They're launching the PlayStation Move with a game that plays like a Tony Hawk downhill trick racer, if Tony was a nerdy private detective guy or a girl who knelt on a chair and stuck her butt in your face.
Kung Fu Rider is one of the PlayStation Move launch games targeted to a more traditional gaming audience, the kind of audience who might be delighted by a downhill racer, be it an SSX snowboarding one, Wii launch game Tony Hawk Downhill Jam or a collection of 18 timed, scored races down the streets of a Chinese metropolis, said races conducted by either a guy or a girl using an office chair, baby stroller, vacuum or some other conveyance — plus Kung Fu moves — to escape from the mob.
This is also your game if you like staring at virtual butts.
It's Tricky: In 2010, Kung Fu Rider may be the closest we get to an SSX. Downhill racing games are fun. Kung Fu Rider has the ingredients. You start each level with a shove of whatever chair or other wheeled seat your character is on and then build momentum as you careen down the streets of a Chinese metropolis. You can hop onto and grind on rails. You can steer toward or leap off ramps into money that gives you points. You can thread through colored rectangles that raise your maximum speed. And — this is the distinguisher — you can punch and kick at the mobsters running after you, using Kung Fu to fend them off, lest they use Kung Fu or some very long, swinging poles, to knock you from your rolling seat. Any given run down one of this game's slopes is fun.
It's Tough: The game doesn't baby you. Each level has multiple lines you'd best seek to gain the most points. Some of the best racing lines involve ascending and skipping across decks on the sides of skyscrapers. Your mob combatants aren't too tough to fight and the game's many pedestrians are easy to avoid, but the traffic is a challenge. The game pulls a Burnout 3 and forces you to ride right into intersections where cars and trucks are ready to smack into you (though, unlike Burnout, you want to avoid all of them). Your character can survive several heavy collisions that knock them off their seat before they fail. You also need to worry about a timer. So each level can be an interesting challenge and a puzzle to figure out, if you want to finish in time and score high.
The Colored Ball: The best thing the game does with the PlayStation Move is change the color of the sphere at the tip of the motion controller's wand to signal that certain moves have been properly executed by the player or to show that you're in danger of losing. See here:
Move Confusion:Kung Fu Rider is a disc-shaped argument against the number of buttons on the Move wand. The PlayStation motion controller has five buttons on the top that are all theoretically easily accessible by your thumb. That's the big Move button and the triangle, circle, x and square buttons around it. There's also a trigger underneath. All of these are used to a combined confusing effect in Kung Fu Rider. There is no Wii-style restraint from many-buttoned controls. Elegantly, the game has you steering by veering the Move to the left or right. It has you jumping by hoisting the Move as if it is a torch; you brake by pointing straight down to the floor. You waggle the Move to speed and jab forward to speed up even more. You do Kung Fu moves with a tap of your thumb on the Move button and you pull the underbelly trigger to limbo under low barricades and — in the best moments in the game — below the ladders carried by men crossing your path. All that would be enough. But because you will often get caught on objects as you descend, you are given a sidestep/scooting move mapped to X and circle. And, for mysterious reasons, you are given super Kung Fu moves — unnecessary but flashy Kung Fu moves — that you can execute by pressing square or triangle and then shaking in various directions. That's too much. For a game on a new controller whose buttons are in unfamiliar places, this is a needlessly complicated scheme which offers more controls than you will bother using.
Copies Of Copies: The game has six levels, with three variations apiece. But I could have sworn that I played the same level 18 times before I finished the game. The variety in these environments is as indiscernible as snowflakes at two feet. There's not much to this game that you won't experience in the first five minutes of playing it.
The Wrong Multiplayer: I predict that the kind of multiplayer you might want from a downhill racing game would involve head-to-head competition. But would you settle for Super Mario Galaxy-style co-star mode instead? The second player can use a Move wand to grab the money floating on the track or to toss various obstacles around. Strange design choice.
Kung Fu Rider may offer longevity to players who are obsessed with re-racing downhill courses, looking for the best rank on each. But for anyone else, it would probably be too thin a game to enjoy long-term. There is little variety here, little variation on a gameplay style that many people have played before, just without the Kung Fu. This is not a game that makes the Move feel like a breakthrough, except in the evolution of games finding gameplay reasons for their heroes to bend over and stick their butt out toward the player.
Kung Fu Rider, like many Move games, uses the PlayStation Eye camera not just to track the Move controller's movement but to snap pictures of the person who is playing the game. You are shown a photo of yourself, snapped during a level, as soon as the level finishes. Maybe it was my consternation with the controls, maybe it was my fatigue at playing the game as a few large meals rather than as many snacks, but not once when I was shown a photo of what I had been doing while playing Kung Fu Rider did I see myself smiling.
Kung Fu Rider was developed by Sony's Japan Studio and published by Sony Computer Entertainment of America for the PlayStation 3 on September 7. Retails for $39.99 USD. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through the game's 18 levels, tried free-play (which unlocks new rides) and sampled some local two-Move co-op racing with a friend.
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