As a franchise based on a larger-than-life panda named Po that aspires to be a Kung Fu master, Kung Fu Panda’s premise lends itself well to the medium of video games, and unsurprisingly, there’s been a couple.
First there was simply Kung Fu Panda, a film tie-in that actually turned out to be a pretty decent adventure game. With the release of the second film in the franchise, there was then the aptly named Kung Fu Panda 2, which whilst similar to its predecessor (at least on PlayStation 3; the Xbox 360 version was strictly a Kinect game), unfortunately received less than glowing reviews. Now, ahead of the third film – set to be released in January 2016 – another Kung Fu Panda game has been released: Kung Fu Panda: Showdown of Legendary Legends, which throws the action-adventure formula of its predecessors out of the window in favour of aping a new genre – the multiplayer brawler.
If you’ve ever watched a Kung Fu Panda film and thought “geez, I’d love to beat the crap out of Master Shifu as Wolf Boss” then the idea of Showdown of Legendary Legends is probably right up your street. With gameplay similar to that of the popular Super Smash Bros. series, battles are played out with up to four combatants, each vying to pummel their opponents off the screen to emerge victorious. Saying that however, whilst most match types do focus on pummelling your opponents until they’re susceptible to be catapulted into oblivion, there are a few where it’s not necessary at all, and this is where I found Kung Fu Panda: Showdown of Legendary Legends to be at its best. You see, for a fighting game, the combat just isn’t particularly good, which means the times where it plays second fiddle to an objective, like in match types such as Kung Fu Hill – where the victor is the player with the most time spent in specified zones – or Master of Inner Peace – that awards the win to the player that holds a Yin & Yang symbol for the longest – are when the game is at its most enjoyable.
The reason that Kung Fu Panda: Showdown of Legendary Legends‘ combat is disappointing is mainly due to the fact that it just feels awkward, with rigid attacks that don’t flow well and iffy hit detection. It also doesn’t help that its roster of characters are woefully unbalanced, meaning that the outcome of matches can sometimes be pretty much decided before they’ve even begun. Combat-focused bouts are won by knocking your opponents offscreen, but to do so, you first need to lower their knockback resistance by attacking them with your rather shallow moveset that leaves a lot to be desired. The less knockback resistance a character has left, the higher the chance that clouting them with a forceful charged attack will send them reeling out of bounds, but irritatingly, even with no knockback resistance it’s never guaranteed. Compounding the issue is the fact that the chaotic and imprecise nature of battle means that whittling players’ resistance down whilst dealing with the dire controls becomes a chore, and eventually you’ll become more frustrated by the combat than engaged. It all adds up to an experience where winning feels more of a matter of luck than skill on many an occasion.
In order to spice up the matches power-ups are spawned regularly, eventually littering the game’s stages, but picking them up is often troublesome thanks to the pickup command being tied with your main attack button. When you do manage to pick them up, using them is a bit of a gamble until you’ve memorised the appearance of them all, as you’re never really told what each one does. Mind you, the game does a terrible of explaining anything to you to be honest. Sure, there’s a tutorial mode, but it barely manages to teach you the basics of the game, let alone match types or power-ups, leaving you to painstakingly figure things out for yourself.
Featuring 20 characters and 12 stages all ripped straight out of the Kung Fu Panda franchise, Showdown of Legendary Legends at least offers variety as you play across the few game modes on offer. For the single player, there’s Tournament of Legends; a 10 stage event similar to the setup of any other fighting game, where each stage has its own winning conditions and number of combatants making it essential that you adjust your strategy for each in order to emerge victorious. However, it’s very barebones, with no story except a generic intro when you start, no character endings, and zero unlockables. Those that want to challenge players all around the world via the worldwide web will be lulled into false hope via the presence of the online mode, which already has a non-existent player base. If you do manage to arrange an online battle however, you’ll find the usual array of options such as player, ranked and private matches. What saves Kung Fu Panda: Showdown of Legendary Legends from being a total catastrophe is the local multiplayer versus mode. When playing against fellow humans – all dealing with the same woeful combat, awkward controls and confusing power-ups – the game can possibly be considered as enjoyable, and if not, then you can at least take comfort in the fact that others are sharing your pain. Trust me, any group of friends that survives the ordeal of a serious Showdown of Legendary Legends session will emerge with new bonds formed.
Developed by Vicious Cycle Software, responsible for my favourite bad game ever, Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard, I really don’t like being so down on Kung Fu Panda: Showdown of Legendary Legends. The trouble is, when the only good things I can say about it are that the character models look nice and that there are a fair few of them, it’s hard not to. Nearly everything about the game, from its combat to the game modes on offer, is simply below average unfortunately. If this was released as a downloadable title for around £10 it would be merely passable, but as a full price release, anyone that buys it will feel like they’ve been robbed. No one likes being robbed, do they?