Kung Fu Panda
For: PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360, PlayStation 2
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fighting
ESRB Rating: Everyone (10+)
Kung Fu Panda
Here's a rarity: a good movie-based videogame. Activision's Kung Fu Panda, based on the DreamWorks film of the same name (duh), has all the hallmarks of a totally derivative platform-hopping, bauble-collecting, puzzle-solving brawler, but elevates itself beyond typical cash-cow schlock by attentively integrating key elements of the great movie on which it's based. That is to say, it's funny right out of the gate; the paradox of a cuddly panda bear doing mean martial arts, the faux earnestness of puffy critters dispensing ancient Chinese wisdom, the "Panda Stumble" (Drunken style for kids), the whole fish-out-of-water routine (Ursidae-out-of-foliage?), all good.
It helps too, of course, that both game and movie are computer animated, so there's an automatic similitude on a visual level. But even so, the graphics are surprisingly sharp and detailed -- more so on the high-def versions on PlayStation3 and Xbox 360, naturally, while the ol' standard-definition graphics of the Wii version are nonetheless better than expected (i.e. not totally crappy). Speaking of the Wii version: it also sports the predictably gimmicky control scheme of nunchuck and Wii-mote wanking for select moves. Anyone tired of that yet? Hands? Anyone?
Beyond all that, Kung Fu Panda really shines as a solid Kung Fu fighting game. Geared toward kids and/or "family" fun, gameplay is simple and intuitive out of the gate while control prompts show you the ropes as you play through each level. Things get more complicated and more involved as you move along -- eventually you spend time controlling each key character, albeit briefly, each with unique skills and moves and specific environmental perils -- but none of it is sudden; you learn as you go, much like Po (the panda) and next thing you know, "skidoosh!" you're a master. What's more, controls are tight and responsive throughout. Most kid-friendly games tend to equate "sluggish" with "easy," very much to their detriment, but Kung Fu Panda actually plays like a solid bash n smash adventure that just happens to feature a lot of fur. Take away the cuddly and the funny and it's a bang-on brawler.
There's also a fair amount of added mileage found in a few multiplayer mini games, which must be "unlocked" within the single player game (easy enough to do), thereafter available as Wii Sports-like social entertainment. Again, not something you'd expect from a mere movie tie-in title, but there it is, and it's great, and that's good, because the main game itself actually ends rather soon -- but better too soon and good than long-playing and lousy. Still, you can probably get all Kung Fu Panda has to offer in a mere weekend rental; if you fall for its notable charm (also easy enough to do), go ahead and buy it, because its interactive, feel-good summer movie fun is worth revisiting.
Note: As "family" games go, Kung Fu Panda is rather violent, what with unrelenting beat 'em up premise and all. It's not gory violence nor is it particularly malevolent, just don't summarily dismiss its E10+ rating (rated everyone 10 years old and up for Fantasy Violence, Mild Language by the ESRB).
Kung Fu Panda Cheats: In the "Cheats" menu of Kung Fu Panda, press Left, Down, Left, Right, Down on the d-pad to immediately unlock all the multiplayer characters. You can also press Down, Down, Right, Up, Left for invincibility in the single player game ("story mode").