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Preview | Kung Fu Live

Live Fu or Die Hard…

Format: PlayStation 3 | Genre: Fighting | Publisher: Virtual Air Guitar | Developer: Virtual Air Guitar | ETA: TBC

Sinan Kubba discovers he is the chosen one prophesied by the ancient scrolls.  No, wait, I mean he has a look at KUNG FU LIVE.  Sorry.

BEADS OF sweat gleam below the bandana adorning Teemu Maki-Patola’s forehead. It’s 2 in the afternoon, and the Virtual Air Guitar CEO has been demonstrating Kung Fu Live since this morning. Yet Teemu is still putting together the moves, still punching and kicking with maximal gusto. As I watch from the comfort of my leather bench, Teemu uppercuts the final enemy before closing with a stylish Karate Kid pose. “Nice,” I say as I sip my drink. “OK, you’re next!” replies Teemu… oh no.

It’s not that I’m unexcited to try what’s cheekily been dubbed the best Kinect game for PlayStation 3, or that I think it won’t be fun to play. It’s more that I’m reluctant to get that physical a mere 18 hours after what was a monster of a chicken korma. Also, I have all the co-ordination of a newborn kitten on a unicycle. Thankfully, making an ass of yourself is exactly what Kung Fu Live is all about.

How to Hustle some Kung Fu

Kung Fu Live is quite the self-descriptive game, but for the purposes of appeasing editors who tend to threaten me with broken whisky bottles, I’ll go into more detail – in particular about the tech which is a wee bit special. So, Kung Fu Live uses the PlayStation Eye camera to capture the silhouette of the player. The game places that video capture within the visuals – in other words, you get to see a miniature live-action version of yourself as the hero beating up other characters. The game tracks how your silhouette changes to distinguish the attacks you’re making.

Even though Virtual Air Guitar’s tech is clearly far less advanced than Kinect – the Eye can only capture the player’s silhouette rather than map 20 joints – Kung Fu Live does a pretty good job of mimicking Microsoft’s motion capture device, at least for its own humble purposes. It even shares the problem of being distracted by people moving in the background.

If the tech is quite clever, the game is very much simple but in an endearingly self-aware way. The main thrust sees you take on a bunch of enemies in a side-on view. The aim: kick the stuffing out of them until they kick the stuffing out of you. Watching on, the end product is amusingly ridiculous.

Since you Kung-Fu it up while facing the camera, your miniature self is therefore looking towards you and not at his enemies while he replicates your moves. When Teemu was throwing in his combo moves, special attacks, and so on, because he was looking straight ahead it gave his miniature self a look of arrogant superiority as he beat up enemy upon enemy without so much as a glance.

Teemu ably demonstrated some of the special moves and the poses they require. For example, to jump across the screen you have to lift yourself slightly off the ground and throw your arms to the side like you’re in a Mexican wave. Given that a lot of the levels involve platforms, and with no up button to press, getting the jump right is important. Attacking with a bolt of lightning, meanwhile, requires one arm straight up and the other at a right angle. A ground slam, Crackdown style, involves another mini-jump followed by getting your arms as close to the ground as possible.

His Kung Fu is Strong

If that sounds a little complicated, then it absolutely reflects the difficulty I have trying to pull the moves off. Like I said, I’m not the most co-ordinated person and the korma was slowing me down somewhat. Nonetheless, the game seems quite pernickety about what you have to do to pull off a special move. You can’t just swing your arms to jump, for example; the hop has to precede that.

Watching some journalists have a go – some struggle, some get to grips – and then watching Teemu nail and combo up the moves with ease once more, I consider how much acclimatizing the final product will need. Clearly whatever Teemu’s doing is being recognized without fault by the camera, but in the age of Wii Sports I wonder how patient new players will be with the game’s precision.

Putting aside the debate on how far a party game like Kung Fu Live should go, it’s worth mentioning some of the other features. Levels in the single-player – 11 of them in the campaign – open with story being told through comic book panels. Thing is, the player can star in these as well. The camera takes shots of soon-to-be heroes, directing them into various poses. It then transplants these shots into the panels. On top of that, there’s a multiplayer mode in which four other players using regular controllers can take on the controller-less kung-fu artist. The thing that worries me with that is where those four other players are going to go in a crowded living room, given how background movements distract the Eye easily. Wow, it really is like Kinect, huh.

As I leave the demonstration and resume my life as a curry-eater and kung-fu ignoramus, I think that the giant elephant in the Kung Fu Live room has to be how the game doesn’t employ PlayStation Move. Players can use any real-life object in the game – Teemu demonstrated this using a polystyrene foam baton of all things – and yet they can’t use the Move controller and throw in some more complicated attacks. Surely this is something for Virtual Air Guitar to rectify.

Whether they will or not before the game releases this Q4 is another matter. Players will be able to download the game over PlayStation Network for a price that should compare to 15 Euros.

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