More Frightening Than Lightning
Kung Fu Live is a brave attempt at bringing something different to the Playstation Eye. It’s essentially a Kinect game on the Sony console, asking players to stand in front of the camera, get scanned into the game, pose for static comic book panel cutscenes and move around for actual fighting. The premise is intriguing, and the presentation is deliberately cheesy and B-Movie in its tone and presentation, but when you take the trimmings and frills away, what you’re left with is a game that fails to entertain due to significant technical shortcomings.
The premise of the game is that you have been recently employed to work at an old comic book store in Chinatown. While there, you get sucked into a comic book world, learn Kung Fu, and then find yourself in a conspiracy to take possession of an ancient painting in possession of your surly employer. It’s all done in a hokey, tongue-in-cheek style that pushes players from one 2D fight to the next, using various combos of your own invention to fight the waves of bad guys that take you on as you progress through the story. So far, so good, it’s your basic fighter. But then the technology gets in the way.
Like any Kinect game, or any Move game for that matter, Kung Fu Live is fairly demanding of its environmental requirements. This is a game that’s clearly designed for the suburbs, with large, spacious living rooms. It requires a 3m by 2.5m area of clear space to play, and has strict requirements for lighting, backgrounds and clothing. The ideal conditions are actually a studio space, uniformly lit, with an unobstructed screen in the background and white clothing. Since the average home is not going to meet all of these requirements, the game suffers from difficulty reading the images into the camera, and this can often result in an inability of the game to correctly gauge and respond to your movements. There are several tutorials explaining how to do everything from backflips to power punches but in reality, with a camera struggling against everything from the color of your shirt against the background to the lighting conditions of your living room, theory rarely translates into practice. There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to why one moment your attempt to do a power punch fails miserably, but the next, it successfully executes, or why you arbitrarily jump into the air when you wanted to kick the opponent. Your range to the camera also has an effect, as there is a very specific distance you need to stand at in order for your legs and feet to be adequately read by the camera, but unless you take the time to tape down that area after calibration, you’re going to quickly leave this ideal range as you turn back and forth fighting.
Kung Fu Live works as a novelty game, with both deliberate and unintentional hilarity as a result of the cheesy premise and scanned in antics of players. But as an actual game for players concerned with functional mechanics and control concepts it fails significantly. Casual gamers, not expecting control or precision, may enjoy the game simply because something happens when you flail around. If you stick with it, and depending on your state of health, you can actually work up a sweat while playing the game, but it’s hardly an alternative to a dedicated piece of fitness software like Wii Fit or Your Shape.
In the end, Kung Fu Live is an interesting premise let down by significant technical deficiencies. The demanding requirements of the game make it hard to achieve the ideal play environment the game wants without significant effort to prepare your play area. And despite all that, the game still has trouble reading your actions consistently. If you’ve got money to burn and you’re curious, give it a try, but for all other gamers, this is anything but a safe buy.