Kung Fu Panda 2
Reviewed for: Xbox 360 (Kinect required); Alternate versions available for: PlayStation 3, Wii, Nintendo DS
From: Griptonite Games/THQ
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10-plus (cartoon violence)
Games based on kids' movies have enjoyed a pleasantly unexpected surge in quality and attention over the last few years, and based on THQ's diverse array of Kung Fu Panda 2 offerings - four dramatically different games, tailored to their respective systems - it's a trend that will continue.
In the case of the Xbox 360, KFP2 is designed squarely for the Kinect. Without one, you can't even navigate the rather clunky main menu, much less play the game, so don't confuse this for a traditional game with optional Kinect-friendly trimmings mixed in.
As you might predict, Kinect's primary role here is to help Po (the Kung Fu Panda, in case you didn't know) perform all those cool moves he learned in the first movie. When you punch, kick, jump, block, or dodge, Po does the same.
Unlike, say, the boxing game found in Kinect Sports, KFP2 doesn't really allow for freestyle, one-on-one fighting.
Rather, it's more like Punch-Out!-lite with motion controls. The game will prompt you when you're free to attack or it's time to defend, and while you're sometimes free to mix your punches and kicks as you please, you're mostly tasked with reacting to your enemy. If he's on the attack, the game will give you cues to defend or dodge a certain way, and if you attack and he dodges, there are only a couple of countering moves that will actually do any damage. Sometimes, the game even forces you to call in the Furious Five and watch them finish off an enemy for you.
At first, when the fights are mindlessly easy, the limitations are a serious letdown for anyone who knows the Kinect is capable of overcoming such restrictions.
But once the fights become more interesting - multiple enemies, faster and more elaborate defensive stances for keeping Po on his feet - KFP2 finds a nice groove. At no point does it evolve into a furious challenge, but if the goal is to get players to sweat a little bit, it absolutely succeeds in spite of those self-enforced limitations.
The same generally holds true when KFP2 takes a break from fighting and tries something else. Chases set atop high-speed rickshaws have you dodging, jumping over, and ducking under obstacles while enemies pelt you with debris. A target-practice game is pretty much exactly what it sounds like, while a noodle-shop game tasks you with feeding customers quickly by managing their order and making sure you throw the right orders to the right tables (and dodge orders that are rudely sent back).
Though they fit awkwardly into a storyline that is patchwork at best, the general takeaway from those games is the same as it is from KFP2's main portion. The games are simpler than they could have been, but they work, and while they never become viciously challenging, they all keep you in pretty constant motion.
That, in fact, is the grand takeaway as a whole. On every level - from control fidelity to constricted freedom of motion to the lack of any kind of multiplayer support - KFP2 very obviously could have been better. But what we get is fun and functional, and if the goal with Kinect is to mix in some burned calories with your fun and not make it a total hassle to do so, this fulfills that mission better than most early-stage Kinect games have to this point.