Review: Kung-Fu Live

KungFuLive_Wallpaper_16-9.jpg

Like many aspects of the PS3, the PlayStation Eye camera’s capabilities as an augmented reality and motion control gaming peripheral have gone largely unnoticed by gamers and developers alike — and, as usual, Sony has failed to promote these features to the fullest. Without question, Microsoft’s newfangled Xbox 360 Kinect camera is far more technologically advanced, but the fact remains that the PS3 has been capable of similar full-body motion control game experiences for years. It’s just taken this long for a developer to really tap into the technology.

Kung-Fu Live is a 2D brawler game in which, to borrow the Kinect tagline for a moment, ‘you are the controller.’ Aside from menu navigation and a neat multiplayer mode that puts one player up against up to four opponents using DualShock 3 controllers, every in-game interaction is controlled by your body.

The PlayStation Eye records your body in real-time and superimposes a digitized image of your self into the game world as the hero of a comic book. Each of the 10 stages has you fending off multiple rounds of kung-fu combatants, and to do so you quickly move side to side in front of the camera to move your character within the game, duck and jump to dodge incoming attacks, and unleash a flurry of punches and kicks with your real arms and legs to attack. Over the course of the game, you also unlock four different special attacks which require more complex body movements, such as jumping into the air and landing into a ground fist pound to cause an earthquake and performing a double-fisted thrusting motion, sort of like Ryu’s famous Hadouken move, for a devastating power punch.

This is much more than some cheapy web cam game, too. You don’t simply flail your arms and legs around like a mad man – at least not if you intend on successfully completing the game. Even on a lower difficulty, your opponents put up a tough fight. They are smart enough to block predictable attack patterns and gang up on you by boxing you in and attacking from both sides, so you have to stay light on your feet and aware of your surroundings at all times. Stringing together combos is important for dishing out maximum damage, so you also have to mix up your attacks if you want to take an enemy out quickly — and not just in terms of punches and kicks, but low and high strikes as well.

In terms of presentation, Kung-Fu Live is sheer genius. The story itself is a throwaway, but the comic book presentation is surprisingly immersive. In between each fight, you are prompted to strike a series of poses that get turned into still photos which then become the images for your avatar during the cutscenes. Guidelines are provided for specific poses, but you are free to improvise your own poses for even sillier results, whether you want to make funny faces or, heaven forbid, do a little nude kung-fu acting. Either way, hilarity ensues – and in a drunken party environment, this part of the game is sure to be a hit.

Kung-Fu Live is one hell of a demanding cardiovascular workout, too, delivering more calorie-burning, fat-melting exercise than any of the dedicated fitness games I’ve played. After two nights with this game my entire body ached for days!

The only problem is that this exhausting workout largely stems from having to exert so much energy into every movement in order to get your in-game self to respond correctly. The tracking technology powering the game is incredibly finicky, requiring damn near perfect lighting conditions and a large playing area to accurately track your body. The game provides fairly robust configuration tools to adapt to different environmental factors, but in anything but optimum conditions you have to contend with dead spots, failed gesture recognition, and random camera jitter, and these technical mishaps often lead to frustrating deaths.

It’s also somewhat uncomfortable having to both look at the screen and punch and kick to your sides — your head is looking straight forward at the TV and camera, while the rest of your body is going sideways, and this configuration torques on your back and neck, and also makes it difficult to fully extend with your blows.

At the end of the fight, Kung-Fu Live highlights the best and worst of motion control gaming. When you can get the lighting just right and the game decides to work properly, it is a silly, slapstick joy of a brawler. But when it doesn’t work — which is most of the time I’m afraid — it becomes unforgivably imprecise and sometimes downright unplayable, making you long for the feel of a DualShock 3 and the comfort of face buttons and analog sticks at your fingers.

Under immaculate conditions, Kung-Fu Live can be great fun, and even when it’s not quite working, you are at least sneaking in an intense workout. But with the unpredictability of the game’s technology, it’s impossible for me to outright recommend this game. Luckily, there is a demo, so my suggestion is to give that a download and see how it works in your surroundings. If you can get it functioning with reasonable reliability, go ahead and nab the full game.

TryIt.jpg

Pros:
+ Full-body motion control fighting is silly fun…when it works!
+ Immersive comic book presentation
+ Surprisingly intense full-body workout

Cons:
– Tracking technology is too inconsistent
– Requires perfect lighting conditions and a large play area

Game Info:
Platform: PS3 via PlayStation Network download
Publisher: Virtual Air Guitar
Developer: Virtual Air Guitar
Release Date: 12/7/2010
Genre: Action/Fighting
ESRB Rating: E
Players: 1-5
Source: Review code provided by publisher

[nggallery id=1597]

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!