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Kung Fu Panda Package Art
Vicarious Visions

Kung Fu Panda

Pandas are cool. Kung Fu is cool. Video games based on movies are rarely cool. Thank goodness Kung Fu Panda is a rarity.

Vicarious Visions obviously embraced the notion of animals beating up on other animals and gave it the care and attention that such a noble concept deserves. The developer’s ambition is evident throughout Kung Fu Panda and the end result will probably surprise a lot of people even if it is a bit flawed.


Kung Fu Panda’s ancient Chinese aesthetic is beautifully realized thanks to Vicarious Visions impressive 3D engine. A variety of different environments, ranging from bamboo forests to snow covered mountains, have been rendered with enough attention to detail to avoid monotony and give the game a much grander feel. The inclusion of effective lighting and fog effects as well as the bright color palette really make the settings pleasurable to play through. The character models are also brilliantly crafted and animate smoothly. There are a few nitpicks as well: the main menu is incredibly bland, the characters are not very animated during cutscenes, and the variety of enemy models is a little limited.


Kung Fu Panda is just as kind to the ears as it is to the eyes. Every line of dialogue is complemented by pitch perfect voice acting. Few DS games bother using voiceovers at all and even fewer try to achieve this caliber of performance. The timing and delivery of every line is so spot-on I could not tell if they were using the real Jack Black or a sound-alike for the voice of Po. Thanks to this devotion to quality, Kung Fu Panda is consistently laugh-out-loud funny. Even without the voice acting, however, Kung Fu Panda would still give a solid aural performance. The music is energetic -- with an appropriate Chinese twist -- and the sound effects are fitting for the cartoonish and comical violence.


Here is a quick rundown of what Kung Fu Panda is all about. Po is a kung fu-obsessed panda who works at his father’s noodle shop. One day, he hears that the Dragon Warrior, a hero foretold of in legend, is going to be revealed by the local kung fu master. Everybody suspects one of the Furious Five, a group of famed martial artists, will receive the honor when the master bestows the title upon Po. As the Furious Five try to make sense of this strange turn of events, word arrives that Tai Lung, a fearsome and powerful warrior, has escaped from prison and is hellbent on taking the title of Dragon Warrior for himself. The Furious Five rush off to stop Tai Lung but are quickly defeated and captured, leaving the tragically inexperienced Po to rescue them and defend his title.

At its core, Kung Fu Panda is a side-scrolling action/platformer that borrows elements from the 2D Metroid titles, morph ball included. The game world is not strictly linear but some areas can only be reached after Po has learned some new abilities. Ultimately, the goal of the game is to rescue the members of the Furious Five so that they can teach you their signature moves, thus allowing you to reach new areas and defeat tougher enemies. Overall, Kung Fu Panda is more constraining than any Metroid game but still manages to feel more liberating than other straightforward platformers.

Controlling Po is done through a mix of the handheld’s face buttons and stylus; running and jumping is controlled via the d-Pad while attacking and grabbing enemies is all done on the touch screen. Touching any area on the screen will cause Po to jump in that direction and grab on bad guys, barrels, explosives, or flying spears. Throwing grabbed objects is as simple as touching the direction and angle you want your projectile to grow. Attacking enemies directly requires you to slide the stylus in the direction you want to attack; left and right for punches and kicks, and up for rising uppercuts. This system is quick and fun but grabs and attacks can sometimes get mixed up so it is not quite perfect.

One little thing that goes a surprisingly long way to make combat more enjoyable is the game’s simple, yet effective, physics engine. Po’s attacks feel as though they have some weight behind them; throwing around enemies and barrels can be a blast, giving the combat some variety. Also, the inclusion of physics makes juggling and throwing around airborne enemies an absolute blast. Throwing around barrels also plays an important role in the game’s rudimentary puzzles.

The world of Kung Fu Panda is made up of several distinct areas divided up into numerous, much smaller sections. Getting from section to section generally requires the completion of some kind of challenge. Some sections are simply straightforward plat forming challenges; navigate a series of difficult jumps to get from one side to another. Sometimes progress is blocked by a lock door; in these circumstances you will either have to defeat all the enemies in the room, complete a button pressing puzzle, or perhaps a combination of simple puzzles and combat. Considering how much effort was put into the rest of Kung Fu Panda, this style of progression feels quite formulaic.

Aside from the somewhat tiresome level design, Kung Fu Panda has two other problems: length and difficulty. Most gamers are only looking at five to seven hours of playtime to complete the game. Aside from one set of collectable items, there is absolutely nothing to keep you coming back. Length could have been increased had the game been made more challenging. Most enemies, for example, require a single hit to defeat hit and dying simply restarts you in the same room so you never really lose more than a few minutes worth of progress.




It is nice to see that Vicarious Visions decided to take this project seriously and put together a competent platformer with enjoyable combat and outstanding production values. There is no denying the charm and pure enjoyment factor Kung Fu Panda possesses, but you cannot ignore the very real and important flaws. This game is short and easy, two things that younger gamers might not mind so much but that more experienced gamers need to be aware of. However, if you are looking for an enjoyable platformer, do not mind the flaws, or have a younger gamer in your life, then we can definitely recommend Kung Fu Panda for DS.

final score 8.0/10

Staff Avatar Andy Hoover
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"There's SAND on my boots!"

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