Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Just Add Monsters
Release Date: 2/21/2003
Review By: Anthony Mitera
Remember the last time you played a game that was so off the wall, so utterly absurd that you had to get a friend over and show it off? Kung Fu Chaos is of that same caliber, taking the kung fu movie theme to the extreme with a cast of psychotic characters, a good selection of levels and gameplay modes, and more humor than you can shake a staff at.
At Kung Fu Chaos’ heart and core is the kung fu theme, inspired by the many old kung fu flicks. If you recall, many of those kung fu flicks were very entertaining, if not slightly hampered by strange plots and bad acting. Kung Fu Chaos takes those flaws and opens the floodgates; every character and level in the game is just the sort of cheesy, low-budget material that makes Kung Fu Chaos a very funny ride and a blast to play.
Kung Fu Chaos does have a plot, in the loosest sense. The “legendary” director Shao Ting has come out of retirement with the ambition to gather the top actors and make the king of all kung fu movies, involving a group of heroes fighting against the devilish “Ninja Clan.” Eight of the most diverse (and slightly strange) actors are chosen to perform in the film, from a ninja with a bad accent to a samurai carrying around his baby son in a backpack, each adding their fair share of insanity to the game. Every character has unique attacks and special moves, and the characters are generally equally skilled, but some are a bit faster or stronger than the others.
Now, although the director Shao Ting has great ambitions, his budget is about as big as a crumb from a fortune cookie, so instead of having custom-made sets for the movie, Shao Ting is using sets from other movies such as Titanic and Jurassic Park. There are six themes in all, with three levels each, in addition to a few tutorial levels and a few other stand-alone levels. Within the themed levels, each theme has a longer battle level and two minigame levels. The battle levels are fairly long (About 5-10 minutes each) and progress in a scrolling fashion. These levels are Kung Fu Chaos at its finest, as each one is crafted in such a way that is totally chaotic and yet also flows really well. In this game, everything and anything can happen: you can be fighting in a teahouse and suddenly have the building collapse, combat in the Jurassic Park level takes place on a river raft with a dinosaur in pursuit, and in the alien invasion level, UFOs are using death rays to blow apart buildings while you are fighting on the rooftops. The minigame levels stick to the theme of their parent battle levels but branch off enough to allow a little creativity. In one of the teahouse minigames, you stand beneath a building and try to maneuver a trampoline to save falling stuntmen, but watch out for the falling cows! In one of the Titanic minigames, everyone is wearing a life preserver around their waist and tries to knock everyone else off the ice platform like bumper cars.
Combat in Kung Fu Chaos makes up the majority of the gameplay, and while it isn’t as deep as a fighting game, it is just as frantic and fun. To perform and normal attack you press the X button, and to perform a faster but weaker attack you press the Y button. These can be pressed in different orders to perform different combos, which are useful in landing hits on an enemy while making them powerless to hit back. The B button is listed as trip / pick up / throw, but "trip" should be replaced with "grab," to be more accurate. When next to an opponent, pressing B will perform a grab or throw on them. If the enemy is on the ground dazed, or there is an object at your feet, press B to pick it up and B again the throw. The A button makes your character jump, the left trigger taunts, the right trigger blocks, and both triggers pulled at once engage your super attack, if available. If the A and B or Y and B buttons are pressed while standing still, your character will perform a 360-degree spin attack, but if those buttons are pressed while moving, a running/sliding attack will be executed. The blocking system is simplistic in that you hold the button to block most attacks, and watch out for the attacks that can break right through blocks. The heavy attack is performed by pressing X and A at the same time and breaks right through blocks and deals heavy damage, but unfortunately, it takes a while to wind up. When you do a powerful combo or grab an enemy and immediately hold the left trigger to taunt them, your character will spew out expletive signs, and if successful, you will gain a spark above your character. Once you get three sparks, your character glows with a red energy, and a special attack can be performed. While special attacks can vary from character to character, they cannot be blocked, can instantly kill, and if used skillfully, can clear entire groups of enemies. If an enemy has some sparks that you want to take away, you can successfully taunt them, and the spark will go to you.
