Wouldn't it be cool if your fully posable martial arts action figures could come to life and clobber each other? This is the core concept of Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists of Plastic, which demonstrates that the answer to that question is an emphatic maybe. The game is an aesthetic delight that vividly creates the illusion of possessed plastic figurines with elastic strings in their limbs leaping through the air, punching, kicking, and tossing each other around with gusto. Unfortunately, while the visuals help make the game an entertaining diversion for a short while, the gameplay doesn't have the chops to measure up to the presentation.
There's little connection between Fists of Plastic and the original Rag Doll Kung Fu, a 2005 PC game with an unusual mouse-only control scheme. Fists of Plastic is easy to pick up and play, with simple controls that will have you grabbing nunchakus and tossing shurikens in no time. Face buttons are used to punch, kick, jump, and block, and basic combos can be performed by stringing these together. The analog sticks are used not only for movement, but also to rotate your fighter's arms when you need to grab items or swing weapons around. Furthermore, motion controls are smartly incorporated and feel intuitive, requiring you to give the controller a quick jolt to slam the ground or to convert your chi power into a lightning ball you can hurl at your opponents. And a series of single-player challenges give you plenty of ways to develop and test your skills.
Challenges include a straightforward survival mode and a challenge that has you using the propulsive firefly attack to tear through targets like a guided missile. However, in the most enjoyable scenario, you dispose of hapless goons attacking you by grabbing them and tossing them from the cliffs of a moonlit ninja fortress. Initially these challenges seem geared to familiarize you with the mechanics of the game so that you can get the most out of the multiplayer action, but instead they wind up being the most compelling aspect of Fists of Plastic. This is in part because they have a reward system that grants you new heads, torsos, legs, and other items when you achieve certain performance goals, which you can then mix and match to make your own character, providing incentive to come back and improve your high scores. It's also, unfortunately, because the multiplayer element winds up feeling shallow and unfocused in comparison.
Multiplayer modes allow up to four players to compete in four different game modes locally. There's a straightforward Deathmatch mode in which your only goal is to defeat the other players as many times as possible. Wildly thrashing each other has a party-game, button-mashing quality that can be fun for a bit, but the combat isn't deep enough to stay compelling for very long. There's also a King of the Hill mode, which only exacerbates the chaos of Deathmatch, requiring you to fight to control a very small portion of the already small environments. The last two modes, Capture the Fish and Dodgeball, are a bit more interesting and fun. Capture the Fish has you earn points by grabbing a plastic fish and successfully tossing it into a basket, and Dodgeball drops a powerful ball into the level that you can hurl at each other for instant kills. Even these aren't involved enough to keep you coming back for long, though, and while they tend to feel a bit empty with two players, with four they often feel too crowded and messy. Though the loose rag-doll physics look great, they become a hindrance in action, as characters can get caught too easily on aspects of the environment, or each other.
Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists of Plastic must be downloaded from the PlayStation Network, which makes it all the more baffling that there is no online multiplayer component. Without any online competition, the local multiplayer modes quickly run flat. You can fill up the games with AI opponents if you'd like (with the exception of Capture the Fish--apparently trying to grab a fish and toss it into a basket is too much for the AI to handle), but whatever enjoyment these modes offer comes from their loose party-game feel, and that just isn't as much fun when shared with dummy opponents.
If Fists of Plastic does one thing right, it's the flashy presentation. It's not the most technically demanding game in the world, but it's impressive to see just how well the appearance and movement of the characters realize the concept of combat between action figures. Equally terrific are the environments, which look like lovingly crafted miniature play sets. The sound is good as well, with some catchy tunes that are reminiscent of stereotypical martial arts movie music, along with some vocal samples that would be right at home in a badly dubbed kung-fu flick.
Fists of Plastic is a joy to behold, but the gameplay doesn't deliver on the concept's promise nearly so successfully. At 10 bucks, the shallow combat, dearth of multiplayer modes, and complete lack of online options make this an experience that even most chopsocky fans will find quickly loses its charm.