Don’t tell Monkey
I’m not ashamed to admit that I love the Kung Fu Panda films. My wife and I went into the first expecting absolutely nothing, and came away very impressed by the antics of Jack Black, Ian McShane, and crew. Also, tapping Gary Oldman to play a badass peacock in the sequel was genius.
Of course, like all good things in Hollywood, there’s a risk of oversaturation. In addition to a string of bad games, there’s also been a TV series, and a third film is coming in a few months, with more in the pipeline. The good news in light of this massive flood of merchandise is that Kung Fu Panda: Showdown of Legendary Legends, a Super Smash Bros. clone at heart, is passable.
Kung Fu Panda: Showdown of Legendary Legends (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed], Wii U)
Developer: Vicious Cycle Software
Publisher: Little Orbit
MSRP: $39.99 ($29.99 on 3DS)
Released: December 1, 2015
When I say Showdown is a Smash Bros. clone, I mean it. The game prominently features tilts, double jumps (triple jumps with an up+special), edge guarding, orb-based blocking and rolling, and so on. There’s even an option to jump with the up direction. Grabs operate in the same manner, with the ability to queue up standard attacks or a directional throw — the similarities are more than uncanny. While many will be quick to judge it, developers have been cloning Smash for over a decade, so it’s absolutely nothing new.
There isn’t the amount of polish here that you’d expect from a first-party Nintendo title, but Vicious Cycle does a good enough job of grasping the basics. In short, it plays well. Movement is precise, the controls actually work when you try to initiate charged attacks and the like, and each character feels different in terms of their animations, and unique abilities (bird characters can flap, a la Kirby’s float jump). The visuals are also very clean, and bright to boot. There’s a vibrant feel to everything, and tons of detail in character models like Po, where you can see his individual strands of fur. I was fairly surprised, all told, with how well this whole shebang was put together.
Characters can get pretty obscure beyond Po and the Furious Five, including Po’s “father” Mr. Ping, and the Soothsayer from the second film. There’s 20 in all, and though Mantis and Viper are strangely absent, they are available as assist summons. That’s a decently padded roster, and the 12 arenas all offer up something of their own, whether it’s small hazards here and there, or a full-on scrolling platforming gimmick. Items aren’t nearly as varied as other arena brawlers, but they’re completely optional, and yes, there’s even a Final Destination-like stage for all you purists out there.
Having said all that, it is a bit sloppy on occasion, despite the keen visual style. The hit detection and framerate are off at times, especially when there’s four players on-screen causing all kinds of havoc. This is particularly an issue with special abilities from certain characters. While the actual animations are great, the moveset pool sort of shrinks over time once you’ve played the entire roster. Things start to blend together. If you aren’t expecting an advanced fighter, it’s not so bad, but knowing that it could have been so much more makes it disappointing.
There’s also no real story or campaign, as the single-player element is billed as a “Tournament” setup, which basically translates to “random matches against CPUs.” Beyond that there’s a free-play mode with bots (with five difficultly settings), and offline or online four-player multiplayer. I unfortunately wasn’t able to test out the online functionality outside of a few matches even after launch (there isn’t much of a community, all told), and it wasn’t really a smooth experience.
Kung Fu Panda: Showdown of Legendary Legends is a lot better than I expected it to be, but it still suffers from a lack of polish in the gameplay department. If you’re a casual fighting game fan, really dig the franchise, and have some friends to play with though, you’ll probably have an awesome time.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]