In recent years, the brawler has become something of a niche genre. More than a decade ago, people would have paid a premium price for the likes of Double Dragon, Golden Axe, River City Ransom, and Streets of Rage, so every developer and publisher tried their hand at a side-scrolling brawler with as many licensed and wacky concepts as possible. Times have changed drastically, and what was once a staple of retail shelves has been mostly relegated to the downloadable space with far fewer entries at much cheaper prices. This is why Kung-Fu High Impact for the Xbox 360 presents itself as an anomaly to the status quo. Originally a downloadable title for PSN named Kung-Fu Live, the game has since graduated to a retail disc commanding a price of $40. Whether or not this is justified, however, remains to be seen.
Like most brawlers, the story isn't that important, but it does a fairly good job of moving things along. You play a courier for the owner of a comic book shop. It's an ordinary job except for the fact that all of the packages seem to come with mysterious and dangerous consequences. This time around, it's your job to destroy an evil ancient helmet before the forces of evil grab it and use its power for their own designs.
The big hook for the game is you. Instead of being represented by an avatar or a well-rendered, on-screen character, your live image shows up and interacts with everything on-screen. Best of all, you don't have to do particular movements or gestures to unleash basic moves. Your kicks can be expertly executed or simply look like pushes. Your punches can be forceful or faint, and your jumps can be the same. You can even try to (poorly) emulate martial artists or throw in hilarious melee weapons, like stuffed animals, into your arsenal. Either way, the game treats all of these things as legitimate actions and registers them accordingly. It may destroy any sense of realism to use a cardboard box or a balloon as a dangerous weapon, but that doesn't make the proceedings any less hilarious.
The controls are a big improvement over the PSN version. No calibration is needed when you start up, and no special conditions are needed for the game to pick you up accurately. Even in pitch-black conditions, the game is able to tell where you are and what moves you're performing. The game does a good job of picking up your basic moves; the few moves that require specific movements, such as the super punch and lightning call, come off without a hitch. The only awkward one is the somersault, which requires you to put your hands in the air and jump with your knees bent. It only works about half of the time, so you'll either execute the move perfectly or jump straight in the air.
Kung-Fu High Impact features several different modes that, unsurprisingly, play out similarly. Story mode takes you through 14 chapters where you fight to keep the cursed helmet away from evil forces through several different environments. You face off against many nameless thugs before getting into boss fights against foes of varying sizes. Naturally, your arsenal of moves grows as you progress, keeping things interesting as you reach the end of the tale. The extra modes include survival stages, where you have to beat up as many minions as you can in themes that mimic some of the environments from the main story. Then there's a custom battle mode, where you can determine the length of the rounds as well as various battle conditions to either handicap you or your opponents.
The game features one multiplayer mode, and it is unusual in that it plays similarly to the single-player game. However, your enemies are controlled by other players, and they get to use traditional controllers instead of the Kinect. Compared to the other game modes, this one isn't as well thought out, especially since the first player is substantially more powerful than anyone else because of their freedom of movement. While it is a nice gesture to have multiplayer in the game, eliminating it likely would not have impacted the title.
What will surprise you about the side-scrolling brawler is its scope. Unlike something like Bad Dudes or Lucha Fury, you never move forward in a level. Instead, the levels are treated like Super Smash Bros., where you can bounce around in a fighting area. Enemies come in waves, so trying to outrun everyone is out of the question. It simultaneously solves the question of how one can constantly move forward using a scheme with no traditional controller while ensuring that each level isn't overly taxing.
The title does a few things well to create a fun experience. As stated before, the freedom of the controls is refreshing; being able to execute precise moves really makes this an ideal party game. The attitude of putting fun first extends to the entire title. The story never takes itself too seriously, and that is punctuated by your participation in the cut scenes. Though the requested poses are funny enough, your improvisation during those times makes the tale even funnier. As a side effect, the game does a good job of making you exert yourself. Even though there's no official calorie counter, it's hard not to feel winded after a few rounds of fighting, especially when it's cranked up to the highest difficulty level.
The bad thing about Kung-Fu High Impact is the price and the elements that don't do a good job of justifying the price point. The game has a suggested price of $40, nearly three times as much as it costs on PSN even though it's arriving a year later. With that much of a monetary difference, it's painful to see the two games be virtually identical. The retail disc comes with no new modes or levels, and the campaign is rather short. Depending on the selected difficulty level, the game can be completed in less than three hours, which ends up being a decent length for downloadable games. It feels rather short when you view it as a nearly full-priced retail title. Beyond the use of the Kinect, players will wonder why they paid so much for something that's virtually unchanged.
The graphics look great. The cut scenes and main game have a good comic book feel, though the main game impresses more because of the levels of depth exhibited by foreground and background elements. It's been seen before, but it still manages to impress at times, especially with things like shimmering water and smoke. Enemies animate well enough, and the larger-scale enemies exhibit those same traits while also managing to be fairly detailed. Due to the low resolution of the Kinect camera, your appearance in the game isn't as clear as it should be. The cut scenes in which you appear really show the grainy nature of the images, but it can also be seen in gameplay, though it's a bit harder to detect. The implementation is well done as background object never accidentally appears in your game, and stray artifacts never appear. It is one of the few games that do the green screen-like effect well, and hopefully it'll serve as an example to others about how to pull off this trick.
The sound is average, though that is to be expected considering the nature of the game. The sound effects are the same ones you'd hear in many action games, though it is surprising that the team didn't go for old kung-fu movie sound effects. The music is forgettable but fits the mood well and isn't irritating to the point that you'd want to turn it off. The voice acting is done quite well. Even with the goofy vibe, the voices are delivered somewhat seriously. It's almost akin to a solid B movie, where the performances aren't excellent but are more than passable.
Kung-Fu High Impact is a fun title that feels overpriced. The basic concept is solid, and the game's execution is good. The freedom complements the goofy nature of the game rather well, and the controls perform much better than most Kinect attempts. However, the short length of the game and the lack of any X360-specific features make one wonder why this was released at retail with such a high price point. Should the price drop, this is easy to recommend for times when you want to play with the Kinect but don't feel like playing the typical dance and exercise games.
More articles about Kung Fu High Impact