The single player mode of Kung Fu Chaos casts the player in the starring role, working through every stage of the game and finishing every scene, right up to Shao Ting’s Big End. In the single player, it’s the player vs. hordes of ninjas of differing types. The basic ninjas can be easily beat up, spinning ninjas cannot be blocked, and you have to avoid them until they make themselves dizzy, and the legendary white ninjas can easily beat YOU up if you aren’t careful and skilled. Playing through the single player levels and successfully completing them under certain conditions will unlock various bonuses like character costumes, levels, and cast bios. The notable thing about the single player mode is the bar at the bottom of the screen that shows what quality the current scene is. Simply killing enemies raises the bar slightly, but taunting, throwing, and using your special move raises it much quicker. The bar has 5 marked points represented by stars, and in order to progress to the next level, at least 3 stars must be gained. Ultimately, to beat the single player mode, you must get 4 stars in every level to unlock the final levels, and if you get 5 stars in every level, you unlock nearly everything. However, at first, 3 stars can be challenging and even veteran players can have a good deal of difficulty when going after 5 stars on every level.
The multiplayer aspect of Kung Fu Chaos isn’t as strong as it could be but still excels in its execution and quality. The multiplayer mode supports up to four players, or a mix of players and AI. Teams and the difficulty level of the individual AIs can be set up, and the game can be played by various rules such as kills, lives, or mojo. Any of the themed levels from the single player can be played, for a total of 18 levels. While the multiplayer mode is quite solid, the ability for the players to be able to fight as a team against the Ninja Clan would have been a great addition. Nevertheless, the multiplayer mode of Kung Fu Chaos is easy to pick up and play, is quite versatile, and complements the rest of the game quite well.
Every level has its fair share of quirks and oddities. For example, the teahouse level is filled with tables and men drinking and eating, all of which can be picked up and thrown at enemies. The Titanic level features the cast fighting while the ship is sinking, complete with cardboard cutouts of people stiffly waving for help and bits of the set falling apart. In the alien invasion level and the save the princess level, there are large gaps to jump across. Simply press the jump key, and the character flies across the gap, only with visible strings holding them aloft. In many of the levels, cameramen are clearly visible but don’t simply serve as something to look at.
One of the best features of Kung Fu Chaos is the replay system. While the game is generally viewed from a semi-top down perspective, the replay system makes it look just like a movie, complete with varying shots and effects. Once unlocked, you can even add filters to make it look just like an old ‘50s or ‘70s movie, which can be applied to gameplay as well. Kung Fu Chaos supports custom soundtracks for both the replay modes and in actual gameplay, so you have near total control over what your replay looks and sounds like. Also, you can adjust the character voice, music, sound effects, and Shao Ting’s commentary volume independently, so if something sounds a bit off you can fix it. Finally, you can save the preview on your Xbox’s hard drive to show off to friends.
The graphics in Kung Fu Chaos aren’t top of the line in terms of effects but definitely serve their purpose well and really convey a quirky atmosphere. The graphics looks slightly cartoony, which fits well with the mayhem. The character models look very nice with exaggerated features and animations, and the level of detail is rather nice. However, the models pale in comparison to the levels themselves, which absolutely bristle with detail and flair. Every level is filled with objects to interact with, varied level design and flow, player-initiated traps to off a few more baddies, and a whole bunch of strange twists such as gigantic frogs and poisonous gas.
The sound in Kung Fu Chaos nearly steals the show. At the tip of the iceberg, two famous kung fu related songs have been included in Kung Fu Chaos, the “Kung Fu Fighting” song that everyone on the planet has heard at least once and one of the songs from the “Enter the Dragon” soundtrack. That aside, the character voices and taunts are hilarious, cries of “You make angry ninja!” and “Super something!” add a healthy dose of comedy to the mix. Shao Ting’s commentary is exceptionally hilarious, and while some of it is almost naughty and shows Shao Ting’s perverted side, overall it is clean and slightly absurd. The sound effects in the game are great, with sounds of rustling air as punches and kicks are thrown, echoes of splintering wood when a flying table breaks over an opponent, and the crunches and thuds as dazed opponents slam against walls and floors.
Overall, Kung Fu Chaos is a pretty solid game that lives up to its expectations and delivers a decent amount of fun and offbeat humor. The gameplay maintains a fresh feel, and the single player is fairly compelling, if not a tad bit difficult near the end. The multiplayer mode could use a few more levels, but the ones that it does utilize are well-crafted and diverse. As a whole, Kung Fu Chaos lives up to its promises and emerges as a good quality game that nearly anyone young and old can pick up, play, and have a good time.