Kung Fu for Kinect
A video game starring YOU, and a fantastic daily workout.
Now in its third incarnation after earlier releases on the PS3 and Xbox 360, Kung Fu Live is a polished and incredibly fun game that uses your actual video image in the game itself to put you in the middle of an old-school side-scrolling video game. In the course of doing actual jumps, kicks, and punches you’ll be shocked at how great a workout you get.
Back in 2010, I reviewed a game for the Playstation 3 called Kung Fu Live. At the time, I knew I was looking at something special. It was a fighting game from Virtual Air Guitar that looked a lot like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat with one distinct difference–instead of the star of the game being a Ken, Ryu, Johnny Cage or Liu Kang, the star was–you. Literally. The developers of the game had the brilliant idea of taking your actual live video and insert it right into the game. You’d see yourself on the screen fighting off hoardes of enemies by literally punching and kicking at them on the screen as you punched and kicked in real life.
What’s even more remarkable is that they did this on the PS3. Now granted the gameplay wasn’t perfect, but this was solely because they could only stretch the capabilities of a console made in 2006 so far. Predictably, the gaming media didn’t “get it”, but I for one know that this was a game far ahead of its time. This company had achieved something special, way before anyone was talking about augmented reality or virtual reality in video games,
In 2011, Kung Fu High Impact was released for Xbox 360 for Kinect. At the time most other game developers were producing horrible games for the Kinect like Kung Fu Panda 2 and PowerUP Heroes, where use of the Kinect was either gimmicky or was poorly done or both. But Virtual Air Guitar got it right, and in many ways created the realization of what was started with the PS3 version, using the Kinect to create an engaging game with precise motion controls and solid video. The one gripe I had wasn’t so much about the game but about the Kinect technology. With the Kinect 1.0, you had to stand about 7-10 feet in front of the sensor, which severely compromised my ability to play the game regularly in my tiny apartment.
In the last two years, Virtual Air Guitar has released a few games for the Xbox One and the Kinect 2.0, including Boom Ball, Squid Hero, and Beatsplosion. While nearly every other game publisher has abandoned using the Kinect’s motion controls, Virtual Air Guitar is continuing to exclusively develop innovative motion control games. Their games epitomize what I’ve always said make perfect video game fitness games–letting you have so much fun that you forget that you’re getting a workout. After I play enough Boom Ball, I really do feel like I’ve played a few rounds of handball, and after I play Beatsplosion, my heartrate and perspiration prove to me that I’ve gotten a workout as good as what I could get in any gym or aerobics class, and had a lot more fun doing it.
At long last, they’ve brought their signature game to the Xbox One, titled simply Kung Fu for Kinect. It takes what they started with Kung Fu Live and continued with Kung Fu High Impact. Here are some of my favorite things about it.
- It’s brilliant
Despite being the third iteration of this game, it still feels like a game that is ahead of its time. It’s got the vibe of the most popular fighting games and platform games in arcades and consoles but with the key difference that you are literally the star of the game, not an avatar. It helps you appreciate the game on a whole new level (and you take enemy attacks much more personally!)
- The motion controls are intuitive
Instead of having to memorize a thousand combinations on a handheld gaming controller, all you have to do to make things happen in the game is “do it”. Want to punch your opponent? Punch him. Want to kick your opponent? Kick him. Want to jump? Jump. As you progress in the game you’ll learn more advanced moves which are still very intuitive, such as a “power punch” made by punching with both fists. Most of the moves are the same as they were in Kung Fu Live Impact, but in some cases they adjusted them (for example, in the video you might see me struggling to perform a somersault–this is because in the old game the way to do it was to arch your body and jump, but in the new game you make an arch motion with your hands).
- It’s a great way to let off steam
After a tough day at work and a rough commute home, usually the last thing I want to do is work out. More often than not, I unwind by doing things that aren’t great for my body, like eating, sleeping, or just grousing. Now, I look forward to coming home and taking out the day’s frustrations on my enemies in the video game. So, you didn’t agree with me in the meeting? POW POW POW! You wouldn’t make room for me to sit on the train home? POW POW POW! It’s a great release, and thanks to the dopamine and the endorphins I actually feel great.
