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Kung Fu Chaos

Review By:  Greg Lynch

Developer:  Just Add Monsters
Publisher:  Microsoft
# of Players:  1-4
Genre:  Action
ESRB:  Teen
Online:  No
Accessories:  Custom Soundtracks
Date Posted: 

11-20-03

Every now and again a rare gem slips beneath the gaming radar and goes by practically unnoticed by the public. Maybe it stems from bad marketing tactics, or maybe it gets unfairly compared to other games in a similar genre, resulting in poor reviews, or perhaps the package just doesn't appeal to the public in general. Whatever the case may be, the game just doesn't sell well and typically disappears. Apart from a few stalwart fans, that’s the last anyone hears of it.

Such is the case of Kung Fu Chaos (“KFC” – the game, not the chicken), a fantastic game from Just Add Monsters that was sadly overlooked by the Xbox community. Sporting a distinctive style, clever wit, and gameplay unmatched since the days of sixteen bit brawlers, it’s hard to imagine the game not selling like hotcakes on a system starved for fun, original action titles. Yet, for whatever reason, the game sold very few copies, and the price dropped to $30 within months of its release.

KFC is set in a movie studio during the 1970's, an era known in part for its campy, low budget action flicks. Given directions by an obnoxious director, the player must guide the characters through lengthy battles on constantly evolving movie sets, as well as compete in several mini games thrown in to mix up the action. The characters consist mostly of stereotyped action heroes from the period, including not only those in poorly lip-synched kung fu movies, but also several recognizable westernized characters. A bubblegum snapping roller skater, a gun toting “Foxy Brown” styled character, and a strangely included Mexican wrestler round up the group of colorful characters. In fact, the entire game happily swims in stereotypes to the point that more socially conscious people might be offended. However, any gamers old enough to remember the period will likely realize how the game’s campy jokes pay homage to the era. For better or worse, the 70's were as funny as they were fun (well, depending on your point of view, I suppose).

For the most part, gameplay consists of button smashing with some basic strategy thrown in for good measure. For those familiar with it, the play style feels amazingly similar to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game. The action is similarly fast and furious, while the addition of combos, blocks, and taunts create a level of depth not found in the Turtles arcade game. The enemy will similarly use blocks (and in the case of bosses, taunts as well) to defend themselves, and it becomes important for the player to know what moves to use when. Each character comes equipped with its own block-countering moves, but such moves require additional time to execute, leaving the player open to additional attacks. Meanwhile, executing three successful taunts when an enemy is knocked to the floor will allow a player to perform a character-specific special move that will instantly kill anyone in its path. In the end, the game has more depth than practically any game in the genre. While beating the game doesn’t necessarily require learning the game’s intricacies, acquiring a perfect “Five Star” rating will. The better you perform, the more options and unlockables become available for your use (including several filters for the game’s clever movie playback feature that films the action and plays it back as edited movie footage, complete with commentary). Fortunately, the game is very nice about telling you exactly what goals you must achieve to make the extra features available.

The one thing that does a great deal to keep gameplay fresh and interesting is the amazing level design. The game centers around six movie inspired spoofs, including Jurassic Park, Independence Day, and Titanic. Each features varying action sequences that will have you avoiding dinosaurs, jumping from rooftop to rooftop to avoid attacking aliens, or hanging from the edge of a sinking ship, all while battling your opponents. Between each massive movie level there are a couple of supporting mini games that take place within the same movie setting. For example, after completing the Titanic spoof (Gigantic Crack), you’ll play a level in a lifeboat that requires you to throw life preservers to sinking passengers followed by one on an iceberg in which the player must knock the opponents off the edge by sliding into them. While most are entertaining, they are clearly thrown in to add to the multiplayer component and don’t hold a candle to the fun of the full-blown levels.

For many, the big draw of the game is the multiplayer portion, and it succeeds well as a party game. With most single player levels being available in multiplayer (including all the lengthy movie sequences), there’s a lot to keep the game entertaining. While you will have to unlock the levels and characters you want to use in multiplayer, it won’t take too long before most of them become available. Unfortunately, Xbox Live isn’t supported likely due to the number of things going on in a level at any given time.

Every single aspect of the game looks fantastic without a hint of slowdown regardless of how much action is going on at once, and very rarely does the camera angle get in the way of all the action. Everything is crisp and looks gorgeous, including a clever technique used to make objects in the distance look blurry. Little touches really do a great deal to add to the campy style, including trees that are revealed as cheap props as players run past them, or support wires that appear as the characters jump rooftop to rooftop. Arguably, the only weak point in the game’s style is the character design. While the developers chose to go with a kind of anime-inspired “squat kid” design, the faces really don’t match the style they try to mimic and instead look like constipated dwarves. While it never did anything to detract from the game for me, I’ve talked to a few people who hated it so much they refused to play the game.

The audio portion of the game is equally phenomenal, consisting of excellent ambient sound effects and voiceover work. The character quips are associated with each character’s stereotype, and are for the most part clever. The only real weakness comes in the form of the soundtrack, which consists of three songs: “Kung Fu Fighting”, “Enter the Dragon” and the theme song to Kung Fu Chaos. However, the game also features user-defined soundtrack support so it’s not really an issue, and surprisingly, the songs never became annoying regardless of how many times I had heard them.

Highs:

  • Best level design ever in an action game
  • Great sense of humor (for most people)
  • Solid control and gameplay
  • Gorgeous graphics

Lows:

  • Weird character design
  • Some mini-games fall flat

Final Verdict: 

As you can easily tell, I’m completely smitten by Kung Fu Chaos’ charm. It offers the old-school brawling gameplay that I’ve been craving for years, and ups the ante by offering fantastic level design and a sense of humor not typically found in the genre. On one hand I’m saddened to know that there probably won’t be a sequel due to lack of sales. On the other hand, at least this one saw the light of day, and it’ll be a long, long time before I lose the desire to play KFC, even after seeing everything there is to see. Do yourself a favor and give this one a try before it disappears into history as another missed opportunity.

Overall Score: 9.2

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