“Kung Fu Panda 2” isn’t exactly a sequel that everyone clamored for, but hey, if it makes money, you gotta milk it for all it’s worth, no? Luckily, in this case, it looks like Jack Black’s newest effort is actually good, with the movie getting solid reviews across the board.
Of course, that means the DS game must be good as well, right?
I’m not going to beat around the bush here: Kung Fu Panda 2 for the DS is not a good game. It’s not even a good game for that almighty qualifer, “for kids”, either. I don’t even think children would have a great time with this one; it’s almost too basic and too bland to keep the interests of the most ADHD-addled child.
Nonsense, you think. It’s a game about a fat panda that does martial arts! How can such a premise be boring? Well, developer Griptonite Games has managed that by making what’s possibly the driest, least interactive RPG I’ve ever played. The story is something I lost interest in within an hour of starting the game; taking place after the events of the first film, Po and Co. have to battle a bunch of gorillas, wolves, and lizard-looking things for, I don’t know. The back of the DS box says they’re trying to “steal kung fu” or somesuch, but I don’t remember seeing anything about that at all in the actual game. The overarching plot in this one felt like a superlong throwaway sidequest in a AAA-produced RPG, the one you don’t really want to play, but you have to because it gives you sweet gear.
When it comes to actual gameplay, Kung Fu Panda 2 is played entirely with the stylus, which could be doable, except you don’t really walk anywhere. 99% of the game takes place on a map overworld of sorts, except there’s dots all around that lead to special bigger “nodes” where you can explore. Think the level select stage in Super Mario World, and you’ll know what I mean. You’re playing the entire within what looks to be a level select stage.
…okay, that’s not a big deal. Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes did it that way, and that’s still an amazing puzzle strategy experience. As long as the fights are good, it shouldn’t matter right? True, except the fights and battles in this game are absolutely bland. Every battle is fought with two party members, and along the course of the game you’ll unlock all of the Furious Five to use as party members. Battles are in your standard turn-based RPG style, with chances for you to attack or use an item. These actions take up varying amounts of the Chi meter, so theoretically you could attack two or three times in every turn, with smaller, weaker attacks each time.
That’s well and good, but for the duration of the game I found myself using only one team (Po and Tigress), and one attack for each. The fights are absolutely harmless, as long as you use strong attacks that target every enemy; I found myself having to heal approximately seven times during the entire game.
Additionally, there’s some kind of rock-paper-scissors power system that’s supposed to make certain attacks weaker or stronger on other opponents, but it honestly doesn’t matter too much at all, as Tigress and Po have some seriously strong kung fu attacks to begin with. I think there were a couple boss characters in the game, as the battle music changed for them, but they weren’t the least bit threatening, so I wasn’t too sure about that.
Perhaps the one decently fun aspect of Kung Fu Panda 2 is the implementation of a card game called “Five Card Fu”. You collect cards along the way and can challenge various villagefolk to the game, which is quite strategic and fun. It’s a bit hard to explain, but it’s like War on a grid, with cards that have a number along each side.
It’s entertaining for a bit, but then the difficult spikes up massively, and you’ll often find yourself being beaten thoroughly by random NPCs simply because you haven’t found enough good cards to succeed. It’s especially painful because there are times where in order to progress the main story, you’ll have to challenge certain “Five Card Fu Masters” to a game and win, and with the pathetic deck you have, it’s barely possible. I only managed to win a few of those due to sheer luck and frustration, putting down cards in crazy positions and presumably breaking the AI.
After investing about ten hours into Kung Fu Panda 2 and powering through the campaign, the counter said my game was about 68% complete, and I don’t care to go back and finish it. The sidequests in the game mostly consist of pointing from node to node and seeing some throwaway text; why that’s fun to me, or anyone, I don’t even know. That’s kind of my thought on the entire game in general: if even a patient, forgiving man such as myself can’t see and understand why this game would be fun for kids, how is it going to be fun for real kids?
If “Kung Fu Panda 2” was a cashgrab, then consider Kung Fu Panda 2 for the DS a cashgrab of a cashgrab. Parents are going to buy it for their kids, and they won’t care about the quality, because hey, it’s just kids. That’s a completely different, bigger can of worms, but yeah, if you’re a parent reading this, please spare your kids this mess and tell them to play outside.