In the land of the Far East, from the days of yesteryear, arcade and ported beat ‘em ups pummeled the gaming world with little regard to ingenuity or quality, their sole purpose being an extremely hefty challenge meant to thieve the quarters of the world’s youth. Now, with the age of cheap deaths and unprecedented difficulty nearly extinct, Qooc Soft (huh?) brings Kung Fu Strike: A Warrior’s Rise to the Xbox 360, where a ruthless challenge and an “authentic” Kung Fu styled plot, with all of its poorly translated goodness, await those brave enough to combat the martial arts action.
With the game set in Ancient China, Kung Fu Strike throws the player into the role of General Loh, the son of the former emperor, who was presumed dead after the disappearance of his father and seizure of the throne by Loh’s apparently malevolent brother. The story follows Kung Fu movie law and tradition closely, complete with an ancient temple inlaid on the side of a mountain, an old, wise master waiting to test Loh’s skills and guide him on his quest for vengeance, and a plethora of nameless combatants complete with awesomely bad dialogue and Kung Fu grip! Where originality takes a back seat, the overall feel of the game captures the movie genre’s unique flare seen during its heyday. Cutscenes give way for beautifully drawn frames to convey the story, with a very raw art style fitting the martial tone perfectly. Enhancing the martial flare, dialogue and narration, whether intentional or not, are some of the most poorly written exchanges I’ve ever had the amazing pleasure to read. As soon as words hit the screen, laughter burst through my lungs, and it’s very easy to picture each character speaking terribly dubbed English with a certain awkwardness that is beloved and could only work in this genre.
Keeping with the retro feel, Kung Fu Strike is heavily influenced by the beat ‘em ups of the 1980s and 90s, like Double Dragon and Final Fight, yet throws a modern spin on the formula. Instead of relying on just a couple of attacks, Loh can strike, counter, dodge, and utilize special attacks to dispatch his foes. Success against the high degree of difficult will only come with a combination of Loh’s repertoire, with an emphasis placed on countering to stay alive since there is no blocking. Discouraging button mashing, most enemies will block(!) and counter attack, and holding or striking with certain actions are the only way to break enemy defenses. It helps combat become a little deeper, as Loh can blend his attacks with lightning speed, yet can't simply attack wildly, and it further increases the challenge of each mission.
Loh also receives a myriad of upgrades and new abilities that enhance his starts or grant him new Chi moves. Loh builds Chi through successful combos, and can use it to perform special attacks. New attacks and enhancements can be purchased with gold collected from enemies and rewarded at the end of each mission depending on how well Loh performs, which is based on his combo count, enemies defeated, damage taken, and elapsed time. Chi attacks can also dish out critical hits if performed at the right time. Like Loh, enemies have their own abilities and glow red when using them. If Loh uses his Chi attacks right before the enemy strikes him, Loh's move causes a great deal of more damage. Though many different moves are available to Loh, most aren't as useful as the beginning move and they cost a bunch of gold, which is scarce and requires some tedious grinding. At its core, the KFS feels very much like old school beat 'em ups, but with the added abilities and upgrades that offer a very barebones progression system; it's an entertaining mix of the old and new.
Where gameplay and story are solid, the same can't be said for Kung Fu Strike's visuals. Though not completely awful, levels are generally small squares with generically detailed locales typical of ancient Chinese settings, where nature, tournament rings, and dragon statues dominate each level. KFS utilizes a cell shaded style, but one that looks more like the early days of the technique, where lines appear a bit jagged and not as smooth as intended. Character models are less than impressive; facial details are bland and enemy variance low, with many minibosses appearing as normal enemies and vice versa. While this was common practice in beat 'em ups of yore, it's a hard pill to swallow when many other games offer multitude of enemies to combat, rather than the same old recolors. Bosses, however, received a bit more attention. Each has its own unique moveset and more intricate style that shows flashes of how the entire game could have looked, but instead leaves much to be imagined. Soundwork also falls victim to mediocrity and what seems like a small budget, as voice acting is non-existent besides some grunts, groans, and "Hi-yahs!"
Kung Fu Strike provides quite a hefty challenge. Most missions will need to be completed on the easiest setting if you're playing through the campaign alone, and even then, many attempts will be required with later stages. To tackle greater difficulties, a friend is necessary, though only local multiplayer is available. This fits the beat 'em up retro feel, and nothing gets me excited like some good ol' couch co-op, but not having any online functionality besides some tacked on leaderboards is just silly. The challenge is unrelenting and frustrating at times, but is also one of the main alluring factors of KFS. Most games just don't offer the degree of difficulty that's seen in Kung Fu Strike (even Hayabusa-san has lost its touch), and it's great to see a bit of old school action. Replayability also gets a boost due to the challenge, but doesn't really do much to lengthen the rather short game, which can be finished in under 5 hours.
With its amazingly bad dialogue and unique art style, combined with the solid combat and healthy challenge, Kung Fu Strike: A Warrior's Rise provides a great deal of fun. Preventing it from becoming a must-own title, however, are the less than impressive visuals, missing voice work and lacking of online capabilities. With some more polish, Kung Fu Strike could have been one of XBLA's sleeper hits - without the attention, it falls short of greatness.