. The fact is, just like your Mum calling for lunch in the middle of those childhood quests to rid your bedroom of evil, the fun is lost due to a lack of immersion and control. The SixAxis moves are tiresome and unrewarding, as it’s clear the game is most entertaining when it plays similarly to the acrobatic distinction of Little Big Planet. Shamefully, Fists of Plastic won’t have you reliving your childhood memories for long, as the tiresome challenges and lack of online execution will have you beating yourself up quicker than you can fling your joypad across the room with dragon-punch shaped irritation.

4 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in September 2007.

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