Do you like punching things? How about kicking? What if I told you that there’s a game where you can punch AND kick people? A lot. And get punched and kicked in return for hours on end? That’s what you do in Kung Fu Strike: The Warrior’s Rise, a new hardcore brawler for Xbox and PC.
Kung Fu Strike is a lot like the classic beat ‘em ups, but it plays in 3D. The story is barebones with a series of still images and captions that inform players that they control General Loh who is on a quest to meet with the grand master of a monastery. The other monks aren’t as obliging as one would hope, so General Loh has to bust heads through a series of rooms and courtyards until he gets what he wants.
Combat is deceptively simple, and a little like the “Freeflow Combat” seen in games like Batman Arhkam City. There is a basic attack button, a jump attack and a “Deflect” button for countering enemy blows. Special moves and combos are triggered with timely combinations of the two basic attack buttons.
However Kung Fu Strike requires a much more aggressive style of play than other Freeflow games. General Loh is beset on all sides by enemies who will pound him mercilessly if he doesn’t keep up a constant stream of beat-downs, blocks and counter-attacks. Powerful enemy attacks are signaled by a flash of color, but (Unlike in Gotham City) most of the time the enemies aren’t so considerate as to give a convenient signal that they’re about to attack.
It adds a few new tricks to the beat ‘em up genre, notably by adding armies for the General to command; he is a General after all. These henchmen can be collected by defeating enemies and summoned after getting a power-up during combat. They’ll assist Loh in combat and come in very handy as the difficulty ramps up later in the game when Loh needs some cannon fodder against the relentless foes.
There’s a multiplayer mode, but it’s only local, which means that both players have to be in the same room. This is a limitation for both the PC and Xbox versions. For those who do like to play local there are both co-operative and versus modes.
There are RPG mechanics to it as well; defeating enemies yields money that can be used to buy new martial arts techniques and new pieces of equipment. Money is sparse and every new upgrade is hard-earned. Some of these are mandatory for surviving after the first couple of levels, so players will have to use a great deal of thought in buying their upgrades or they are in for a tough time.
Actually, players are in for a tough time, no matter what they do because this is a very brutal game that requires quick timing, strict pattern recognition and a thorough exploration of the combo system. Bosses have attacks that are hard to block and are experts at avoiding Loh’s blows. The less powerful enemies attack in swarms, often launching powerful attacks in rapid succession thereby forcing the Player to constantly deflect incoming enemies while simultaneously trying to dish out damage. Button mashers will quickly be overwhelmed by enemy special attacks even in early levels.
Fortunately each stage in the game is just one or two rooms that take about two minutes to beat, and players can buy new moves and items between stages. This keeps the challenges short and reduces the amount of time spent replaying after the game’s many deaths.
There is an Easy mode so that players can have a less frustrating time, and players can replay levels at any time with a different difficulty level. Replaying a level yields additional money to buy upgrades, so players can grind older levels for money, then go back with their tougher character to play the harder levels. Alas, even on Easy mode the second half of Kung Fu Strike is still very difficult!
Kung Fu Strike is a good example of its genre, but gamers who aren’t beat ‘em up fans will likely find it to be too hard. Those who enjoy giving and receiving merciless beatings should try it out, though. It is out on PC now with an Xbox Live Arcade edition coming out on September 5th.