As bipedal mammals, humans have a leg up on their animal counterparts when it comes to performing martial arts moves. It's a small miracle that a rotund panda would be able to punch and kick with the deadly grace of a kung fu master, and putting yourself in the shoes of such a non-athletic creature might be difficult to imagine. For all its failings, Kung Fu Panda 2 does a fine job of making you appreciate how difficult it would be to learn the combative arts if you're excessively clumsy. This tedious movie tie-in uses the power of the Kinect to transform ordinary you into a furry martial arts expert, which means every punch you throw in real life is translated in the game. Or at least that's how things are supposed to work. In practice, there's a noticeable delay from when you swing your fist in your living room to when Po responds on-screen, and that imprecision saps away your connection to this shallow fighter. But even if the controls functioned well, the other pieces are so underdeveloped and boring that they smother any semblance of fun in Kung Fu Panda 2.
Po proved his worth as a warrior in the action-packed conclusion to the first film, but once you climb the mountain, you can't just sit on the peak basking in your success. In the beginning of this adventure, Po's never-quite-peaceful village falls under attack by an evil group of crocodile mercenaries, and he needs to clear out those mouth-breathing reptiles before they cause the populace harm. The story is different from the accompanying movie, though it still captures the lovable charm and clever high jinks of the colourful franchise. It's mildly interesting, and it makes up a huge chunk of your experience. Cutscenes take up roughly half of the total length of the overall adventure, which is a kind way of shielding you from the painful action sequences and allows you to actually enjoy some of your time with this woeful game.
Unfortunately, you do need to play at some point, and that's when things become aggravating. Kung Fu Panda 2 is a one-on-one fighter that pits Po against a crew of motley warriors. Although punches, kicks and dodges make their way into your duels, the fires of spontaneity have been drenched by buckets of boredom. Fights are broken down into offensive and defensive sequences, and you have to follow on-screen prompts to dole out punishment or avoid your enemy's angry lunges. For instance, when you stun your foe with a punch, you may need to jump kick to continue the combo. But if you try to throw a double punch instead, the game won't register your action. And if you don't perform a jump kick in time, the enemy recovers and you miss your chance to hurt him. It's incredibly boring following directions instead of attacking and dodging with the freedom of a real fighter. Kung Fu Panda 2 is essentially a turn-based fighting game, and it quickly becomes tiring as you dutifully perform the same few moves without any creativity to enliven things.
Po isn't ashamed of attacking someone when their back is turned. (Credit: GameSpot)
On a conceptual level, Kung Fu Panda 2 is an insipid realisation of Po's high-flying fury, and the execution is fraught with just as many problems. The controls are maddeningly inconsistent. In a best-case scenario, it takes a half-second for the game to recognise your actions, which makes you feel disconnected from what's happening on-screen. Even more disheartening, the game often fails to register your physical movements. You may have to leap in the air two or three times for the game to acknowledge that you want to perform a jump kick, and that tiring repetition further cements the tedium of combat. Other times, the game thinks you're doing one thing when in actuality, you're doing something quite different. You have to raise both arms above your head to block an airborne attack, but the game frequently registers only one raised arm and causes you to get hurt anyway. Or it may interpret your duck as a dodge, forcing you to take damage that you shouldn't have to bear. This is especially troubling later in the game when you have to fight many opponents in a row without checkpoints. It's not worth putting up with the gruelling punishment to replay these extended sequences just because the game won't mirror your moves.
The fighting action is interspersed with three mini-games with enough regularity to give you a temporary reprieve from the monotony. These involve ladling soup for the hungry denizens of your village, cruising down hills on top of a rickshaw and tossing objects as if in a shooting gallery. Control problems persist in these diversions, and they are just as shallow as every other aspect of this game, but things aren't entirely bad. Zooming while on top of a rickety contraption is a fast departure from your fisticuffs forays, and though it's aggravating when the cart doesn't respond to your movements, it's still entertaining for the brief time it lasts. And target practice captures the same enjoyment, letting you show off your power for a few minutes as you are freed from the cumbersome restrictions that dictate your moves in combat. Noodle shop is the weakest of these mini-games because the imprecise controls make it tricky to serve up a hot meal in time, but the three mini-games are still welcome additions to this disappointing package.
Po helps out in the soup kitchen when he's not punching rhinos. (Credit: GameSpot)
When you think about what Kung Fu Panda 2 is trying to accomplish, it sounds like a really neat idea. Po's larger-than-life persona and martial arts expertise make him a forceful yet endearing character, and inhabiting his body with the power of the Kinect could have served as an interesting interactive complement to the blockbuster movie. But those exciting ideas quickly disintegrate once you start to play. Unresponsive controls are the beginning of the problems, and the Simon Says-inspired combat strips away any chance of feeling like a potent panda. The mini-games are fun, but they function more as a counter to the drab fighting than an engaging experience on their own. Even the most determined Kung Fu Panda 2 fans will be annoyed by this lifeless adaptation.