Review: Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists of Plastic

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Rising to fame in 2005 as an indie PC project created by Mark Healey, former Lionhead Studios artist who has since moved on to found Media Molecule and create LittleBigPlanet, Rag Doll Kung Fu has now made its way to the PS3 as a PSN-exclusive downloadable app freshly subtitled Fists of Plastic. And as a party-style fighting game somewhat akin to the Smash Bros. series and the Xbox Live Arcade title Small Arms – except in this game you battle with kooky kung fu marionettes — Rag Doll Kung Fu is a perfect match for the PSN’s growing library of quirky original games with its irresistibly fun gameplay, graphical style and audio.

Fists of Plastic isn’t just a straight port of the PC game either. It’s been completely remade with the PS3 controller in mind, which is a very good thing because for all its charm the PC version’s mouse control scheme is a bit awkward and imprecise. Rather than controlling your rag doll fighter by dragging individual limbs like a puppet on strings, the PS3 version gives you the full control you expect to have in a fighting/platform type of game like this: you move around with the left stick, punch, kick, block and jump with the face buttons, and grab with the R1 shoulder button. When the coast is clear you can even free-pose with the L2 and R2 shoulders and taunt your foes mercilessly.

The controls actually feel very similar to LittleBigPlanet, and the graphics and floppy animations are every bit as detailed and charming too, almost as if the game is running on the LBP engine. You even unlock new costume pieces to customize your own rag doll with as you play, and I believe there’s even a secret Sackboy costume to find. So yep, the similarities are unmistakable.

This is also one of the few PS3 games to utilize the Sixaxis motion sensing tech in ways that not only make sense, but are intuitive and actually enhance the gameplay opposed to feeling like some slapped-on gimmick. While playing you have access to a variety of cool Chi Powers, each of which require some sort of Sixaxis gesture to activate. You can turn and hold the controller upside down to meditate and regenerate health, attack and then flick the controller to perform a Firefly move that sends your puppet soaring in the aimed direction, shake the controller up and down to charge up a lighting ball you can then lob at your opponents, and unleash a devastating slam attack by holding the block button and moving the controller up and down as if raising your fists and slamming them down into the ground. The Sixaxis picks up these gestures extremely well too. At least I haven’t encountered any problems with faulty recognition.

In terms of content, Fists of Plastic offers two distinct experiences. For the solo player there are eight different challenges that basically serve as mini-game tutorials teaching the ins and outs of the game’s different play mechanics, such as shuriken target practice, a game of fish basketball, an acrobatic challenge of swinging between platforms like a gymnast doing the uneven bars, using lightning balls to see how long you can juggle a lifeless rag doll in the air, and so on. Despite their simplicity, theses challenges really are a blast to play, and incredibly addictive too once you begin gunning to beat your high scores and earn the coveted Plastic medals proving your worth as a true Rag Doll Kung Fu master.

Then there is the multiplayer mode featuring eight visually engaging maps and four fun play modes for 2-4 players (actually, you can also play solo with AI bots if you like), including Deathmatch, King of the Hill, Dodgeball and the Capture the Fish mode from the single player. Unfortunately, at this time the multiplayer mode is limited to local players only. Online play was originally planned, but ultimately got cut due to technical issues, according to what Sony told me. All hope is not lost, though, as work is still being done to get the online functionality stable enough to possibly launch in the future. Hopefully Sony makes that happen, but for now you’ll have to settle for competing through the online leaderboards and/or wrangling a few friends over to your house.

Nonexistent online play is a major — arguably unforgivable — omission, especially for a game with such a heavy focus on multiplayer, so if online play is a mandatory feature for you you’ll obviously want to sit tight and hope Sony is able to iron out the technical kinks and patch in online support down the line. But even without online play, Rag Doll Kung Fu’s solo and local multiplayer content is oodles of fun and too charming for words.

As long as you know what you’re getting (and what you’re not getting), Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists of Plastic is well worth throwing down $10 for.

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Pros:
+ Fun-filled mix of solo mini-games and party-style multiplayer
+ Makes wonderful use of the Sixaxis motion sensing
+ Earning trophies, medals and costumes becomes very addictive
+ Detailed, quirky graphics ooze charm
+ Humorous music and sound effects

Cons:
– Lacks online play

Game Info:
Platform: PS3 via PSN download
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Tarsier Studios
Release Date: 4/9/09
Genre: Party/Fighting
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-4
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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!