Dial “C” For “Combo”

A beat ’em up where you play as a dude who looks just like Bruce Lee? That’s about all it will take to sell some folks on KungFu Warrior (Out Now, $0.99), so it’s a good thing this one has a slick gameplay system and content in spades to back up the magnetic draw of its premise.

Sadly the “bad guys kill sensei, go take revenge” plot serves as little more than an excuse to provide a live tutorial while said martial arts master still draws breath, but KungFu Warrior definitely starts off on the right foot in doing so. The game’s combat system revolves around three virtual buttons: one for weak attacks, one for strong attacks, and one for blocking. The latter doubles as a jump button while the player character is moving left or right. Chaining weak and strong button presses in specific sequences makes the player character perform special moves. If that sounds just a little reminiscent of Samurai II: Vengeance, you’re right on the money — think of KungFu Warrior as kind of like that, only in 2D.

KungFu Warrior‘s twenty-seven levels are essentially arenas with very little sidescrolling room, and the assortment of enemies assigned to each pour in from right and left to challenge the player en masse. Those who enjoy action games will definitely appreciate how fluid combat feels here, and the mixture of long-range and short range foes will keep the player on his or her toes. KungFu Warrior‘s two boss battles are standouts in requiring some creative thinking and endurance.

Whereas Samurai II: Vengeance tossed in obstacle courses to keep the onscreen action from becoming repetitive, KungFu Warrior does suffer from this pitfall of dial-a-combo gameplay. Even with enough enemy types and attacks to leave the player surprised that the entire experience is going for a dollar, one can only play so many of its levels before a sense of déjà vu sets in. That said, it helps that KungFu Warrior has an RPG-like system for measuring the player character’s growth and purchasing upgrades gradually unlocked with level completion. The level select grid also allows a nonlinear path through the game, its cul de sacs furnishing plenty of opportunities for extra challenge, bonus experience points and in-game cash.

KungFu Warrior‘s interface feels spot-on in terms of virtual button size and sensitivity, though I would certainly appreciate an ability to rearrange it to the player’s liking; the position of the block and jump button might seem less than optimal to long-time beat ’em up fans. Its visual presentation is nothing short of brilliant, with expressive hand-drawn sprites and luscious environment art. The intro tune will get players’ hopes up for a really bombastic soundtrack, but the audio accompaniment tends toward minimalism for better or worse — not counting all the high-pitched battle grunts that would make Bruce Lee proud, that is.

KungFu Warrior can be counted on for around five hours of combo-laced mayhem.

iFanzine Verdict: With some additional gameplay elements to give it more of a fleshed out action/adventure feel, KungFu Warrior might have proven a true tour-de-force even at a higher price range. For a buck, however, it stands firmly on its slick combat system and polished presentation — as long as the player is an action fan and not turned off by a little repetitiveness.

[xrr rating=4/5]