Kung Fu Panda on the Wii manages to capture the look and feel of the movie it's based on--but shallow, repetitive gameplay, inconsistent visuals, bugs, slowdown, and a short length are sure to disappoint. The game is intended primarily for those who have seen the film and want to live out Po's adventure as both the bumbling fool and the unlikely Dragon Warrior saviour. For this reason, those who pick up Kung Fu Panda on a whim may find that the character introductions are a little thin and that their experience suffers as a result.
While not impossible to follow, the story can certainly be a little confusing, especially in regards to intercharacter relationships. If you haven't seen the movie, the game comes across as slightly disjointed, and while it can be played like any off-the-shelf beat-'em-up, don't be surprised if you find yourself struggling to make connections to the story at times.
You'll roam the plains of Peace Valley, going head-to-head with the Croc, Boar, and Ninja Cat gangs trying to capitalize on Tai Lung's return. It's no real surprise that you'll play Kung Fu Panda mostly as main character Po, but you'll also assume the role of his sensei, Master Shifu, as well as Furious Five members Tigress, Monkey, Mantis, Crane, and Viper. Each has a unique skill set; for instance, Shifu is capable of skull-hopping between groups of foes, and Monkey can scale structures to climb to otherwise unreachable areas. You should be able to rip through the single-player campaign in around four hours, even less if you complete only the minimum-requirement objectives rather than taking the time to do advanced tasks, explore, and find rare items. It is worth noting that though content is almost identical to that of the Xbox 360 game in places, several levels are missing entirely in the Wii version. Collectibles take the form of jade coins that unlock the game's multiplayer modes, playable characters, and short video montages of the characters in action taken directly from the film. Some of these are only a few seconds long, so they hardly justify replaying stages if you didn't find them the first time around.
You'll use the Wii Nunchuk's analog stick to move your character around the screen, while your basic attack is performed with the B button. A more powerful attack is available by swinging the controller horizontally. Double jumping and snapping the controller downwards performs the Panda Quake ability, an area-of-effect knockback move which uses Po's chi, the game's form of energy for special attacks. Defeated foes drop orbs that, when collected, restore chi, while smashing and consuming the contents of dumpling baskets restores health. Gold coins can be collected and used in the game's store to upgrade Po's health, chi bars, and attack power. Unfortunately, the relatively small amount of chi used for specials at the easier difficulty levels and plentiful refills mean the best approach is to pump all your coins into maxing out your Panda Quake ability, lure and corral groups of targets, and then body-slam them into oblivion. It's an effective but incredibly repetitious way to finish the game, and it's usable all the way to the end, with the exception of the boss battles, which often incorporate quicktime remote-waggling events.
These battles become more frequent as you progress, with the number of movement combos you'll need to perform getting higher toward the end of the game. In line with the game's gentle learning curve, if you fail to perform them you simply restart at the beginning until you get it right. There's no penalty for failure, but multipart waggle sections strung together with unskippable cutscenes become frustrating, because one mistimed swing will send you back to the beginning. Because the camera is manually controlled with the C button on the nunchuk, you'll spend much of your time screen-scrolling to stay focused on the action. While it's easy enough to snap back, don't be surprised if your limited field of view means you get hit from behind a lot as you try to find your next target.
Kung Fu Panda's multiplayer mode only supports offline play, and while it's available straightaway, you'll only have around half of the minigames available out of the box. You must find jade coins in the single-player mode to unlock the remainder. Depending on the minigame you're playing, you'll be able to battle alongside up to three friends. The minigames include a shameless Super Smash Bros. Brawl clone, a cooperative team survival game that has you racing against hordes of enemies and a timer, a tile-flipping picture matching game, and Hong Kong, which is a competitive icon-matching column game complete with a levelling system. The SSBB minigame ends up being the most compelling of the bunch, and uses the same fighting techniques as the main Kung Fu Panda game. Unfortunately this means it also doesn't graduate from the mindlessness of one-button pressing with the occasional waggle thrown in for variety. It's a nice bonus once you've completed the short single-player story mode, but it's certainly not enough to keep you coming back for more.
The game captures the feel of the film very well, all the way down to the lush jungle villages and furry tufts on Po's character model. Unfortunately, while some sections look quite good, others are prone to texture popping and artefacting. Frame-rate slips are common during action sequences when multiple enemies are onscreen at once. Audio is one of Kung Fu Panda's strong points, and it helps deliver the snappy quips with great success (when it works). While the game doesn't have the same all-star cast as the film, the Jack Black impersonator who narrates the game's story does a good job and is convincing enough to be the real deal. However, the same can't be said for Jackie Chan's character, Monkey, who comes across as wooden. Sometimes the voice-over dialogue disappears during a cutscene and is replaced by looping background sound effects. A console restart is enough to fix the problem each time it occurs.
Kung Fu Panda is an admirable attempt to bring the fun, humour, and feel of the film to the Wii, and in these areas it succeeds. Unfortunately, the entertainment is short-lived at only around four hours in length. Repetitive brawler gameplay, inconsistent voice acting, and flaky visuals make it a hard sell at full price for all but the most hardcore fans of endangered-species martial arts.