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Kung Fu Panda
Score: 78%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Luxoflux
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Action

Graphics & Sound:
Kung Fu Panda follows a young panda named Po who is granted the ultimate fanboy wish when fate and an ancient prophesy gives him the chance to study martial arts alongside the Furious Five, the five greatest warriors in the Valley of Peace. However, the opportunity hits a snag when the treacherous Tai Lung breaks out of prison in order to claim the Dragon Scroll and prove he is the warrior of legend.

It wasn't until after I saw the movie that it I realized how closely the game's visuals match the movie. Though it's not poly-for-poly perfection, it's really close. All of the characters are incredibly detailed, right down to their furry coats. However, the real stand-out feature is the animation. A lot of attention was paid to even the subtlest of movements; Po has a clumsy, yet graceful gait that is just fun to watch, whether he's struggling to keep his balance on a beam or dispatching foes with his combat skills.

The soundtrack matches the game's oriental feel perfectly. The sound effects have just enough "pop" and the voicework is great. I've heard conflicting word on whether or not Jack Black actually does Po's voice in the game (most sources seem to indicate it isn't), but if it isn't him them whomever they got does an amazing job.

Most of your time is spent playing as Po, although you do get the chance to play as members of the Furious Five and as the diminutive Master Shifu. Both Po and Master Shifu's play styles feature a heavy focus on combat with some minor platforming. Levels are mostly linear, though each also features a slight bit of exploration in order to complete secondary goals. Unless you're the type of player that thrives on congratulatory titles, there isn't much reason to seek out each level's side mission since all you get for your effort is a simple "100% Completed" message at the end of the level. Considering that the game features the ability to upgrade Po's moves and purchase new items, you would think that taking the time to go the extra mile would be built into the system.

The Furious Five pop up in various mini-games that break up each level. These include a flying level where you dodge lightning bolts and storm clouds with Master Crane and a few timed button-press sections. While I like the mechanic, it has always seemed like one of those things that few games manage to get right. Although functional, the sequences tend to either go too long or are simply overused. If you miss a press, you're forced to restart the entire sequence which is a more of an annoyance than a penalty.

The single-player game is joined by a multi-player mode. In addition to a four-player combat game, there are also a number of mini-games like mahjong and a memory game. The catch is that you need to collect special coins in each level to unlock the games, and it will remind you of this EVERY time you collect a coin.

Kung Fu Panda is a short game and can be completed in less than 10 hours depending on how ardent you are about completing secondary missions. Even on the hardest setting, the game isn't that hard for a well-played player, though younger players might face a bit of a challenge. Health is plentiful and there's no limit to the number of times you can die, which helps to dull any major sticking points.

The upgrade system also takes away from the difficulty - probably a bit too much. I was able to max out Po's main attacks and health within the first few levels, so enemies were a breeze to barrel through. The only time I had any trouble with combat was during the last battle with Tai Lung since he does nothing but block and use powerful attacks. Rather than feeling like a challenge, it feels like a cheap, mindless way to end the game.

Game Mechanics:
Kung Fu Panda attempts to look more complicated than it really is. Some enemies can only be damaged by "strong" attacks, while others can only be damaged by "quick" attacks, although random button-mashing seems to do just as good a job knocking out enemies as matching the correct attacks does. Po can also learn a number of moves such as a belly flop that damages groups of enemies or an "Iron Belly" move that lets him block damage then toss it back at an enemy.

Special moves are regulated by a Chi meter than depletes every time Po uses a special move. However, it wasn't until I was halfway through the game that I realized what the bar was used for - which should give you a good idea about how many times I bothered to use special moves. Chi is regenerated by collecting blue orbs that aren't very hard to find, so even if you do find yourself using moves, you'll rarely find yourself in a hole... that is, until the final boss when health and Chi are in short supply.

Po's kung fu skills are complimented by a set of secondary attacks. Po can pick up some objects and toss them at enemies or use a staff. Of the two, throwing objects is the more useful since the staff just seems to randomly show up in levels and never seemed to enhance combat in any significant way. Po can also roll into a ball, though the ability is only used in a handful of situations, which is a shame since one of the game's more interesting and entertaining levels is built around the move.

As far as licensed games go, Kung Fu Panda is a solid title. While it doesn't do much to break out of the mold, it manages to find its center and present a game that is engaging, though only for a short time. It won't win over many players over 13, although it does fill the PS3's need for good, kid-friendly games.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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