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It seems Studio Japan hasn't got to grips with their first offering for the PlayStation Move...
Aggravating, irritating, ultimately pointless... Just a few of the thoughts that were blatantly obvious in the photos Kung Fu Rider insisted on snapping of me while playing the game. Unfortunately not a single snap from the dozens it took showed any sign of an emotion that even began to border on enjoyment or fun.
Kung Fu Rider features Tobin, an "uncannily unlucky private detective skilled in Kung Fu" alongside Karin, his athletic assistant. From the brief background that the game provides they’re on the run from the Mafia, for what reasons are never made clear but then again it’s never going to be a game based on a good plot and characters - it’s not even a game that makes any sense.
What it all translates into is a series of hilltop races on board a variety of unlikely vehicles, including the office chair, suitcases and other such absurd contraptions. As you ride down the hills and streets the challenge is to collect as much money dotted around the scenery as possible, while chaining hits and narrow misses to build up the combo meter. This in conjunction with a timer calculates a score at the end and rewards you with a rating from S to E. Repeat through the 16 stages on offer and you’ll reach the end, although don’t expect any sort of end sequence to offer an explanation to the bizarre series of events. That’s it, best not to really think too much about the reasons because any such semblance of rationality soon begins to fade away the moment you actually begin to play the game.
The lack of thought behind the premise of the game extends to the half-arsed approach throughout the entire experience. Studio Japan must have had this game in development and quickly added Move compatibility or were in a rush to get something ready for launch. Either way Kung Fu Rider is a shining example of the type of games that will doom motion controllers to abject failure. During E3 earlier in the year Sony took much pleasure at knocking the lack of buttons on Microsoft’s Kinect device. Kung Fu Rider is a worthwhile reminder to developers contemplating Move games that just because you have those buttons doesn’t mean you have to use all of them.
"The game developer needs to throw away a conventional wisdom of how gamers use a controller and instead consider what will provide the most immersive experience and make players feel a direct connection with the game," Shuhei Yoshida, president of SCE Worldwide Studios claimed earlier in the year. "If this cannot be achieved, players will just be happy to stay with using the DUALSHOCK 3 Wireless Controller."
Somebody should have told Studio Japan.
What is essentially a very straightforward game is turned into a bloated, confused and messy experience with every button needlessly utilised. Two of the four face buttons launch kung-fu moves in combination with gesture commands, while the bottom two instigate sideways shunts to avoid obstacles. The big button slap in the middle of the Move controller performs a roundhouse kick (ergo making the more difficult kung-fu moves largely pointless) and latches onto rails to grind. On the actual gesture front rapid up and down movements accelerate and moving the Move controller left or right moves the character, while upward thrusts perform a jump and a thrust forwards launches a temporary speed boost - provided you’ve built up the gauge by steering through the special icons.
Even for somebody who’s pretty comfortable with buttons on a traditional joypad this control configuration is hideously awkward and never feels up to the job. Studio Japan would have been much better off by simplifying the whole scheme to just motion controls and the big Move button, instead of a setup that never feels at home or becomes entirely natural. PlayStation Move appears to be targeted towards a more casual audience at launch, but it’s hard to imagine such a market getting to grips with it and having the patience to persevere. It’s very much a game versed in Japanese design that feels as though it should be aimed towards a core audience, but ultimately comes nowhere near fulfilling either camp.
Whereas Sports Champions (the best title on Move to-date) effectively breaks that barrier with smooth motions that naturally translate to actions occurring in the game, Kung Fu Rider settles with arbitrary gestures that feel awkward at best and fail to create any sense of immersion. Controls such as hammering the controller up and down to accelerate are often confused with the upwards gesture to jump. It’s hit-and-miss at the best of times, and because it’s such a basic game there’s not exactly much else to sustain any interest when you realise it fails to even get the core controls right.
As you progress through the stages the frustration somehow manages to escalate. Larger stages make finding the escape van tougher by expanding upon the number of routes, but it’s never an enjoyable challenge. Kung Fu Rider’s basic premise is a racing game, but not being able to find the finish line is never going to be a worthwhile challenge especially when the timer finishing means repeating the stage all over again. More frustration comes from the extra Yakuza opponents that jump out of nowhere and the increased tendency for cars to scream blindly around corners with little scope to actually avoid them in time. Later stages rely simply on memorising where everything is by replaying the stage over and over again - a relic of archaic game design.
On top of the 18 stages are six ‘Free’ stages which provide the challenge of discovering 20 tokens without a timer or lives to worry about. It’s not exactly that much fun when a timer puts a thankful limit on the experience, but when this is removed you’re ultimately left with something even more meaningless - if that’s even possible.
The list of stages seems pretty gargantuan while you’re playing, but somehow we manged to whisk through them in just over an hour. Perhaps it’s testimony to the game’s lack of quality and disregard for any shape of fun that this hour dragged on and seemed more like several hours. Ultimately you can always go back for the challenge of securing S awards on each stage, topping the online leaderboards and retrieving all of the tokens, but it’s hard to imagine anybody who would actually contemplate this without some sort of penchant for masochistic tendencies. The addition of a two-player mode continues the theme of futility, with the ability for a second player to control a reticule and collect money that the main player missed. It wasn’t particularly enjoyable in Super Mario Galaxy and it’s even less so in this instance.
Perhaps the only feature that caused any sense of intrigue came from the photos that Kung Fu Rider snaps of you during the game. As we explained previously though, these are rarely more than portraits of extreme boredom or frustration, largely because they’re taken when you’ve lost a life and it was either down to the hit-and-miss controls or something you could never avoid. We wanted to include these in the review as they’d probably do a good job of demonstrating the game’s inability to cause any sense of engagement, but unfortunately it doesn’t even allow you to export what are pretty poor snapshots. Considering the social networking opportunities you’d have thought Facebook sharing would have been top of the list.
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