Version tested: PlayStation 3
God, motion games are a bossy bunch. Before you can even play the bloody things, you have to stand there like a lemon while they tell you all the things you have to do to make the game work, all the things you absolutely mustn't do if you want the game to work and all the things you might want to do if the game doesn't work.
Kung Fu Live, a 2D fighting game in which you are the controller, opens with over ten pages of calibration, instruction and suggestion as to the best way to get the bloody thing working as intended.
Clear an area the size of a large truck. Move the furniture. Change your clothes. Switch the lights on. Close the curtains. Open them again. Tilt the camera. Try moving the telly. And this is before you've even found out if you need to do all these things.
By the time the game actually started, I was a nervous wreck with severe performance anxiety. Will my modest living room be up to scratch? It's like being judged by Sarah Beeny, if Sarah Beeny was the Lawnmower Man and could look out of my telly and tell me my lighting is inadequately arranged.
Which it was, inevitably. Even though the preview image on-screen seemed perfectly clear and well lit, the software wasn't having any of it. "Too dark", it scolded. "Your gameplay may suffer."
So, I dutifully collected some more lamps from around the house to back up the feeble three unshaded overhead lightbulbs and large desk lamp that apparently mean I've been living in a gloomy cave for the past ten years.
Then there's the issue of space. Because Kung Fu Live puts all of you on-screen, you need to stand far back from the camera. An area 9' by 7' is recommended, but standing over six feet tall I found myself having to go back almost 10' to fit into the on-screen outline. This was just about possible, although it meant I was right up against the wall.
The distance doesn't do the camera's resolution any favours, with noticeably worse results the further away I stood. The game also reckons you should then allow roughly three large paces to either side as well which, frankly, wasn't going to happen without moving house. I love Eurogamer, I'm dedicated to Eurogamer, but there are limits to what I'm prepared to do for one review.
This is the same room I always use for my motion gaming - a fairly average living room, by all accounts. Kung Fu Live requires the most stringent conditions of all the comparable games I've played this year.
Normally, with Kinect and PlayStation Move, it's a case of simply switching the top light on and shoving the coffee table out of the way. Game on. That wasn't enough for Kung Fu Live, presumably because it's using just the Eye camera and the reduction in available technology limits what can be done in-game.
It took a lot of tinkering, both in the room and in the menus, to get a result that was still fairly shoddy. It's fair to say that for some players, maybe even most players, this game will not perform to the advertised standard.
Of course, such demands mean the game has to offer a lot of entertainment to justify the mucking about required to make it work. It's here, rather than in your living room, that Kung Fu Live really struggles.
It's a beat-em-up of the old school, reminiscent of single-screen fighters like Bruce Lee crossed with scrolling brawlers like Double Dragon. You appear on the screen (or, if you don't live in an empty white warehouse, a tiny washed out flickering humanoid shape that occasionally has your face) and whatever actions you perform are recreated by your mini digital double.
Credit where it's due, the result can be impressive, from a technical point of view. The fidelity to your movements is very accurate, even when the image quality is dire, and the freedom to make up your own fighting moves offers immediate, tangible amusement.
Damage to enemies is based on the speed of your attack, not any particular motion cue, so whatever kicks and punches you throw will get the job done. You can even grab household objects and use those, the software automatically adjusting the hitbox around your character to include anything you decide to wield.
Landing a punch or a kick carries a satisfying "I did that!" buzz, and it's easy to see how fun this could be - if only the camera could make your avatar look as crisp and clean as the one in the tutorial screens.
There are special moves available, ranging from a simple double-fisted power punch up to Raiden-style lightning blasts. Getting the game to recognise these movements is trickier than the freeform fighting, and it's here that frustration seeps back in.
The somersault, an action that is pretty much essential for dodging attacks and jumping around the scenery, requires you to arch your back and raise your arms in the air. This almost never worked for me, even when every other punch and kick was translated fairly flawlessly.
Sometimes my legs would vanish and my character would sink into the floor. Sometimes I'd just fly into the air for no apparent reason. Is that worth suffering just for the faded novelty of seeing myself transformed into an outcast from Yie Ar Kung Fu? Not really.
Enemies are a cheap bunch, relying on extended health bars and constant blocking to add challenge to the later stages. It's already an incredibly energetic experience, but bludgeoning your way past these opponents feels more like work than fun.
The initial pleasure that comes from the on-screen feedback dims quickly when you realise the game doesn't have much else to offer. As part of a larger EyeToy package, such slim gameplay wouldn't be an issue. Served on its own, for more than a tenner, it's just not enough.
The game is more fun in multiplayer, where up to four mates can grab a joypad and control the enemies assailing you. But from masturbation to watching Alan Titchmarsh, there are few pastimes that aren't automatically more rewarding with the addition of friends and booze. It doesn't make Kung Fu Live a better game, just a sillier one.
Ultimately the biggest problem is that, at present, there's no trial version. You're forced to make a blind purchase, then find out if it'll actually work as advertised or if you'll be guiding a ghostly animated gif as it flickers and judders around.
Some lucky players will fire it up, get great results and then post on the internet about how maybe it's the reviewers that are broken, hmm? But that's not the experience I had, and it might not be the experience you have.
While I admire what's being attempted here, I'd be lying if I said I got more than an hour or so of actual gaming fun out of the two days I spent punching the air, cricking my back trying to do backflips and rearranging lamps to stop my head from disappearing.
It's sad because Kung Fu Live has much to recommend, in theory at least. The comic book presentation is enthusiastically funny, the freeform action concept is commendable and the technology itself, when it works, is promising.
But none of this is enough to even out the awkward imbalance between the steep demands made of the player and the one-note mini game entertainment offered in return. Even assuming a best case scenario, where the camera works perfectly, the game itself just isn't that interesting. A noble experiment, but in most cases a failed one.
4 / 10