In case you haven't been paying attention to the calendar, summer blockbuster season is officially upon us. And we all know that summer blockbuster season can't fade away into autumn without first bringing more than a few movie tie-ins our way. One such example is next week's release of Kung Fu Panda, the game accompanying Jack Black's CGI movie starring a panda whose fighting skills far surpass his portly physique. We just took a look at a brief preview build of the Xbox 360 version to give you an idea of what to expect from the game.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly what genre Kung Fu Panda belongs in. At any point in the game you'll feel like you're in a button-mashing brawler, a Sonic-like platformer, or any of the dozens of other gameplay variations the game constantly switches between with nary a warning. The first level features Po, the main character voiced by Jack Black, fighting his way through a dream sequence filled with a seemingly never-ending stream of enemies. The combat is fairly simple: press X for a quick attack, Y for a strong attack, or combine the two in various sequence to unlock the power of combo moves. It's generally a battle of stamina since the game tends to flood the screen with pesky critters seeking to take you down. During the fight sequences, you'll hear Jack Black spit out a few voiceovers, but they tend to be pretty repetitive and don't really sound like the Tenacious D singer is quite giving it his all. Enemies will taunt you as well.
But as we mentioned, the brawling scenes represent only one part of the game's many scenarios. Po can turn into a super-fast rolling ball and cruise over rooftops collecting coins just like you'd see in recent 3D representations of the Sonic series. He'll also need to bounce from lilly pad to lilly pad in a water level, capped off by a sequence where you need to steer a boat through treacherous rocks with crocodiles flinging rocks at you. Later in the game you play as Po's master Shifu. Shifu goes through some odd sections that require both cloud-jumping and archery prowess, in addition to the standard brawling. These random sections come at you so fast and unexpectedly that Kung Fu Panda almost feels like a minigame compilation.
There are a couple multiplayer modes featured in our preview build. One is the standard memory matching game pitting you against a grid of cards which you can only flip over two at a time. It's obviously a mode featured in plenty of games before, but the twist here is that you're competing against other players in two ways: racing across the screen to uncover the right tiles and engaging in combat when you find pairs requiring the same card. The other is a mode that dispenses with the mental exercises altogether in a standard multiplayer fighter arena. Here you'll need to duke it out with another player while being careful to avoid the bombs the giant gorilla standing nearby happens to be tossing your way. The fact that you're fighting on a narrow platform suspended above oblivion gives it the slight feel of a Smash Bros. game.
Far and away the best feature of Kung Fu Panda is that it looks really great. From the way Po's panda fur looks fuzzy and touchable to the way light reflects on the pond in the Treacherous Waters level, the visuals are consistently pleasing. It makes sense considering the game is based on a big budget CGI movie; the bar for those has certainly been raised in the Pixar versus DreamWorks battles of recent years.
Altogether, Kung Fu Panda doesn't look like it will be luring hardcore players to the realm of the blockbuster tie-in, but it certainly has a few appealing qualities. The sheer variety of gameplay and pleasant look of the game should at least win over the casual crowd. You can expect to see it released next week.