Kung Fu Panda Review «

In Roger Ebert’s review of the film Kung Fu Panda, he called it “elegantly drawn,” with action sequences “packed with energy,” and “short enough that older viewers will be forgiving” — but he also called it “too predictable.” Though Ebert would likely never think twice about the videogame adaptation of any movie, Activision’s Kung Fu Panda may be one of the better film-to-game translations of late, if only for how well it matches up to the strengths that Ebert noted.

Click the image above to check out all Kung Fu Panda screens.
Though its visuals aren’t nearly as crisp as your average CG movie, the PS3 and XB360 versions of Kung Fu Panda are above and beyond what I expect from children’s movie cash-ins. The look of the game may be a little too bright to call it “elegant,” but it’s certainly enjoyable to watch. The PlayStation 2 version trades the shiny lighting for a muddy slather that robs the game of any visual appeal, and the Wii version falls somewhere in the middle, impressing me about as often as it left me shaking my head.

As in the film, the game’s energy comes from the chop-socky kung fu action, which translates to gameplay as a button-mashing brawler. Mixing strong, weak, and special attacks to string together combos is solid enough fun, but it’s not going impress older gamers when alternatives like Ninja Gaiden 2 and Devil May Cry 4 are available. Then again, Kung Fu Panda does a much better job at one element that those triple-A action franchises have never really competently pulled off: platforming. Kung Fu Panda’s jumping and climbing areas let players take a breather from the fighting but also manages to be clean, simple, and — amazingly — almost never frustrating.

Click the image above to check out all Kung Fu Panda screens.
If the movie is indeed guilty of being too predictable, the game never really breaks away from its traditional cartoon-brawler shell either. But here’s where the game’s criticism differs from the film’s: The lack of variety is actually a good thing. In an area of game development where being overly ambitious can destroy you, developer Luxoflux has instead created a smart, focused, and (most importantly) polished effort that should delight young fans of the film. When I turned on Kung Fu Panda and first heard the droning voice of the awful Jack Black soundalike who does the narration, I expected a low-budget rip-off of the movie; in actuality, the game is an entertaining experience in its own right.


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