Since the release of E.T for the Atari 2600 in 1982, video games based on movies have gotten a pretty bad rap - and for good reason. Often under developed, rushed, and simply not fun, these quick cash-ins are the lowest of the low in the video game industry. So low, in fact, that when a video game based on a movie that isn't terrible comes along, it's quite the pleasant surprise. Enter: Kung Fu Panda. Based on DreamWorks' summer blockbuster, Kung Fu Panda is an action platformer that will please any fan of the animated movie.
You play as Po, a kung fu loving panda, on his quest to become the legendary dragon warrior. Along with "The Furious Five", a band of combat savvy critters, Kung Fu Panda spans across 13 levels that jump right out from the movie. The main baddie of the tale is Tai Lung, a kung fu feline who believes he should be the dragon warrior, and it's up to Po and his pals to stop him. The levels in Kung Fu Panda offer some differentiation to quell the repetitiveness of most low budget games, and it's pulled off successfully. Some levels will be action packed with you showing off your awesome kung fu-ery against hordes of bad guys, while others contain more platforming and puzzle solving elements. There are even a few God of War-like action sequences where you have to press certain buttons in order to make your character pull off some cool moves.
However, there are only a handful of levels, and they go by pretty quickly. The game only takes a few hours to beat, and unless you're a really, really big fan of the movie, there probably isn't much reason to go back and play through it again. There is a multiplayer mode, ranging from simple mini-games to a fighting mode where you can pick a brawler and battle it out with your friends. However this mode isn't very deep, and probably won't hold your attention for long. To unlock the extra characters and stages, you actually have to play through the single player and find secret coins, so there is some reason to go back and play previous missions, but it's not all that compelling.
Although short, the single player adventure is pretty fun, and surprisingly enough, has some depth to it. Combat is done mainly with two buttons, a fast attack and a strong attack. You can also perform blocks and dodges as well chain combos together. You also collect coins throughout the game, and after each level you can spend them on training points for Po, ranging from combat bonuses, such as stronger attacks, better combos, and special outfits. This adds a RPG-style element to the game that is a good way to introduce newer gamers to the level-up system implemented in a lot of games. Each level also has side quests you can complete, and although usually quite simple, still add some depth to the core gameplay.
The visual presentation of Kung Fu Panda is definitely above par. The character models all look great, with realistic movements and facial expressions. The fur on the animals looks especially great, and really stands out. All in all, the characters look just like they do in the movie. The environments are all bright and colorful, with some nice lighting and water effects thrown in too. The dialogue sounds pretty good as well. The voice actors aren't the same from the movie, but the sound-alikes do a great job - especially the voice of Po, who sounds strikingly close to Jack Black. It would have been nice to have the big stars lend their voice to the game, but these guys do such a great job, you'll hardly notice the difference.
Since the game is marketed to a younger crowd, there is definitely a lack of challenge in Kung Fu Panda. Most gamers will more than likely make it through the entire game without dying more than a few times. However, since it is a simple, casual game, it's not too big of an issue. If you're expecting a punishing, skill-straining experience, then go play Ninja Gaiden - you won't find it here.
The only thing that is better than a good game, is a game that everyone expects will be bad, and turns out to be pretty good after all. Kung Fu Panda is such a game, which offers a fun, easy going experience coupled with some action, some platforming, and even a few role-playing elements. If you can forgive its short length and rather easy difficulty, and just want to play a quick, accessible game, than Kung Fu Panda won't disappoint.