Rag Doll Kung Fu is a downloadable game combining the customs of classic martial art cinema with realistic physics and Super Smash Bros.-style multiplayer action. An interesting take on sixaxis motion control and detailed visuals highlight the wacky kung fu antics. Sadly, the game falls short of its lofty goals, with the end result being a title with a solid foundation that fails to deliver on the content side of things.
The controls in Rag Doll Kung Fu are unconventional for a fighting game. Foregoing combos and move lists, the controls require you to aim your punches and kicks with the left analog stick which is also used for movement. Actions such as blocking and hurling weapons require aiming, which at times can feel a tad imprecise. Jumping is floaty but fits well within the context of the 2D gameplay.
Gameplay is simple: two to four fighters compete on multi-tiered stages for the most points. Opponents are eliminated by either having their life bar depleted or being hurled off the stage. The person with the most points based on the specific game mode being played is declared the winner. Weapons and other items, such as noodles to restore health, fall at random in order to spice things up. The weapons, ranging from nunchakus to shruiken, are controlled by both analog sticks in tandem. It would have been nice to see a greater variety in the items offered, as the ones that are available are simply too conventional to hold attention for long.
The aforementioned motion controls are used for special attacks involving the chi meter and are either finicky and annoying, or simple and brilliant. Shaking the gamepad generates a ball of chi to be hurled at enemy targets, jerking the controller accompanied by a punch or kick will send your rag doll flying through the air with glowing limbs, tilting the controller upside down will recharge your health through meditation, and slamming the controller downward after pressing the circle button will make the ground quake around you. It’s nice to see a game at least attempt to incorporate the oft-ignored motion control feature of the PS3 controller, even if you are just as likely to be successful just punching and kicking your enemies until they die.
There isn’t much to do if you plan to play by yourself. The Challenge Mode is a collection of tasks to complete within a set time limit. Objectives include surviving a barrage of enemies or juggling a man in a giant frog costume for as long as possible. There are nine challenges in total and you are rewarded with a different trophy depending on how successfully you complete the mission at hand. Other than feeling like an extended tutorial, the problem with the challenges is they feel like drudge work and aren’t much fun to play. Certainly a poor substitute for a true-blue singleplayer mode, the one positive about the Challenge mode is that it does adequately prepare you for fighting in the multiplayer.
Local multiplayer for up to four players is the main feature of the game. The four multiplayer modes (Deathmatch, King of the Hill, Capture the Fish, and Dodgeball) are a refreshing change of pace from those usually found in fighting games. Deathmatch is a battle to amass the most points by defeating opponents. King of the Hill has combatants fighting for control of a single platform which increases the score of the sole player who stands on it. Capture the Fish requires players to throw fish into a basket in order to score points. Lastly, Dodgeball puts a mythical twist on the sport by hurling balls made out chi instead of rubber at one another. Computer controlled bots are available for all the modes except Capture the Fish. The AI is actually a fair stand in should you be unable to gather three friends to play with.
One of the most baffling design choices for this multiplayer centric download is the absence of online multiplayer. In lieu of this, there are online scoreboards allowing players to compare their skills with other players without any other sort of interaction possible. Playing offline with a bunch of friends can be really fun at times, but feel mundane fairly quickly. After a while the game modes and quirks of the gameplay grew stale to the point where my friends and I resorted to constant button mashing until the match was over.
The graphics of Rag Doll Kung Fu are glossy and detailed. The rag dolls themselves look sharp, lifting their designs from well known karate caricatures such as the aged sensei, the urban afro warrior, and the scar-faced villain. Their animation is equally strong, the rag doll physics accentuating the quirkiness of the theme. The eleven stages to play on are well rendered despite the feeling of a given stage not being overly discernable from any other. The soundtrack, a mix of familiar Asian themes with generic hip hop, has it ups and downs but is probably as decent as you could have hoped for going in. On a side note, I found the game’s theme song to be catchy the first few times I heard it, then ear splittingly painful down the line to the point where I mute my television before I start up the game. There are no lines of dialog whatsoever but characters do make humorous and pleasing sound effects during gameplay.
This game’s biggest flaw is its severe lack of content. The challenge and multiplayer modes are the only game modes available. There is a character editor where you can mix and match parts you’ve unlocked to create your own one of a kind fighter. It’s a passable, if redundant, addition because no matter what you do all the rag dolls control exactly the same. Given how every other aspect of the game is doused in tongue-in-cheek references to well known Kung Fu movie conventions, it’s a real shame there is no story to tie the entire package together.
Rag Doll Kung Fu is a game that reeks of unfulfilled potential. The developers delivered a fun and interesting core, but forgot to build a fun game around it. For $9.99 there are much better deals to be found on the Playstation Store. Bottom line if you’re not a fan of local multiplayer, this game is not for you.