You Have Much To Learn, Grasshopper
That origin story may or may not be a complete falsehood, but something you can be sure is true is that you haven't played a game quite like this one yet. Kung-Fu LIVE is the closest thing you are going to get to a Kinect experience on your PS3 for the time being, and it'll give you a better workout than your Wii Fit. Imagine if you were reading a campy Kung-Fu comic book, starring YOU, and that whenever a big fight takes place, the comic turns into a live action scene, starring YOU, where you fight to the death with your foes. Now imagine there was no controller.
To be fair, you DO need a controller a few times to get everything calibrated and select your mode, but once the game proper begins, all you need is a solitary PSeye camera and a good bit of free space. When things get going, you'll find yourself in a side-scrolling beat 'em up video game experience very reminiscent of the early classic from Jordan Mechner, Karateka, only this time you have unlimited moves. Yes, that's right, if you want to do the Crane Kick from The Karate Kid, go ahead. Think that crazy move Liu Kang does in Mortal Kombat is the bees knees? You can do it here. Just want to punch dudes in the face like Kurt Russell in Big Trouble In Little China? OK. You see, in Kung-Fu LIVE, you are YOU in the game and all your moves are mapped directly one-to-one on the screen. Hell, you can even grab weapons (or approximate representations of them) and use those to beat on your hapless enemies. Sounds like it is too good to be true? Well, in a lot of ways it is.
In order to get the best experience out of Kung-Fu LIVE, you will need to follow a pretty stringent set of guidelines. FIRST AND FOREMOST stretch a lot before playing. It is impossible to stress this too much. you might think you are fine playing for an hour the first time when not stretching, but the next day you will pay the price. DO NOT SAY YOU WERE NOT WARNED. Second, you need a lot of space. A LOT. Certainly on par with what a Kinect would require. If you can mount your camera above and a bit behind your TV, that would help. Third, the game will absolutely look better if you can wear bright clothing that highly contrasts with the background where you are playing.
Even if you get everything set up perfectly, you may still end up looking like something from a middle-school film project where they were learning to use a green screen. If anyone walks into the camera view while you are playing, things will really go haywire. If you have dogs, keep them out of the room. If you have small kids, keep them out of the room too, lest they get kicked in the face (I am REALLY sorry Mara… it was an accident!). In the best of circumstances, the game will look a little janky. Moving on the Z-axis (toward and away from the camera) does not work well at all. The game will faithfully replicate 80% of your actions, but the other 20% of the time, the results are random and include you warping around, punches not connecting, or just not doing anything. While the game provides a lot of simple gestures for jumping and doing the special moves like power punches and shooting out lightning, actual side-to-side movement and walking can be very difficult.
Despite these flaws, the game is serious fun for those that are not too self-conscious. While the action consists of nothing more than fights with one or two people at once (or the occasional swarm of smaller "inklings") punctuated by a (somewhat annoying) boss battle against a giant, the pure array of moves you can come up with keeps things fresh and not TOO frustrating. No, the game doesn't know clever names for all your crazy moves, but it does a good job of keeping track of combos, and does offer a little variety in how it describes your attacks. You can also play a form of multiplayer where up to four friends grab DS3's and control your opponents as you flail around the middle of the room (and they better stay WAY back). You can also choose to set up your own fight situations outside of the Story mode, or just battle the boss.
Speaking of Story mode, one of the best parts of the game are the comic books that take the place of cutscenes. After every three or four rounds of fighting, the game puts a bunch of silhouettes on the screen and ask you to pose like them while it takes a picture. These are then incorporated into a bunch of panels of a comic that tell the story that leads up to the next encounter. Once you have unlocked these by finishing a level, you can then go back and just read the comic and reshoot all the scenes as many times as you like. I actually found this comic feature to be at least as entertaining as the game itself, and far less strenuous.
The best thing I can say about this game is that despite all the flaws, I still played through the first 2/3rds of the story during my first session with the game, and the next day, when I could literally barely move, I called up a friend of mine who does martial arts and invited him over. At first he was a little tentative, but after I sacrificed more of my body and did a round where I was doing backspins and diving moves like I was a b-boy, he grew excited. Next thing I knew he was clearing all the furniture out of my living room so he could start dancing around doing Capoeira like he was Eddy Gordo. AND IT WORKED. Twenty minutes later he was drenched in sweat (no small feat in an Alaskan winter) and beaming from ear to ear. Kung-Fu LIVE is a lot of fun in its current form, for sure, and it is amazing what they were able to do with just the PSeye. Another round of refinement and a little deeper gameplay (perhaps some challenges) and it could be really impressive. I hope we see more from Virtual Air Guitar Company and this technology.