Version tested: PlayStation 3
The similarities between Sackboy and a string puppet Bruce Lee may be few, but without Rag Doll Kung-Fu it's doubtful there would have been a LittleBigPlanet. Mark Healey's puppetry-'em-up, developed in the scraps of time found between his work as an artist at Lionhead, was released mere months before he quit to form Media Molecule. Emboldened by his indie game's success, Healey and friends went on to create the game that Sony now hopes defines its system. As such there's a sort of neat symmetry in RDKF's arrival onto PlayStation 3, even if, with their floppy limbs and drunken gait, there's nothing particularly neat about its characters' entrance.
Ostensibly a fighting game, the original Rag Doll's appeal came as much from getting to grips with the unwieldy string puppet control scheme as the thrill of carefully considered combat. Players were required to click and drag their character limb by limb to make it move, waggling the mouse in order to flail its arms about in an aggressive, but very much hit-and-miss manner.
While the fighters still move like puppets in this remake, their heads lolling about on granite still torsos, the game is far less about working out how to place one foot in front of the other than simply dashing about, flinging oneself headfirst into rival martial artists like some kind of a demented child's toy. The game brims with miniaturised, mischievous charm, and, thanks to the simplified control scheme, it's a far more free-flowing and accessible proposition than the original - a fact that some fans will no doubt bemoan.
The 'plastic' in the subtitle is telling. Rag Doll's PlayStation 3 reincarnation features characters that are less Chinese-dressed Pinocchios than Action Man figurines, their shiny surfaces reflecting LittleBigPlanet-style dusky lighting. Movement is as straightforward as leaning on the left analogue stick, an exertion of pressure that will see your kung fu master career off in that direction at high speed.
You've a kick, punch and jump button while, as with LBP, clicking the R1 button down will allow you to grab onto ledges or pick up items and other characters to throw about. From time to time weapon crates are dropped into the game environment and the staffs and nunchuks therein can be swung and thrust in 360 degrees with the right stick. Pots, pans and cardboard noodle boxes are also airdropped into stages as consumable items that will restore health.
The stock combat moves are supplemented by a slew of mystical powers, all of which are triggered via the DualShock 3's motion controls. In the left-hand corner of the screen sits your stock of Chi orbs, up to five at a time, which can be spent on performing magical special moves or restoring your health bar. Chi is earned by landing hits on your opponents, the gauge filling faster the higher your juggle combos. When you've some Chi to spend shaking the controller will summon a lightening ball, which can be aimed with the left stick and thrown at enemies.