A more focused sequel that unfortunately focuses on the wrong elements.
It seems like only yesterday I reviewed Kung-Fu Panda on the Wii. That game released at the same time the movie came out in theaters, and its video game sequel Legendary Warriors arrives to coincide with the DVD release. I didn’t care for Kung-Fu Panda back when I originally reviewed it; the game featured half-baked platforming and mindless combat that depended on waggling your Wii Remote. The graphics were bad and the sound was sometimes absent. Its only redeeming factor was its multiplayer mode, which mimicked Super Smash Bros. (pared down, of course). Kung-Fu Panda: Legendary Warriors once again screws up its single-player story mode, but thankfully expands upon its fairly fun multiplayer game.
The single-player game involves the return of Tai Lung, who sends out his horde of followers to capture the Furious Five and steal their chi powers, thus making him the ultimate warrior. You choose from four available hero characters—Po, Tigress, Monkey, and Master Shifu—and head towards oblivion. There is two-player co-op, which I recommend because you don’t die as often. Each level is structured identically: you initially fight about a million bad guys, a minigame ensues, and then you fight the boss (who is often aided by more henchmen). The minigames rise and fall in complexity, but usually involve controlling your character during a freefall by tilting the Remote, wiggling the Remote and/or Nunchuk, or drawing symbols with the Wii Remote.
The fighting engine is hampered with problems. First and foremost there is no targeting system. Here, while surrounded by enemies, you end up waggling the Remote and hoping for the best. Often your attacks connect with the ether, and your character is punished by being pummeled. Enemies do surround you, and while you can block and evade, the fighting is so treacherous that going on the offensive is only marginally more helpful. This is why it’s helpful to have a second player.
The problems continue in the special attack department. Building up enough offensive hits builds your chi meter, and when full, you can hold C and flick the Nunchuk down to use your special attack. If you’re not properly aligned in front of an opponent, this attack will mostly hit thin air. Towards the end of the attack, you’ll be asked to draw a symbol with the Wii Remote very quickly. This works maybe 50% of the time. Success results in a more powerful attack, while failure results in your character tripping. After three successive successful chi attacks, you can unleash your ultimate attack (which also requires imaginary line-drawing) that, if successful, doles out some pretty hefty damage. Unfortunately, the baddies just keep coming to the point of utter exhaustion. However, the motion controls are surprisingly good aside from the line-drawing, relying on simple gestures that the Wii won’t accidentally mix up, like flicking both the Remote and the Nunchuk downward, flicking them apart, or flicking the Nunchuk upwards. You block with the B button, and evade with the control stick while blocking. Sadly, the lack of a targeting system (Z-button, anyone?) reduces the combat to mere guesswork.
As the fights progress enemies also start using chi attacks, which you can counter by rapidly tapping the C button. A sort of chi-off ensues, during which you and your enemy draw symbols on the screen. Again, because this only works half the time, you will be attacked…about half the time! Boss fights are irritating in that bosses have lots of hit points and special attacks in addition to chi attacks (like a charge, or a weapon), so fighting them takes awhile. They also tend to call for backup, so you’ll just end up doing more of the same.
The single-player mode is extremely repetitious and gets old fast. Its saving grace is that every time you complete a level you unlock a character, an area, or both for the multiplayer mode. And the multiplayer mode is just as much a Smash Bros. clone as it was in the original game, if not moreso. Stages are large and diverse, and the different characters, while sometimes lacking personality, have interesting movesets and different styles of play. The multiplayer mode might keep the young ones entertained for awhile, but older players will instantly replace the disk with Smash Bros. Brawl.
The graphics are a mix of good and bad. The art direction is great; each boss looks like a deleted character from the film, and in general the character design mimics the look of the source material extremely well. On the other hand, the animations are repetitious, characters look blocky, there is no ambient lighting, particle effects are horrendous (though rare), and the environments are generally dull with some notable exceptions. The cutscenes that occur before each level look great, simplistically animated by traditional 2D means. The sound is reminiscent of the first game (mellow) and seems to fix the sound effect problems that plagued it. Enemies, however, only seem to have three or four lines of dialogue, so you’ll hear the same taunts over and over again. Happily, Jack Black reprises his role as Po, and narrates the cutscenes.
Single-player levels are summarized by a letter grade based on your performance, and getting A+ grades eventually unlocks more content. Those of you blessed with both the Wii and DS versions of the game can link the two and unlock bonus multiplayer characters in the Wii game. Overall, , Kung-Fu Panda: Legendary Warriors is one you should leave on the shelf. Even the little ones will appreciate Brawl more than this, both as a single-player game and a party game.