But it also marks the second motion-controlled brawler on Sony’s behemoth in the short space of a month, sharing the limelight with The Fight and coming off all the better for it. Rather than battering opponents head-on and wondering when the next Danny Trejo section is going to pop up, Kung Fu Live tasks you with dispatching a series of foes in a side-scrolling world using nothing but your fists, feet, belly and whatever other body parts you can manage to thrust as a weapon. If the camera can see it, you can use it as irresponsibly as you’d like.
Perhaps more interestingly though, it’s also a motion-controlled game that only requires the Playstation Eye to function; choosing to hitch its wagon onto a direct-feed video of your body inserted directly into the environment. There is no expensive depth-sensing technology here or glowing ping pong balls to wave around; just good old software and video interacting like it’s the 90s. Clear that coffee table and get a few beers in then; it’s going to get messy.
Rather unsurprisingly, the presentational aspects of Kung Fu Live are very light-hearted. After wading through an incredibly long tutorial and setup process (something that really should have been streamlined prior to release), the in-game artwork and audio isn’t anything to write home about, but it is clean and well produced; popping nicely off the screen as a background to the hilarious miniature video feed dominating the fore. It does lack a certain element of charm that you’d expect to have been the primary draw, but maintains a decent level of production regardless.
In terms of content, from the opening screen onwards the tone is very much that of a comic book, with dastardly villains and a hokey plot that sees you inserted into each stylised panel/arena to do battle. Your opponents are animated in a fashion that comes across as a mixture of LittleBigPlanet’s puppeteer controllable limbs and a more traditional mo-capped solution, and enemies seem to slip between the two as they slowly trundle around the screen to throw fists and feet in your general direction.
Whilst the rest of the presentational aspects are functionally stylish, the digital comics stitched together at the end of each level are an undoubted success however. Asked to line up for a succession of poses, your likeness is then inserted into various storyboard scenes to form a mini-story as you progress, and the results are predictably daft and entertaining. These are viewable outside the main game with use of a separate menu, and they proved to be the most endearing sequences in the entire game. Just don’t ask me why I posed the way I did, I couldn’t tell you.
As previously hinted, rather than use Sony’s own Move controller, developer Virtual Air Guitar Company has taken a leaf out of the EyeToy or Kinect playbook and made “you the controller”. Scanning the background and removing all trace of your living room, the game proceeds to insert a scaled-down video representation of your body directly into the environment, before throwing all manner of street thugs onto the screen for you to wail on. Outside of your own freeform punches and kicks, a few basic arm and body gestures handle right-to-left movement, special attacks and jumping animations, and in general the camera tracks motion extremely well - with minimal lag.
Your orientation is a bit of a bizarre disconnect at first however, as you’ll be looking at yourself head-on whilst needing to fight enemies off to either side. With a bit of practice it’s surprisingly easy to get the hang of turning your head whilst punching or kicking towards the wall though, and (regardless of the occasionally ropey collision detection) the overall effect is the one intended - provided you have enough lighting in your room for the camera to pick out a human silhouette with ease. For reference, coloured clothing that stands out against your furniture seems to help immeasurably with that particular process.
A word of warning however: Kung Fu Live is absolutely, 100%, the most physical game this reviewer has ever played. Despite a lengthy relationship with Wii Fit and passionate affairs with most of the Kinect lineup, Kung Fu Live had a knack of tiring me out in a manner that no other digital offering has managed thus far. That’s no bad thing of course, and anything that encourages people up off the sofa is welcome, but do wear loose clothing and have a towel handy; you’ll regret it within minutes if you don’t.
Somewhat predictably, this is where the experience falls down a little. Despite a decently lengthy singleplayer ‘story’ mode, there isn’t much else to do here that’ll keep you coming back. The real draw is for groups of people to take turns playing through each of the sequences and making their own comic books, and as a spectacle that’s an undoubted success. It’ll likely be a game you’ll play on your own or with a partner for a solid hour over a couple of sessions, and then it’ll be booted up occasionally when people come round with alcohol and loose inhibitions. Not much else to see here.
Like so many motion-controlled games, whilst Kung Fu Live is inevitably somewhat throwaway as an overall experience, it does fulfil its remit of being a supreme light-hearted party game. The magic really happens in the live-action video feed, which frankly looks ridiculous when combined with your own freeform movement and decent collision detection. Unlike so many other motion-controlled games, nobody in your room will be throwing the same shapes with any degree of repetition, and when combined with a few beers and a dose of enthusiasm, it can be nothing short of hilarious.
There are more than a few niggles to stem the praise though, not least of which is the convoluted, lengthy and fiddly setup process. At £10 it’s also priced a little higher than we would have liked to have seen, but regardless, it’s worth a look simply because there really isn’t anything else like it out there.
Just make sure your furniture’s removed and pets are banished. Nobody wants little Fluffy spanked through the living room window in the name of entertainment.
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