Review: Kung Fu Strike: The Warrior’s Rise (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Kung Fu Strike: The Warrior’s Rise
Genre: Beat-em-up
Developer: Qooc Soft
Publisher: 7sixty
Release Date: 9/5/2012

While the beat-em-up genre is largely one that has been relegated to the backburner of game development in favor of genres that take advantage of the technology presently available, you’ll always see some enterprising sorts come along and try to do something with it eventually. Whether developers opt to re-release older games from the heyday of the genre on download services, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game, X-Men and The Simpsons, remake older games with modern visuals, like Turtles in Time: Reshelled, or release all-new games, like Castle Crashers or Fable Heroes, the genre is still alive and kicking… relatively speaking, anyway. Well, 7sixty and Qooc Soft are bringing another entry into the genre, Kung Fu Strike: The Warrior’s Rise, on the Xbox Live Arcade platform, as a port from the PC. The PC market wouldn’t seem like the most obvious place to release a beat-em-up, but the game seems to have done well enough on Steam, and a port to XBLA seems like a logical next step from that, as a good beat-em-up is always welcome on the 360. Kung Fu Strike certainly tries its hardest to be such a game, and in some respects it accomplishes this, but there are some cracks in the design that make it difficult for all but the most diehard fans to really appreciate.

The plot of Kung Fu Strike is one part martial arts film, one part mythology, with a dash of satire thrown in. You play as Loh, a general who is looking to avenge his father’s death by making everyone stop living with his fists (as in by beating them, not as in “together in an apartment in Soho”). Loh is a lot more important and complex than he first appears, of course, but then, so are his enemies, as Loh discovers a lot more mystical involvement than he’d bargained for. The plot is told through comic-style cutscenes before and, occasionally, after stages, and while the plot’s by no means integral to enjoying the experience, it’s adequate enough to carry things along. It’s fairly basic and stereotypical, mind you; there are a lot of escalating revelations about who’s doing what to who and why on all sides, and various baddies of escalating power levels show up to do battle with Loh throughout the game, so it’s really your standard eighties martial arts movie in terms of plot. It’s somewhat self-aware, however, so you’ll also see little jokes pop up about how absurd the concept is now and again, for those who are paying attention. For the sort of game it is, Kung Fu Strike has an adequate plot, and chances are you’re not likely to care enough about it to pay attention in-between sessions of shattering people’s faces, but for what it is, it’s okay, it does the job assigned to it, and while it’s not good it’s not horrid either.

Visually, Kung Fu Strike looks solid enough and is technically proficient, though it doesn’t do anything amazing artistically or mechanically. Loh animates well through his different attack animations, and the various enemies you face also generally animate well through attacks and such. The various environments are also fairly evocative of the older martial arts films they’re trying to pay homage to, and the various details fit well into the concept. The special effects, such as black and white filters that come up when performing special moves or the veins that cover the screen when you’re dying, also look solid and aren’t distracting, which is a big plus. However, enemy designs tend to repeat as the game progresses, and there’s nothing artistically interesting about the enemy and environmental designs to make them stand out, leaving them feeling appropriate, but unexciting. Aurally, the game makes use of a fairly authentic sounding soundtrack that, again, sounds like it would come from a period martial arts film, though there are some more rock-oriented tracks that pop up here and there to compliment the over-the-top destruction you’ll be laying down upon your foes, and it all sounds solid enough. There’s no significant voice acting in the game, though the characters do have voice clips when attacking and taking damage, and while Loh and several of the enemies sound good or adequate, there are some annoying voice samples here and there. The sound effects all fit the theme fine, and punching and kicking the heck out of your enemies sounds satisfying enough, so for the most part, what’s here does its job to the expected level.

Kung Fu Strike is a little more complicated than the quarter-eating arcade beat-em-ups of the eighties and nineties, though not to an extent where it’s complicated to understand how it works. The Left Stick and D-Pad can be used to move Loh around, while X attacks normally, A performs a jumping attack, and B, the Left Trigger and/or the Right Trigger can be used for blocking and evading attacks (pressed on its own this blocks attacks, while pressing it with a direction allows Loh to roll away). Holding X to attack performs a Snap Attack, which is continuous but deals less damage than pressing the button individually. Pressing X and A together initiates a Chi Move, which is a damaging special attack you can perform once your Chi Meter has at least one level of power; once you’ve initiated the stance you can then press a follow-up button to choose the attack you wish to perform, depending on how many you’ve unlocked. The game presents tutorials whenever it’s introducing a new gameplay mechanic and will pop up reminders of how the mechanics work if it feels like you’re not getting things right away, so for the most part you’ll be able to figure out the basics with little difficulty and jump in without too much trouble.

Kung Fu Strike‘s major difference from other beat-em-ups comes from its attempts to balance between attacking, blocking and countering instead of focusing on pounding enemies to mush. When Loh is on the offensive, enemies will eventually either show an X or an A over their heads, or will turn red to break the attack combination. When the X appears, the enemy is guarding and Loh will need to use the Snap Attack to break their guard, while an A icon means the jump attack needs to be used to break the guard, which will allow you to continue the combo. When an enemy turns red, they’re preparing a Chi Attack of their own, and while you can continue to pummel them during this, they’ll power through your attacks and hit you unless you evade or block the attack, or perform a Chi Attack of your own in response (which will usually knock the opponent out of theirs). Loh can also counter if you press the B button when the attack from the enemy is about to connect; this will knock the enemy off-balance, allowing you to pummel them in retaliation, though enemies can also do this to you if you don’t respond to the prompts over their heads fast enough. Loh can counter enemies on all sides without focusing on them, and can even reflect projectiles back to their destination this way (or by punching them in some cases), making this a very useful move to learn. You can’t counter everything, however, so learning enemy patterns and how best to exploit them is also vital to survival. You can also earn troops to pull into battle (at a cost), which can be summoned by collecting a horn icon in battle and holding the Y button to summon them when the troops you want appear in your prompt. This summons allies to battle on your behalf, which can also make battles a lot easier than they’d otherwise be.

