Kung Fu Panda: Legendary Warriors Review

I'm not sure if two unrelated games qualifies as a "trend," but if it does, I hope to see more of it and soon. What am I referring to? Well, the recent releases of movie tie-in games on the Wii, specifically Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Kung-Fu Panda, were met with a collective yawn from the gaming community - and with good reason. But, a bit further down the line, both films spawned another game each, but this time the offerings were slightly better and had more in common with fighting games than lame platformers or God knows what other recycled genres their predecessors exploited. And while neither Kung Fu Panda: Legendary Warriors or Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Lightsaber Duels ended up being very good, the Wii tie-in fighting game is an interesting concept and one that could produce some seriously entertaining results in the future.

I'll get this out of the way now - I never got around to watching Kung Fu Panda - the film that this game is based on. A new computer animated film with talking animals seems to come out every other weekend, so I never felt the need to dedicate the 90 minutes needed to watching something I've almost assuredly seen dozens of times before. That shouldn't matter, though; we are only talking about the game here.

Sadly, the game isn't all that great. It does have a somewhat familiar style of play, one that I've loved in the past, but doing the same thing over and over, coupled with completely obtuse and unresponsive Wii controls, has the game limping to the finish line. You spend most of the time in Legendary Warriors fighting wave after wave of enemies in relatively small arenas with uninspired boss battles topping off the action. Fans of the Power Stone series will feel right at home here, but unlike the one-on-one battles from that series, Legendary Warriors takes a beat 'em up approach. This makes the game feel like a 3D version of classic arcade titles like Turtles in Time, the Simpsons and X-Men. In one paragraph, I've managed to mention four of my favorite games ever, so a mix of their mechanics must be awesome, right?

Wrong. The premise is admirable and can even be fun, but the Wii controls sink the whole experience. Almost all your attacks are mapped to the Wii-motes shakes and motions, a move we all know hardly ever works. To make matters worse, the detection of your moves are way off, making even the simplest of attacks a luck-based ordeal. Considering you have so many enemies to battle, it might have been nice to be able to hit them back. The problems don't end there. Your special attacks are triggered by specific on-screen patterns, similar to the oft-seen Nintendo DS actions that have you drawing specific symbols on the touch screen with the stylus. Since the motion controls is so badly realized anyway, even for normal attacks, the specials aren't going to be of much use at all. By the time I finished the game, I had seen each special move only a handful of times - most of which were by accident.

Seasoned gamers will acknowledge that games like these aren't in need of a sweeping narrative. Take the classic Genesis beat 'em up title Streets of Rage: There were streets. And rage. And that's it. But Legendary Warriors makes a go at a story, which can be seen as an added bonus. The fact that the story is next to impossible to follow really drags everything down. I've been assured that the game is a sort-of side story/half sequel to the film, using the same characters in a somewhat different light. There is voice acting (and most of it is actually quite good, with Jack Black being a standout), but the static portraits and vague text isn't enough to wrap anyone into what is going on. I said before that games like this don't need a story, and Legendary Warriors would have been better off without one. But skipping story sequences for broken gameplay isn't much of an option either.

Kung Fu Panda: Legendary Warriors just isn't very good. I am, however, going to bump up its overall score a tad for a few reasons. It is a new entry in long-neglected arena fighting/beat 'em up genres and could potentially turn younger gamers on to the type of game so many of us have loved for years. It also gets a pass based on my hope for more Wii tie-in fighting games. The Wii's control scheme and wider audience could lead to some fantastic games in the future, and I'm just fine with labeling Legendary Warriors a speed bump on a road to potentially great things. But, viewed as a single game, Legendary Warriors might keep a few kids busy for an afternoon, but most won't even get a rental's worth out of it.

In The End, This Game Hath Been Rated: 55%.