SAN FRANCISCO--Film tie-ins, particularly those for animated movies, don't generally rise to the top of the heap. Color us surprised, then, that the mechanics behind the Kung Fu Panda game for the Nintendo DS seem pretty solid. We'll let the movie critics worry about the upcoming animated film's quality, but for now, we're eager to see how well the game will turn out, even if the demo we got to play was only about five minutes' worth of gameplay.
The demo took place on one tiny level, a dojo in which red panda Master Shifu (due to be voiced in the film by Dustin Hoffman) guided us, as Po (voiced in the film by Jack Black), through the game's basic controls. Movement is simple: You use the D pad to move left and right, press up to jump, and press up twice to--you guessed it--double-jump. While it seems that using a face button to jump would have made more sense, the combat system made it easy to figure out why developer Vicarious Visions went that route: All of the action is performed using just the stylus.
After a quick introduction, we were attacked by killer crocodiles, but we soon discovered fun and interesting ways to turn them into panda food. First up was the standard attack, in which we dragged the stylus toward the enemy and let go. Po slid toward the enemy and delivered a swift karate chop in response. These weren't the only actions available, though. We could pick up our foe as well, and then throw him toward other enemies, or just into the air. No matter what action you choose, performing it is simple: You select the right object, area, or enemy, and a contextual action will pop up, which makes it easy to determine what Po's onscreen feat will be. And every time you drag the stylus, the action pauses, which makes it easy to choose exactly what deed of derring-do you deign to deliver.
A few other twists were added in the short demo as well. Some enemies tossed spears, which we could grab and then throw back. Others were vulnerable to the iron claw attack, in which Po transforms into a tiger and leaps through the air toward his advancing foe. Alas, it was over all too quickly, but we learned enough to know that this is one movie tie-in that's worth keeping an eye on. We'll bring you more news on Kung Fu Panda as it becomes available.