If you're someone who watches a lot of martial arts movies, at some point you've almost certainly encountered a legendary weapon that could never exist in real life, cheesy dialogue complete with ludicrous dubbing, and at least one unfortunate stunt man suffering grievous injury from a poorly landed fall. Invincible Tiger: The Legend of Han Tao tries to emulate kung fu classics and does have the visual style and over-the-top villains you would expect, but it suffers from banal combat that never approaches the thrilling apex of the source material. The button-mashing minuet replicates the flying punches and sliding kicks popularized by action stars, but the fights are flat and lack the brutal impact that makes an audience wince with pleasure or the chaotic energy that keeps you glued to the edge of your seat. The mushy controls further hamper the experience, forcing you to play this kung fu brawler with a digital arm tied behind your back.
Invincible Tiger does have a flair for scenery that can momentarily hide the shallow gameplay. The most noteworthy element is a number of 3D settings that add a layer of visual depth to your frenzied fisticuffs. If you have a pair of multicolored glasses (stereoscopic work as well) or a 3D-capable monitor handy, you can make the foliage, explosive barrels, and enemies seemingly leap right off the screen. The effect is novel though superfluous, especially when you consider the action takes place entirely on a 2D plane. Although the extra dimension doesn't add much to the experience, the artistic style does, accurately mimicking the similar settings from kung fu films. From a log fort built upon a streaming waterfall to an underground hideout carved into a cave, the levels are interesting to look at, with lots of little details hidden behind the waves of fighting men.
Invincible Tiger does not have side-scrolling levels. Instead, you are confined to a certain section until you dispose of the requisite number of enemies and automatically move on to a new location where you repeat the process. Each section is large, with vertical pathways offering you plenty of room to flee when you get overwhelmed or just want to seek out the best location to strike down those following you. You can interact with the environment as well, either to leap up to higher locations or to attack enemies in different ways. For instance, in some levels, you can chuck barrels at your enemies, and these become invaluable when you need a moment's respite to regain some energy because the swarm won't stop advancing. The environmental tools are not without flaws, though. In some areas, you can swing from a branch or other protuberance and swiftly knock down your foes with your legs. However, you can be attacked during this move--often by enemies who don't appear to land attacks successfully--which makes what should be an exciting dose of variety frustratingly unpredictable.
The standard combat doesn't fare much better. You have two moves at your disposal--a punch and a kick--and you combine these into three-hit combos to perform finishing attacks. The different combos let you exploit the weaknesses of your different attackers, but it's difficult to focus on pulling off a specific move when you're surrounded by a half-dozen dudes who are all trying to kick you. There is no time to carefully devise a plan when your foes are closing in, so it's more effective to mash away and hope for the best. This thoughtless method is all you need to advance. By just mindlessly pounding, you'll be able to strike down all who stand against you, which leads to lots of repetition. To dodge attacks, you flick the right stick to roll away from angry kicks at your head. You can also pick up weapons your overeager enemies drop, although the staffs and knives don't add any more excitement to the combat. None of your attacks carry any weight, so even as enemies fall down by your might, it's easy to get lulled into sleepy boredom.
There are a number of inconsistencies and control problems that bring the fighting from lackluster to aggravating. Your protective roll does not always afford you immunity, for example, so you will sometimes find yourself inexplicably wounded for no good reason. Even more troubling is the fact that your commands are not always recognized. You are often stuck in an animation, which forces you to mash away frantically on the jump button or dodge stick while an attacker beats away at your frail body without mercy. This problem doesn't only crop up when you are performing moves. Sometimes, you need only be walking down a pathway for your defensive commands not to register. Because suffering one attack can halve your life bar and getting sandwiched between foes can end your life in just a second, these control blemishes make Invincible Tiger much harder than it ought to be.
Much more satisfying combat comes courtesy of five bosses who require more strategy and a more measured approached to vanquish them. These powerful warriors can only be hurt during certain moments, which adds a feeling of dread as you try to avoid them until they lose their invulnerability. The first boss only requires you to move out of the way of his heavy mace, but the later ones are much more challenging and imaginative. One of them fills the room with a group of normal attackers. You must keep moving lest you get overwhelmed by their numbers, until you find a magic bell that, when rung, makes the boss susceptible to your attacks. This fight is satisfying when you finally win because it relies on careful planning and deft movement, and as long as the controls don't get in the way, it's exhilarating to sprint around the arena.
You can go through Invincible Tiger with a friend, either locally or online, but you better be at the same skill level or it gets mighty frustrating. You cull from the same pool of lives, so if your buddy is more apt to die, it can make an already challenging game exceeding difficult. Co-op is fun when you get into a good rhythm, and like the clever boss fights and eye-pleasing scenery, it shows that this 2D beat-'em-up had a lot of potential. But the repetitive, mindless combat and clunky controls largely derail the experience, adding little excitement and way too much aggravation to the mix. Invincible Tiger adds a gimmicky 3D layer to the visuals, but the gameplay is what really needed that extra depth.