Developer: BottleRocket Entertainment
Release Date: November 14, 2006
With a few exceptions, games should not require five-minute story openers to explain the plot. Luckily, Xiaolin Showdown's introduction only clocks in at four minutes and 59 seconds. It's a bit too much to wade through before you can commence gameplay, and to be honest, if you've watched any of the show, you don't need to see any of the introduction. It's sort of like paying attention to the plot of The Simpsons arcade game; it's more enjoyable if you don't think about it – just pop in the coin and start beating up dudes.
Xiaolin Showdown is a lot like the classic Simpsons arcade game in that you walk around from a fixed viewpoint and beat things up. There's also a pretty basic control scheme, although you can block and have secondary attack, special attack, and special use buttons. Just like the Simpsons arcade game, the game supports four players and offers a few team attacks. However, given its source material, there are also some decidedly license-heavy touches. All four characters are always fighting at once, players can – and will – beat up on each other, and characters carry special artifacts called Shen Gong Wu that offer advanced special attacks. Whenever you find one of the Wu in a stage, you fight for it in the series' namesake challenges, known as Xiaolin Showdowns.
In the actual show, Xiaolin Showdowns occur when two or more people try to grab a Shen Gong Wu at the same time. They are forced into an agreed-upon challenge, each player must bet a Wu in order to participate, and the winner gets to keep the target Wu, as well as all of the Wus in the pot. The game follows this concept, except that all players and one bad guy are always in on the game, and challenges are variations of straight-up fights (King of the Hill, Tag, etc.). Additionally, only the players bid a Wu, while the token bad guy doesn't have to; the winner takes the target Wu and one Wu from one other person. BottleRocket Entertainment commendably chose gameplay over show canon for the mechanics.
Stage formats, unfortunately, don't tend to be as creative as the base mechanics. Most stages are very small, consisting of an area about two screens wide, with your characters appearing in minimal significant detail. There is some height trickery, and plenty of pretty things are set for show, but nothing is here that seriously introduces new options. Fire pits will harm you, but not the endless robot hordes you're facing; walls will not be bounced off of by anyone, and you can never smack Jack Spicer as he flies in to throw another horde of robots at you. Thanks to his stupid comments, you will be trying. Trust me.
At least you get time to beat up on the "evil boy genius," who spends multiple months of allowance on these robot hordes during the Xiaolin Showdowns. The play would wear thin until you realize that you're looking forward to beating up Spicer again in whatever creative Showdown is coming up next. Basic robot smashing is mostly fun, as long as you're not targeting your teammates or getting caught in the blast zones of their specials. Most of the special moves have unique animations when players are the victims of them; seeing an otherwise random cowboy hat being used to put out fire on one's own butt takes quite a while to wear thin.
Presentation-wise, the game is about as good as the show, which isn't precisely a masterpiece but isn't terrible, either. The graphics are to the Xiaolin Showdown series as those in Simpsons: Hit And Run are to the Simpsons TV show, only significantly smoother. (Yes, I know, I'm comparing to the Simpsons games a lot, but it's the most deft and handy candidate.) Even when multiple robots are exploding at once, there is no noticeable slowdown to mar gameplay. Animations remain smooth and expressive, and every boom is distinct and satisfying, with voices right from the show. The music never really gets ... anything out of you. It's not bad, and it's not great; it's just ambient.
The game certainly does have its strange points, though. For example, you have a game save and a character save function. The game save only retains which stages you have cleared, but your actual list of Shen Gong Wu is kept with saved characters, who also level up and take stage achievements, sort of like Perfect Dark. Besides allowing multiple characters to carry the same Wu, this allows for surprisingly natural drop-in multiplayer, which is a godsend when you consider that you have the multi-tap. Unfortunately, the implementation of this is highly confusing and not exceptionally well explicated in the manual, leaving you to stumble through the first several tries. This is not improved by the tiny text on the menu screens, which is made for four players even when the PS2 doesn't currently support four when a multi-tap isn't in place. Also odd is the A.I. of your teammates, which is excellent at fighting, but tends to ignore the fact that Shen Gong Wu will harm teammates as easily as enemies. Finally, the game's difficulty curve seems to be inverted; it starts off fairly difficult but quickly becoming far too easy, although it doesn't lose its fun factor in the process.
Xiaolin Showdown is obvious in its targeting: The show is for kids, and the game is made for kids. However, there's a surprising amount of meat on the game's bones, as it mixes the literal following of the license with effective and unique play mechanics and a surprising lack of repeated gags. Fans of the series will not regret picking up this title, and elder brothers and sisters of obsessed fans won't be too annoyed when asked to play it with their siblings.