- It’s a fantastic workout
This is for two reasons. One, you’re getting an incredible amount of aerobic exercise with all the jumping, ducking, punching, and kicking you’re doing. But second, and perhaps more importantly, you’re so engrossed in the game that you completely forget that you’re exercising. To me, these are the qualities of the perfect fitness video game, and Kung Fu for Kinect has achieved a level far beyond virtually any other.Another nice improvement they’ve made to the game (which they started including in Beatsplosion) is including a bar on top of the page that shows you how many minutes you’ve been playing and lets you compare it to your time of the last week. It’s a good way to track whether you’re getting the 20-30 minutes of cardio you should be getting per day. but also to remind yourself not to overdo it if you’ve been playing continuously for a long time.
- It uses the Kinect the way the Kinect was meant to be used
Game publishers seem more skittish than ever on touching the Kinect or using it for anything more than some basic voice recognition or the most rudimentary of “optional” motion controls. I admire how Virtual Air Guitar has stuck to their guns and continue to push the envelope forward as far as new and innovative ways to use the Kinect for motion gaming. Even Microsoft itself seems to have given up, making the Kinect optional with its Xbox Fitness product in December.
- It’s fresh
Something else I appreciate is that this isn’t just a port of Kung Fu High Impact, but what seems to be a complete rewrite not just of the codebase but of the story (just as the Xbox 360 version paid homage to the PS3 version). The storyline is new, the enemies are more varied, and each chapter seems fresh.
- It takes advantage of the Xbox One’s graphics capabilities and performance
The game is deliberately set in a “comic book” world, so by definition the world (and your image in the world) are stylized accordingly. Still, I was impressed by how the developers made use of the Xbox One’s superior processing power and graphics. Colors pop off the screen. Enemies are rendered in an ultra-realistic way. Background images like clouds are water are stunningly beautifully done, and objects are intricately detailed. Even your own image is stylized to “fit” the scene.
- It’s affordable
I had to do a double-take when I saw the price of the title of $19.95. I think one of the advantages Virtual Air Guitar has over behemoth publishers like Ubisoft and Microsoft is that they have a lot less overhead, and they pass the savings to you. But make no mistake–this is a game that would be well worth the $60 other game publishers charge for their lesser products (I’m talking to you, Ubisoft).
- It’s hilarious
I love that they kept in one of my favorite parts of the game, where prior to each level they have you stand in different poses. Then they’ll show you a cut scene of a comic book with you as the star character of the comic book reacting to the storyline.And because of the open nature of the game, if you and your friends are feeling a bit goofy you can act it out in the game, as I did to start out this game.
- I can play it!
Thanks to the Kinect 2.0, I can play the game in my tiny apartment without having to move furniture or worry about knocking lamps and picture frames down all over the place. I can stand just about 5 feet from the Kinect sensor and it’ll pick up my body movements perfectly.
In this part of a review I usually call out areas of a game that I feel need improvement. Honestly, I can’t think of very much to say with this game. Some nitpickers might complain that you don’t need to be very “precise” in your movements when attacking enemies to score a “hit”–whether you hit or kick high or low you’ll make contact. But I think that’s kind of the point. It’s sort of the live-action equivalent of old button mashing games, the difference being that once you’ve cleared out a hoard of attackers, you don’t just feel great mentally but you’ve gotten quite the workout too.
There are times during the gameplay my control would feel a bit sluggish–when the action gets fast and furious it can feel like it takes forever for me to do a somersault or a Power Punch. But these are cases where practice makes perfect–in most cases after a few sessions of trial and error I’d figure out how to adjust my movements to play the game effectively.
To sum up, Kung Fu for Kinect is quite simply the best game ever developed for the Xbox One and the Kinect 2.0, and easily among the top 3 fitness video games I’ve ever played. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next. The easiest 5 of 5 stars I’ve given yet.