The problem is that the same technology can also be fiddly, with a lengthy set-up process required to get the game working correctly. Even then, though the concept is novel, the actual gameplay gets repetitive, tedious and cheap. It's a title best enjoyed in short-bursts, though expect each session to include plenty of calibration woes.
Kung-Fu LIVE is the kind of game you'll desperately want to love. It's clear that every inch of the Virtual Air Guitar Company's effort has gone into creating a unique and novel experience with one of the PlayStation 3's most under-used peripherals — the PlayStation Eye. There's no need for a PlayStation Move controller, Kung-Fu LIVE is all about Sony's PlayStation camera. It's been years since we last played a PlayStation title controlled solely by Sony's console web-cam, and in many ways it feels novel in the same way the Eye Toy did back on PlayStation 2. The problem is, for all Kung-Fu LIVE's underlying algorithms and technical wizardry, the game just doesn't work in non-ideal settings.
The concept driving Kung-Fu LIVE is a brilliant one, and it's clearly something the developers at the Virtual Air Guitar Company believed very strongly in. For a niche downloadable title, Kung-Fu LIVE exhumes polish and creativity.
Drawing influence from hokey martial arts movies, Kung-Fu LIVE has a ridiculous plot which sees you sucked into a comic book and transformed into a karate master. When we say "you", we mean it in the most literal sense. Y'see, the game is constantly using the PlayStation Eye to watch you, take photos of you and ultimately put you into the game. A sequence of photographs are taken before each comic book and then super-imposed into the subsequent cut-scenes. It's a brilliant touch, which really adds an air of fun and frivolity to the package. Kung-Fu LIVE is not a game that takes itself seriously, and it does have some genuinely laugh out loud moments.
Unfortunately the humour comes with a number of caveats. Kung-Fu LIVE's opening warning screen is worrying enough — apparently the Virtual Air Guitar Company is not liable for the death of anyone who plays the game — but it only gets worse as the opening tutorial messages explain the set-up procedure. Move your furniture. Don't play near a window. Make sure your room is well lit. Give yourself 7 x 9ft of space. Avoid breakable furniture. Kill the cat. Ok, so the latter request is false, but with so many steps it feels like the Virtual Air Guitar Company's having a laugh at your expense. That said, if you live inside a Nintendo Wii commercial, you'll have absolutely no issues.
Unfortunately that's the crux of Kung-Fu LIVE's problems; it's just so hard to get it working in a standard living room. The game implements some pretty complex background reduction technology to lift you, the player, out of your living room and into the game. But even with a list of sliders, options and filters, we just couldn't get the game to work as intended in our living room. We got pretty close during the heavy sun-light of the afternoon, but even then our arms had a tendency to disappear when we stretched them outwards. It's pretty obvious the technical efficiency of the game depends heavily on environment. Our issues are only applicable to our living room, and as such the game might function better or worse in another environment. That said, it's really hard to recommend a game when it depends so heavily on the room it's being played within. We imagine Kung-Fu LIVE works flawlessly when played in front of a green-screen and studio lights, but who has access to that?
For all its problems, the overarching intention with Kung-Fu LIVE is a novel one. With the numerous stages of calibration completed, the game shrinks you down and drops you into one of many kung-fu inspired settings. It's here that the actual gameplay begins. Using your body you'll need to punch, kick and generally jump around in front of the PlayStation Eye in order to reel off attacks and defeat a slew of enemy NPCs. It's actually really cool seeing yourself dropped into the game, and because Kung-Fu LIVE shrinks you down to a minuscule size, the tracking and image quality actually seem really impressive. For a while, it's an intuitive and fun experience too. Your moves are exaggerated, so jumping in front of the PlayStation Eye will see your character thrown 20 ft into the air. Likewise arching your back while jumping on the spot will send you into a wild back-flip. This all occurs while direct footage from the PlayStation Eye places you on-screen — we're sure you can imagine how cool the effect is. The problem is, as the game progresses it all becomes a bit clumsy. Kung-Fu LIVE wants you to fight technically by dodging enemies' moves and timing carefully placed attacks, but the game just doesn't have the fidelity to deliver on that promise. We ended up swinging our arms and legs as fast as we could. It worked and was fun for a while, but it quickly got tiring and unsatisfying. Kung-Fu LIVE's AI borders on unfair in the later levels, as enemy NPCs block virtually every attack you throw at them. It seems a little unreasonable that the AI can block while you can only dodge, and it quickly leads to frustration.
Additional modes allow you to fight in custom scenarios and against four other DualShock equipped buddies, but the gameplay rarely changes. It's all about pretending to be a ninja and acting a little bit silly.
For what it's worth, when Kung-Fu LIVE works it's a unique, novel and comical experience. Unfortunately it's hindered by the technology it's tied to and the inherent problems that creates. Calibration can be woefully finicky, and even when it works it suffers from repetitive gameplay. The Virtual Air Guitar Company should be given some credibility for attempting to create a unique experience with Sony's overlooked camera peripheral, but sadly the results are too variable to really recommend.