DreamWorks Animation’s “Kung Fu Panda” must be a dream come true for Activision. With a plot centered on martial arts action, the movie is perfectly suited for a videogame tie-in, unlike more cerebral recent toons like “Bee Movie” and “Ratatouille.” The result is a solidly produced game full of kid-friendly cartoon violence. Though the storytelling leaves something to be desired, “Panda’s” dynamic action, solid production values and surprisingly robust multiplayer options help it stand above the average family movie tie-in and will easily slay its meager competition.
Like the film, “Kung Fu Panda” charts the chubby Po’s journey to become a martial arts master and defeat a villainous snow leopard looking to destroy the Valley of Peace. Cutscenes look good, but don’t do a very consistent job of recounting the plot’s twists and turns, few as they are. Kids not already familiar with the movie will have a hard time figuring out what’s going on, though little boys, especially, will hardly care.
The focus is on animated butt-kicking, and “Panda” nails that. Po’s rise from clueless bumbler to fighting machine works perfectly for a videogame, letting players themselves go through training exercises and increasingly more difficult challenges. In addition to standard attacks, special moves come in handy, such as the Panda roll, in which roly-poly Po turns into a bowling ball to plow through a line of enemies. Reminders of different fighting techniques and combo moves are available throughout the game, which is particularly useful for younger players.
“Panda” mixes up the action with new characters and minigames. Players get the opportunity to take control of Master Shifu and each of his anthropomorphic kung fu fighting disciples, the Furious Five; Master Crane turns an otherwise ground-based experience into a fast-paced flying adventure.
Graphics are sharp and well-detailed, particularly the colorful ancient Chinese architecture and natural landscapes. Voiceovers are effective as well, which is surprising given the fact that Jack Black (Po’s voice in the movie) didn’t work on the game. The sound-alike does such a dead-on job that most players won’t even notice the difference.
Most movie tie-ins don’t bother with multiplayer, either because they don’t have time if they’re going meet the film’s release date or they don’t think it’s worth the time and money for what’s essentially a cash-in to a studio’s marketing spend. It’s thus a welcome surprise to find that this game has several multiplayer modes that give it value long after the story is finished. Up to four players can battle against each other, work together to fend off enemies, or score points in various minigames. Though online play would be even more impressive, the option to turn “Kung Fu Panda” into a fun party game is far more than most licensed kids games offer.