Kung Fu Rider Review
Posted by Patrick Elliot
Is the ticket worth the ride?
On the surface, Kung Fu Rider comes off as a fun variation on the downhill racing formula, removing the boxcars or skateboards players might expect to ride and switching them out for office chairs and luggage. To make this premise even more wacky, the protagonists periodically perform kung fu moves while riding these impromptu vehicles, taking out obstacles with spin kicks and knocking down the Mafia goons trying to catch them. The game has a quirky sense of humour and never takes itself too seriously, with an absurd premise, rag doll physics and slow-motion wipeouts. Sadly though, thanks to its broken controls, repetitive courses and a limited multiplayer mode, it feels that the developers didn't take the game seriously enough.
The game's motion controls might not work how you'd expect. While many motion-controlled racers have players holding the controller horizontally like a steering wheel, Kung Fu Rider instead has you using the pointer on the tip of the controller to guide your character, guiding them around corners by pointing in the intended direction. This would work fine, but once you learn how to gain speed — by pumping the controller up and down — it proves to be a poor choice. Having the player jostle the controller up and down takes a lot of precision out of turning, and if you want to navigate an upcoming bend with control, you're going to have to have to stop shaking your arm. Since the game is most fun at high speeds, this really keeps the tracks from becoming as fun as they could.
Tilting the tip of the controller downwards hits the brakes, which again occasionally happens by accident while you are pumping the controller for speed. Accidentally slamming on the brakes just as you are starting to go fast feels terribly counter-intuitive, and it is not uncommon for the game to confuse your commands. Bursts of speed can be achieved by shoving the controller forward, but this too can sometimes muddle your turning. Also, if you point too far to either side while turning, you activate a “drift” turn, meant to let you take corners at high speeds. All this really does though is suck away all your speed and can make taking even simple corners a pain, as pointing your controller a little too far left or right will activate the drift.
Another way to lose speed is by getting hit by obstacles or the Mob, which commonly hide cheaply behind corners, requiring some tedious track memorisation. Mob guys can be taken out by kung fu moves, performed by pressing the Move button, but timing this move can be tough and the dude you thought you were taking out may end up hitting you instead. Some obstacles or attacks must be ducked too, which is easily done by pressing the T button. If you get hit or crash you bail, losing speed and sometimes earning a goofy slow motion crash scene. While these slow motion crashes are probably the funniest parts of the game, they are also the most frustrating.
Crashing five times means starting the level over again from the top, and what little excitement you build up is quickly siphoned away when you crash, and crash you will. Cars sometimes zoom onto screen without warning, costing you a crash before you even knew it was there. Since scoring depends on the money you collect, the bonus gates you activate and time, replaying a level means you'll have to go for those things all over again while trying to make good time, requiring you to play very carefully to keep your score. The game could be a lot more fun if the scoring mechanism, enemy positions and control scheme required less careful trepidation and more speed and action, but the six punishing locations simply don't allow such unbridled fun.
Once a level is beat on all difficulties, it can be revisited in free play mode, which lets you crash as much as you want without a timer. Each locations comprises several stages, and free play mode is useful for exploring them and finding multiple track branches, but once you've played a level over and over in an effort to wrangle down the controls and get to the end in under five crashes, you may no longer have an interest in revisiting the track. If you do though, there are lots of hidden gates, secret medals (which unlock new rides) and money trails to track down, and if you can stand the tedium it will take quite some time to max out your score.
Advanced controls, like holding down a face button and whipping the controller to the side for a special attack, can be used, but due to the difficulty of handling the basic controls they sometimes seem more trouble than they're worth. One control that works well in the game though is the side-stepping, activated by pressing either the O or X button, which lie on opposite sides of the controller and hop the character over slightly in that direction. The fact that this little move is so easy to use, and that it is relegated to a button press, begs the question "should any of this game be motion controlled?"
Grinding in the game still manages to feel fun, but it isn't nearly as imperative to the gameplay as it could be. Pulling off grinds fills a boost bar at the top of the screen, but it doesn't get you a better score as this is instead achieved by grabbing floating money or rolling through bonus gates. Grinding can lead you to hidden pathways through levels though, and there are some insanely long grinds to be had, but it would have been nice have a fully-fledged trick system integrated with the scoring.
You'd think the game would at least let players put their downhill dodging skills to the test against one another, but sadly that's not the case. The only multiplayer to be had is a co-op mode, which doesn't add an extra racer to the mix but instead a floating hand that can grab money or toss certain obstructions out of the way. The hand is controlled with the pointer, and while it does make the games more frustrating levels more manageable, it doesn't really add anything to the game. For a full fledged Blu-ray release, it's very odd to see a muliplayer racing mode absent.
Kung Fu Rider does not feel like it was made with the Move in mind, and its wacky arcade style may have be better suited to simpler, more traditional controls. The ill-implemented motion controls are much harder to handle than the game's button-activated moves, making the game unnecessarily difficult. The poor design and limited lives means you'll be playing a level over a few times before beating it, and these subsequent playthroughs require more memory than they do reflexes. Furthermore, the game just isn't good value for money: had it included any form of versus multiplayer, an online racing mode, less repetitive levels or controls that actually worked, perhaps then the price could be justified. As it stands though, all that money gets you is a broken experience that runs dry after the first few minutes, and completely ends in a couple of hours.