It's been three years since Jack Black and company graced the silver screen in "Kung Fu Panda." The hit animated film spawned a number of video game spin-offs, which were surprisingly good for licensed titles. In fact, the Xbox 360 version of Kung Fu Panda ended up as a system pack-in for the holiday bundle one year. With "Kung Fu Panda 2" ready to debut in theaters, THQ is attempting to recreate the magic with Kung Fu Panda 2.
What's interesting about this year's video game tie-in is the fact that all four versions are offering up different gameplay experiences. The Wii version uses THQ's uDraw peripheral, while the Xbox 360 iteration requires a Kinect sensor. There are also PS3 and Nintendo DS versions, with the DS edition sporting some DSi-specific features.
We recently went hands-on with an early build of the Xbox 360 version of Kung Fu Panda 2 and walked away impressed (and a little sore). The game may be targeted to younger gamers, but that doesn't mean it isn't shaping up to be a complete package. Bumping up the difficulty means that even veteran gamers should find a challenge here.
Set immediately after the events of the second film, Kung Fu Panda 2 has Po and the Furious Five fending off an assault by the evil Komodo Dragons. Story mode is a pretty straightforward tale, but it seems to be well paced, teaching you some new moves, revealing part of the story and then throwing you into battle.
At its most basic, the core gameplay in Kung Fu Panda 2 can be described as a Kinect-based fighting game. Playing as Po, you control the ferocious panda by tossing out punches and kicks in real time. If you want Po to punch, you punch. If you want Po to kick, you kick. The fighting engine is no Mortal Kombat, but then again, it's not supposed to be. It is, however, a workout.
To its credit, the fighting engine that drives Kung Fu Panda 2 has a bit of depth that becomes apparent the more you play. Initially, it's just a matter of punching and kicking, but soon enough, you're blocking and dodging attacks as well as tossing out body blows and flip kicks to break an opponent's block. Basic moves can be used at any time, while the more advanced ones are performed when the game tosses up a visual cue on-screen.
In addition to the fighting, Kung Fu Panda 2 also has a few different minigames. While playing, we ran across two: rickshaw racing and noodle making. Rickshaw racing is a whole body affair, requiring players to lean left and right to steer, duck down to gain speed, and jump to avoid obstacles in the road. On the easier levels, winning was more or less guaranteed, but switching up to hard difficultly made the racing just as much of a workout as the fighting.
Noodle making isn't something one thinks of as a kung fu discipline, but it's a Po family tradition, so it's in the game. Here, the goal is to properly cook and serve noodle bowls to waiting customers. You have to match the color of the bowl to the customer and do it all before time runs out. This is where we ran into some difficulty, not because of the game design, but because the Kinect sensor seemed to be overly sensitive while playing this specific minigame. We're chalking that up to the fact that it was an early copy and we expect the final version to be spot-on.
While we can't speak to the game's length, as we only logged a few hours of play time, Kung Fu Panda 2 seems to lend itself to replay sessions because of the way the minigames unlock. Once you've accessed something within the story mode, it becomes available within free play. This way, if you just want to get right down to the action, there's nothing stopping you.
Movie licensed tie-ins are always a risk, though in this case, it seems like THQ is going the extra mile to make sure the final output is appealing and fun to play. Kung Fu Panda 2 isn't going to be for the hardcore, but if you happen to be under 12 — or know someone who is — keep an eye on this one. We're looking forward to checking out the final version and seeing how Po's kung fu holds up under an extended play session.
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