Developer: Artificial Mind
Release Date: November 5, 2008
Movie tie-in titles are lately spawning faux sequels, what I call the home video tie-in titles. These games are scheduled to hit the street around the same day the movies become available to rent or purchase, just as their predecessors were timed to coincide with theatrical releases. This is the case with Kung Fu: Panda Legendary Warriors, and the results of the effort fit what you'd expect for a game designed as part of the marketing campaign behind the DVD release of a family blockbuster film. The first wave of Kung Fu Panda games have fared better with critics than most tie-in games, but Legendary Warriors is not good, and it is overall worse than the original game released last summer.
The game's greatest problems stem from the fact it's not a fully realized game all on its own, and what is there is more flawed than fun. This is a fighting came in which you use the Wiimote and Nunchuk (you'll need one of each for every player in any multiplayer mode) to pound it out against computer-controlled enemies or local human opponents. You'll fight and play as one of the characters from the film, and that's where Legendary Warriors association with the movie's original story and brilliant animation ends. In fact, this title most resembles a video game version of the recent Kung Fu Panda-branded version of the tabletop classic Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots game.
As you'd expect, Legendary Warriors is decked out with the most common type of Wii fighting control mechanic. Unfortunately, it's the one that has little to do with actual fighting and everything to do with shaking the controllers. Although it would be much nicer, far more appreciated, to throw roundhouses with the Nunchuk and land uppercuts with the Wiimote, there is nothing inherently wrong with the included control scheme. It falls short of what Wii can do, but I can't say that remote-shaking lacks anything compared with button-mashing. Whether it's Wii control or traditional console control, a stock fighting game is often more about the glamour surrounding it than the basic fighting style. That's why titles like Heavenly Sword are good games, and Legendary Warriors falls far short — though, granted, I was not expecting as much out of a Kung Fu Panda license.
I felt more than the usual disappointment that this game isn't better and more fun to play, if only because more features were crammed into this tie-in Wii fighter than go into some huge top-tier HD console titles. There's no shortage of effort here, but the campaign game — we're fighting movie nemesis Tai Lung all over again — is a flat affair, kicking off with the requirement to slay innumerable waves of bad guys, ad infinitum, ad nauseam, and then winding up the level with a boss fight.
Going at the game alone, I fast became sick fending off half the horde only to die staring into the thousand eyes of the back half. Within the game, there's a saving grace born of the development team's effort: a co-op mode to the campaign! Yes, something often left out of far more robust titles is here in Legendary Warriors. Co-op mode makes the going at least twice as easy, more I suspect, plus you have someone to cry with when you both get killed. If only the campaign mode were more fun to plow through, even with the benefit of two players. Yet it's dull, and for that reason, you'll not be motivated to play through the campaign on Master or Legendary Story mode, both of which require successful completion of the preceding difficulty level to unlock. If you make it through the campaign once, overall a short experience — not counting many, many deaths, especially if you're playing alone — I'm confident you won't care to come back.
Legendary Warriors' lasting value, such that it has, is in its multiplayer fighting mode. If you skim the few pages of the game's manual and take a gander at the controls chart, you'll think this title is chockfull of delicious fighting combos. I suppose that in theory its is, but in practice, as I've lamented, the game's combat is in large part a matter of shaking the Wii controls at the screen and pressing a button here and there, perhaps inadvertently. This is fun to a point, but wears off rapidly for anyone over about six years of age. As a test case, I set up my four-year-old son against the CPU in a fighting mode match. He does nothing other, and cares to do nothing other, than shake the controls at the screen, the wall, the floor, his sister, and, when he's taking it on the chin, the sky. After he played for a bit, I checked in, performing as best I could the combos required for things like the Dash Master Attack and the Perfect Block. (Some of these fancy knuckle-slingers require charging up a meter, don't you know.) I did better than my son. A bit better. Not nearly enough better to justify learning the combos instead of just shaking the sticks. I tried his Shaking-All-Over Fu style and found it a good deal more fun than remembering the combos and worrying about the status of my chi meter.
The worst part about the fighting, especially the multiplayer fighting where some family room fun could be had, is the whole thing feels awkward. You'll notice more in the multiplayer modes, with a restricted number of opponents, than you do in story mode. The campaign game hurls everything and the kitchen sink at you; I didn't notice so much my blows weren't landing because with that many bad guys in the air, my hits tended to land on someone. But in the competitive multiplayer game, you notice. You'll notice even if you're a Nunchuk shaker rather than a combo artist. Young children, the inveterate controller shakers, won't notice as much, but older kids and adults surely will: You don't have the command of landing your fighting moves well enough to satisfy.
On the other hand, Legendary Warriors does do a Kung Fu Panda license at least basic justice. The game sounds good and looks decent for a Wii title. Graphics are not showy but simple, and in its simplicity, the game designers salvaged a measure of appeal. There's no stretching in the graphics department, but by virtue of this conservatism, there's no falling flat on the face, either. The animated cut scenes in the story mode are a nice interlude. In another fit of completist behavior, the developers allowed the Wii console version of the title to link up with the DS handheld edition of Legendary Warriors. Nothing revolutionary ensues, but the feature is in.
There's little reason to own Kung Fu: Panda Legendary Warriors unless you don't own the first, more platforming-oriented title, or you do own that title, hate the platforming and really want more of the combat. Legendary Warriors expands quite a bit on the fighting element of the original title, but it doesn't do it well, and it won't do it to the satisfaction of all but the most youthful or die-hard Kung Fu Panda fans.
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