2nd January 2011 - When I first watched video from E3 demoing Kung Fu Live this year, I was super excited. It was the first decent attempt to utilize the PS Eye. After watching the trailer and several early reports of journalists enjoying the game, I eagerly scoured the net for info on its Australian release. Well, after only a few short months its here. Kung Fu Live delivers an innovative, physical experience. How good an experience is going to largely be determined by two factors; your home setup and your physical prowess.
The game has largely flown under the radar until E3 so understandable if AAG's readers haven't seen or heard of it. The developers are the Virtual Air Guitar Company, who formed in 2006 and seem to enjoy not taking themselves too seriously from some of the funny advertising. They have developed their proprietary FreeMotion technology and used Kung Fu Live as a poster child. The technology allows a normal RGB camera to capture a human body and track the movement of the trunk and limbs against a variety of backgrounds and lighting conditions. Well that's what the company says anyway. And if you watch any of the video from E3 it does just that. People accurately tracked and popped into the game as they punch and kick their way through enemies. Sounds exciting right? Well sort of.
After downloading the game from the PSN (this is a Playstation network exclusive) there is a long tutorial on how to setup your room, calibrate yourself on screen and the basic moves. The setup states you need to have good lighting have a background that you contrast against (so no dark backgrounds and dark clothing) and about 3 meters space parallel with your TV. After all those stipulations some people will be cursing they've bought the game. Despite what the company says you really do need to have the right home environment to play this game successfully. Without good lighting and the right background you simply won’t appear in the game very clearly and tracking of your moves for contact will be impeded leading to frustration. You also need space and lots of it. This is not a title you stand on the spot and play like the Kung Foo mini game in the old EyeToy: Play. Not only do you need enough room to kick either side but you need to be able to walk 2-3 meters sideways too.
The reason for the space is something that will likely polarise people and that’s the physical element to the game. As the company's warning states tongue in cheek “FreeMotion technology can make you extremely fit- any resulting six packs are unintentional.” Make no mistake you will get a workout playing this game, you will get tired and you will sweat. Now personally I loved it, I felt like Id just been to training, but it’s not the sort of thing you're going to pop on before your about to go out or before going to bed. If you are a little unfit, it will be challenging to beat the game and I suspect a little martial arts training wouldn't go astray either. If this all still sounds good then you will have fun. It’s a real blast seeing yourself on screen doing roundhouses, hooks and double front kicks.
Your basic movement on screen are tracked well as you would expect using a camera. All the movements are replicated 1:1 which means your artillery is limited only by your ability. Punches and kicks that are performed at a distance to the enemy are exaggerated so you make contact (think Johnny Cage in Mortal Kombat) and it looks pretty awesome. Unfortunately in my experience the connection with enemies can be a little hit and miss. I assume there would be a correlation between how good your lighting and background is and the tracking and connection with enemies. If you watch the videos online they are done with a green background and great lighting. The player stands out fantastically and the game works really well. While the connection was nothing near as woeful as The Fight: Lights Out it did get frustrating when you would unleash a half dozen punch and kick combos to have maybe 1/2 to 2/3 of them connect. What adds to the frustration is the enemy AI is surprisingly difficult; they block a lot of strikes so even when the game correctly detects a connection it may not do anything. Also the amount of damage done by a strike is pretty small even when it’s a fast, full strength kick to the head.
The other element that was inconsistent was the special moves. From simple things like back flips which require you to jump and put your arms in the air, to patented moves like ground slams and electricity, the moves happened but not every time and once again it gets frustrating during a bout when your dangerously low on health and need that move to pull off only for it to fail and you die.
Although Kung Fu Live is only tracks one person on screen at one time there is the option to get up to 4 friends involved by letting them pick up a dualshock and controlling the enemies. This does add to the game and make the wait till your turn more bearable. It can be funny watching someone else play the game, but generally speaking you just want to get in there and have a crack, which can lead to impatience.
The graphics are in a simple cartoonish comic book style in keeping with the theme and storyline of the game. The artwork for the comics does the job nicely and some of the scenes are pretty funny as it completely takes the piss out of the old school martial arts movies. The in game graphics are very basic and a little disappointing with regards to both the environments and the enemy models. It doesn’t matter too much as you’re so busy punching and kicking you hardly notice, but when you stop or your watching someone else it sticks out. As I mentioned earlier the quality of your image on the screen is related to your background and lighting.
Much like the graphics the sound effects and music is pretty basic. Your mandatory sounds from strikes and a cool effect as you perform a power move. It wouldn’t be old school Kung Fu without super cheesy voice acting and its here in spades.
Considering you wont be able to play the game for long periods of time on your own (too tiring), the fact that it doesn’t work so great if your setup isn’t perfect, and the lack of depth means this game is way too expensive. It is again a good game to whip out with mates (there have been a lot of them lately) who are prepared to get physical, but for $24.95 you won’t get the gaming hours out of it that PSN titles half as much have provided.
I really wanted to like this game. I mean I really wanted to. The technology has so much potential and maybe in the right environment that potential is realised. The problem is how many people have a nice open area with a green screen as a backdrop and flood lighting. Okay so I may be exaggerating the setup requirements, but the point is most peoples homes will lack the setup to really see this title shine. And that’s a shame as it’s a fun title to get stuck into, for about half an hour at which point you’re that knackered from all the missed and blocked hits you want to take a shower and play something a little more relaxed.
AAG SCORE: 5/10
+ Innovative game play and use of the PS Eye
+ Hilarious tongue in cheek take on old school Kung Fu movies
+ Great comic book style story
- Gaming experience heavily dependent on environment setup
- Connection with enemies not as reliable as it needs to be
- In game graphics and sound very basic
Written and reviewed by Khye Davey