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Kung-Fu Live
Score: 56%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Virtual Air Guitar
Developer: Virtual Air Guitar
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Fighting

Graphics & Sound:
When Kung-Fu Live says it puts you in the game, it really means it. Once calibrated, your likeness is scanned into the game and used in place of a hero character. From here, all of your movements are mapped and tracked, allowing you to interact with the on-screen images. It's a neat bit of technology, but it's clear there are still some kinks to work out.

Keeping with its comic book inspired theme, Kung-Fu Live features a fun cartoon aesthetic. Backgrounds looks like the sort of locales you'd expect from a kung-fu themed comic, complete with dark city alleys and tree-lined pagodas. Enemies look a bit on the plain side, but the sheer novelty of being able to interact with them overshadows those shortcomings. Besides, brawlers have never been known for enemy variety. There are even a couple of cool special effects that kick into play if you pull off certain moves.

One aspect that isn't as easy to mask is your in-game image. Although it looks cool in screenshots, the only way you'll get as optimal a look is if you have perfect lighting and a lot of room. Most of the time I was happy with a recognizable humanoid blur. You'll read the gory details later, but Kung-Fu Live requires a lot of room to play. If you aren't perfectly in frame, you'll end up losing limbs, which looks silly.

Sound is great, but only if you can accept the game's premise. You'll hear a lot of over-the-top Asian accents and music. It's nothing you haven't heard from a cheesy kung-fu flick and, in general, works.

Kung-Fu Live is a neat experiment in gameplay that makes you the controller. The pitch isn't much different than Microsoft's Kinect pitch, only Kung-Fu Live doesn't require a $150 hardware purchase. All you need is the PlayStation Eye.

Before you can begin playing Kung-Fu Live, you're first required to go through a long list of calibration options. You need to make sure you have enough space, have the camera focused to the right distance, make sure there's adequate lighting... the list goes on for a good 8 - 10 pages and even after that, you'll have to go back in and do some fine tuning just to get things going. It's a safe bet that many players won't have the patience to go through all the set-up options and requirements. My first time through, I actually got frustrated enough to walk away without trying the game out.

Once you manage to work your way through the calibration, you're rewarded with a pretty cool game with a fun premise. The story is total schlock and involves you getting sucked into a Kung-Fu comic book. The only way out is to fight through pages of ninjas and other minions in 2-D side-scrolling brawler glory. The idea is sound, but simply doesn't work unless you have lots of space, lighting and patience. Even if you meet these requirements, there's a fair chance you won't make it far into the game. Once the novelty wears off, there isn't much else to the game.

Multiplayer injects some fun into the game. One player fights using the camera while up to three other players direct enemies with the controllers. Though it doesn't last for more than an hour (maybe four if everyone takes a turn), it's still fun to try and see if you can outsmart your camera-aided friend.

Control is Kung-Fu Live's biggest issue. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn't. You're expected to mix up your attacks, especially in later levels when enemies begin jumping around the screen and blocking. Throwing basic punches and kicks works well enough and carries a neat sense of satisfaction. This is cool in theory, thought the tracking can't keep up with what's happening. Fast punches were sometimes read as the aforementioned sliding punch, while others weren't recognized at all. More complex moves, like a backwards somersault, are even spottier.

"Advanced" enemies aren't the brightest of the bunch. Instead, they are padded with high health bars. They also block (a lot) or rely on other cheap tactics to keep you on your toes. At one point I decided the game wasn't trying to defeat my in-game character, but instead trying its best to wear me down physically. I actually like this idea and wish the game played up on that idea a little more often.

When enemies block too much or otherwise get out of hand, you can always find little ways to "cheat" your way to victory. My favorite method involved swinging two sofa pillows like giant square clubs. Impressively, the camera was able to pick up the pillows and even gave me credit for my deadly swipes. It may have issues with smaller movements, but big goofy moves are no problem at all.

Game Mechanics:
Kung-Fu Live is the first game I've ever played (and keep in mind, I've got a Kinect) that required a lot of play space. I know what you're saying; band-centric rhythm games do that too, so what's the big deal? The difference is you can usually squeeze everyone into whatever space is available. Even Kinect games allow for some variance in room size.

Kung-Fu Live, on the other hand, requires a large room. The forward space isn't too bad and offers some wiggle room as long as you don't mind playing with missing limbs. The game suggests 6 - 9 feet of distance between you and the PlayStation Eye, though it ends up being closer to 10 - 11 feet or more depending on your height. The lateral space isn't as negotiable and introduces a number of tracking issues. You can run from left-to-right in levels, though the closer you get to the edge of the cameras view, the less responsive it becomes. The only useful way to move is a sliding punch, which you'll end up using non-stop in repetitive boredom.

Kung-Fu Live hits the right buttons with its goofy premise and at least deserves some credit for trying something different. There are a few fun moments here and there, such as using foreign objects and multiplayer, but they aren't enough to justify the price. The control issues, along with the unreal play space requirements, make Kung-Fu Live a cool experiment in interaction and game mechanics, but not a good game.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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