The mafia has been known to do seedy things to exert control over people, but even it would be ashamed of the line it crosses in Kung Fu Rider. Sharply dressed assailants leap from behind parked cars, jump down from scaffolding, and emerge from shadowy tunnels to physically attack the protagonists: an ordinary man and woman riding atop everyday office chairs. Your goal is to make it down the streets of this dangerous city while riding whatever wheeled contraption is handy, and the ridiculous premise does lead to a number of funny situations. But once you get used to the sight of a man being kicked in the face and turning into a limp rag doll, any bit of fun is quickly drained from this exhausting racing game. The Move controller is required to play, but the convoluted controls don't always respond. The preponderance of wipeouts is even more troubling, either from cheap enemies or unpredictable physics. Kung Fu Rider is a lackluster addition to Sony's Move launch lineup, neither showing the potential of the new peripheral nor providing an enjoyable experience on its own terms.
The setup is explained during the title screen but never fleshed out beyond the flimsy premise. For some reason, Toby and her boss Karin have angered the mafia, and they must make it to the safety of their mobile office van before extreme harm is done to them. Unfortunately, they don't have access to a car, motorcycle, or any other vehicle that would easily transport them through these winding streets and past the thugs who are hunting them. Instead, these adaptable heroes use whatever wheeled device they happen upon at the beginning of each level, ranging from an office chair and a vacuum cleaner to a baby stroller and even a drum. Each makeshift ride has its own set of attributes, so you can choose the durable but sluggish drum if subtlety isn't your specialty or the fast and nimble stool if quick reactions are more to your liking. It's a preposterous situation that gives this game a wacky, anything-goes charm, but that goodwill is quickly destroyed once you start playing.
Controls are the first hurdle you have to leap over if you're going to extract any enjoyment from this game. All of your actions are triggered by using the Move controller, whether it is with a specific gesture or button press. To keep your character rolling at a respectable speed, you must shake the controller up and down in a smooth rhythm. Not only does this become repetitive and tiring before long, but it also gets mixed up with your jump command, which requires you to flick the controller up. Because of this confusion, you frequently find your character missing jumps or crashing spectacularly, where more responsive controls could have easily averted the crisis. To perform a speed burst, you thrust the controller forward, but this often isn't recognized, which once again leads to troubling crashes when it engages later than expected. To further complicate things, all six of the motion controller's buttons are used. Ducking, attacking, grinding, and making quick lateral movements require a button tap (sometimes in conjunction with a gesture), and trying to corral your many actions while keeping your eyes peeled on the dangers ahead is far too complicated for its own good.
Each course is lined with tons of obstacles to ensure you're constantly avoiding a danger or trying to land an impressive jump. Rails and ramps lead to branching shortcuts, and the expansive city is the best element of this game. There are many routes to the finish line, and trying to find the fastest (and safest) way requires a keen eye and deft hand. But there are a number of design issues that make this an arduous experience. The mafia goons attempting to thwart your progress are unbelievably cheap. They hide in dark alleys and around blind corners just waiting for you to cruise by so they can punch you in the neck or whap you with a stick. Once you memorize their positions, you have a chance to avoid them, but they'll frequently knock you down even after you smack them with a karate strike. In addition to an overabundance of enemies, there are a number of issues that sap away any potential fun. First, there's a prolonged crash animation every time you wipe out. It's funny to see your rag-doll model fly the first time, but every subsequent viewing is just a drag. Second, you have a finite number of lives in each race, so you have to be more concerned with staying alive than nabbing cash icons or beating the ticking clock. Finally, because the physics are so unpredictable, you can wipe out in unexpected ways. At times, you may roll through oils drums unscathed, but at other times doing the same thing may knock you out.
The punishing failure system of the main races is alleviated by the optional free tracks you unlock as you progress through the game. In these modes, the clock is removed entirely and you can crash as many times as you like without fear of losing. The challenge comes from finding the 20 tokens sprinkled throughout the course. This forces you to explore every nook and cranny, taking out-of-the-way shortcuts and grinding high-up rails to nab the prizes. The control problems still exist, and the mafia still doesn't play nice, but at least some of the frustrations of the main races are removed. You unlock more vehicles by collecting tokens, so there are even tangible rewards for your efforts. There is also a two-player mode, though it's little more than a novelty. A second player controls a disembodied hand that can nab cash icons, as well as pick up and fling objects to clear a path or take out the mafia. It can be fun to toss items to and fro, but the first player still has to ride atop an office chair and suffer through all the problems that go along with doing so.
Kung Fu Rider is a poor showcase for Sony's latest peripheral. Even if all of the other issues weren't enough to steer you away from Kung Fu Rider, there is one final nail in the coffin: its price point. Because of its wacky premise and novel control scheme, it would be conceivable to take a flier on it as a $10 downloadable game. But this actually retails for $40, and there isn't nearly enough content to justify that price. With only a few different variations on the basic track designs, you can plow through the whole game in just a few hours, and there isn't much reason to return. But that's a moot point anyway; the significant problems in Kung Fu Rider don't make it worth playing at any price.