Literally everyone was Kung Fu fighting…
Among the silliest things in the world ever are Kung Fu movies. Fact. That's not necessarily a bad thing - in fact a recent viewing of Bruce Lee classic The Way Of The Dragon and the future classic Shaolin Soccer one drunken night hammered home the relentless hilarity of these epic beat 'em ups. So why have so few martial arts videogames of the past 20 years exploited this rich vein of comedy? Whatever the reason, Cambridge based codeshop Just Add Monsters has decided that it's high time we had a giggle at the making of Kung Fu movies, and the result is the 70s inspired Xbox exclusive Kung Fu Chaos.
The game kicks off with that perennial 70s classic 'Kung Fu Fighting', and its quest for period authenticity stretches to including 'The Way Of The Dragon' soundtrack and the screen is peppered with tiny, crackly visual artefacts that blight films of 'a certain age', shall we say. And within seconds of jumping into the game's main 'Ninja Challenge' mode, it's clear JAM has gone all out to make the game as fun as possible.
Pun laden comedy antics abound
With each of the 27 challenge levels taking place on a film set, your first task is to decide who you want to star in each 'scene'. With eight pun laden wannabe superstars to choose from (Chop & Styx, Ninja Fu Hiya, Xui Tan Sour [Fired! - pun Ed], Candi Roll, etc), each has its own unique look, set of special moves, taunts, and back story - which will be revealed as you progress. The enthusiastic casting director shouts a few instructions at you, and then you're slowly introduced to the game's combo, taunt, block, counter and special move system via a varied selection of all action encounters. At the start, you find your rather small character up against a wave of ninjas for hire - which are introduced as being paid cheaply and purely fodder for you to beat up for the purposes of the scene.
Rather like the general concept behind Stuntman, you're there to give the crew some decent footage in a finite amount of time, and then it's off to the next scene. But, crucially, unlike the phenomenally petty and exacting Stuntman, you're not expected to get every tiny little fragment of the scene right first time. The game awards 'stars' as the action progresses, which are dished out progressively as you clobber everything in sight, and to 'break even' you must have accumulated at least three, which then unlocks the next scene, and so on. If you perform heroics, you may achieve the maximum five star rating - which in turn has the effect of unlocking not only the next scene, but other numerous extras stored in the games other various modes. But more of that later.
Fortunately the game's not just about seeing off a bunch of baddies, Renegade/Double Dragon/Final Fight style. There are elements of this, but the Ninja Challenge mode is interspersed with brief tutorial style interludes that gradually introduce the player to the control system - normally with the intention of allowing you to practise it for real in the next scene. And even better are the sub games - some of which reminded us of the gameplay simplicity of early Nintendo Game & Watch classics; for example one scene has you stationed outside a building, and it's your job to save the stuntmen (who are being kicked out of the windows) from hitting the ground. Occasionally cows (!) also appear, but avoidance is necessary in this case because your trampoline can't cope with the weight. Other similarly bizarre scenes have you throwing a hapless woman at your enemy, or avoiding an enormous spinning metal pole mounted on a pivot. It's all frivolous cartoon violence, and you can't help warming to the mayhem that seems to move up a notch with every scene.
While the combat largely mirrors the standard four button configurations employed in other beat 'em ups, it's the taunt system that gives it something extra. In the course of battle, a quick tap of the left trigger button when your enemy has just been felled results in your character emitting a "badly translated" taunt, which helps by keeping your opponent floored slightly longer. Achieve this humiliation a further two times and you can fire off your 'special' attack move by hitting both left and right triggers, which effectively wipes out everyone on the screen, which is especially useful when you're being pursued by a crowd of determined ninjas. During all this mayhem you have to keep an eye on both your stock of lives and health status. Get pummelled too often, or knocked into a bottomless pit and you'll lose a life - fortunately extra lives pop up regularly in the early stages, so it's more a case of making sure you hit the three stars rating than worrying too much about dying. One thing you will have to keep an eye on is the clock, as the tight fisted director only has a limited amount of film in his camera, and he'll continually bellow bwoken Engwish at you to remind you of how long you've got to go.
But with a plethora of other modes, this is only one element of Kung Fu Chaos - albeit the main single player feature. Those looking for a spot of multi-player action are well serviced, with four-player support, 'Rehearsal' serves as the game's practise mode, Extras reveals unlockable content, generally only available if you can achieve five star ratings on each of the Challenge scenes, while the Championship mode remains steadfastly locked until you polish off the Challenge mode. Mini Series mode features mini challenges on each character, but only once you've mastered individual Ninja Challenge levels to five star level.
Visually, Kung Fu Chaos goes firmly for the wacky cartoon angle - but delivers it in a comical arcade style that lends itself well to the scenes of abject, um, chaos. The characters are squashed and exaggerated, but highly detailed to allow for plenty of on screen action, while the ever collapsing scenery not only looks the part, with plenty of detail, but acts as a decent gameplay mechanic, demanding consistent urgency during the scene.
All told, it's a tidy package with plenty going on and a fair amount of replayability. Whether it stands up as a beat 'em up in its own right is hard to judge at such an early stage. It feels like a refreshingly different take on the oversubscribed beat 'em up genre, but whether the novelty value wears off quickly is another matter. With the game not set to hit the nation's high street shelves until early April, we've plenty of time to find out.
Kung Fu Chaos screenshots (Xbox)
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