Completing a stage and defeating enemies will reward Loh with money, which can be used between stages to buy upgrades and items. Upgrades add new moves to Loh’s arsenal and allow for health and Chi meter increases, while items can add special effects to Loh, allowing him to deal more damage, heal himself in death and other useful effects. You can also complete challenges in each stage to earn even more money or go back and grind out prior stages if you want a cash boost to buy new stuff. The game offers twenty eight stages to fight through, which you can revisit whenever you wish, and the difficulty can be changed before starting each stage if you want a greater challenge or the option to earn more loot. You can also play the game locally with a friend in co-op mode, allowing two players to destroy the oncoming enemy forces for laughs, though there’s sadly no option for online play here. You can essentially plow through the game in around six to eight hours on one difficulty, though you can always change difficulties as you wish between stages, try to improve your score on a stage or just head back to earn some additional cash whenever you wish if you want to trick Loh out big time. There’s also the standard Achievements built into the game and DLC is promised for the game in the coming month for those who complete the game and are looking for more heads to shatter, so there’s the potential for longevity here if you’re into that.

Having said that, Kung Fu Strike has some awkward balance issues, largely because its mechanics don’t work as well as the game thinks they do. The game spends a lot of time on the idea of working within the counter and guard breaking systems, but the guard breaking systems tend to give you a small window of response to work within and the counter system is harder to work with when you’re uncertain of what can and can’t be countered, which happens a noticeable amount. Further, when enemies are swarming you it can be hard to effectively respond to attacks; the game basically feels like a scaled down version of the combat system in Batman: Arkham City, but while that had a specific rhythm to it, this just feels chaotic and unfriendly at times. You’ll go from stages where you can manage combat acceptably to stages where you’re being ruined because of the stage design or the sheer volume of enemies, only to bypass the next stage with little trouble. You can see where the game tried to have a learning curve, but there are just points where this simply isn’t so, at all, and it’s disappointing. The upgrade system also feels limited, as something that actually allowed for Loh to become stronger instead of allowing Loh to learn new moves that don’t really see much use beyond what you start with would have been more interesting. It’s also disappointing that there’s only the option to play with another player locally, as it limits the replay value of the game a bit as a result.

Kung Fu Strike has some solid ideas in place, to be certain, but it doesn’t handle them as well as it could have, and what could have been a promising beat-em-up becomes one that will appeal to diehard genre fans, as the game lacks balance and long-term appeal outside of that group. The plot’s adequate, the game looks and sounds acceptable if unexciting, and the gameplay is simple enough to jump into and comes equipped with plenty of explanations to make life manageable. The game focuses less on simply lumping up dudes and more on countering and breaking enemy guard in order to build effective momentum, which is a fine idea, and there’s a decent amount of content to the game along with DLC down the line to make it worth a look, honestly. However, while the concept of focusing on counters and combat in equal measure sounds appealing, it’s often hard to work with and the game feels chaotic at best and unbalanced at worst due to the fact that the idea works sporadically at best. The options the game gives you to improve Loh are also unexciting and lacking in value, and the lack of online multiplayer hurts the long term value of the game somewhat. Kung Fu Strike is certainly fine enough in small doses, and you can see where the game had some good ideas, but the final result doesn’t pay those ideas off as well as one would want, and the end result is a game that’ll be fun for genre fans and unexciting for everyone else.

The Scores:
Control/Gameplay: ABOVE AVERAGE
Replayability: MEDIOCRE
Balance: POOR
Originality: BAD
Addictiveness: MEDIOCRE
Appeal: POOR
Miscellaneous: MEDIOCRE


Short Attention Span Summary:
Kung Fu Strike: The Warrior’s Rise borrows some basic ideas from games like River City Ransom and Batman: Arkham City in an attempt to build a complex modern beat-em-up, but the end result is as frustrating as it is fun, and it’s hampered by some less than optimal decisions. The plot is acceptable enough to make do with, the game looks and sounds solid but never really manages to push beyond that, and the game makes it easy to learn the core mechanics and make use of them. The game attempts to focus on balancing combat with defense and countering, and when this works, the experience can be very engaging. There’s also an acceptable amount of content to the game in terms of levels, upgrades, difficulties and such, and DLC is promised down the line that could keep the experience going for a while. However, the combat mechanics become frustrating at times, due to the fact that the counter and guard breaking mechanics feel less structured and more chaotic than they should, the upgrade system isn’t terribly robust and never feels terribly useful beyond the first few stages, and the lack of online multiplayer limits the long term value of the game somewhat. Kung Fu Strike can be fun in small doses and diehard beat-em-up fans will certainly have some fun with it, but more casual fans can find better examples of the genre on XBLA with more options to boot, making this hard to recommend to all but the most serious genre lovers.


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