Your Avatar Kung-fu Is Weak

Review of Avatar Kung-fu! on XBLIG: Pass
Avatar Kung-fu borrows heavily from the arcade and Nintendo classic Kung Fu, pulling just so at fond memories of a bygone era.  It adequately clones the gameplay, but fails to capture the fun.

“Borrow” may not be the right word.  Homage is too light, and rip-off is too harsh.  A fan of the classic NES Kung Fu, I could sense there was a point when the developer sat down and listed the features as a check list for Avatar Kung-fu.

The game opens with my Avatar (either my profile Avatar or a random Avatar I choose) getting jumped in a alley.  I awake to find my friend is missing, angry Avatar thugs approaching from all sides, and a knowledge of kung fu.

The controls are identical to the classic.  A punches, X kicks.  The left thumb stick or D-pad moves my Avatar with UP for jump and DOWN for crouch.  This made sense on a NES controller, as it was limited to two buttons and a D-pad.  An Xbox 360 controller has many more options and I felt using the thumb stick or the infamously latent D-pad for jump and crouch to be a poor choice.

The game is in 3D, but played as a 2D scroller.  The levels make good use of parallax effects, but in the first level I found the foreground artwork too often obscured my Avatars and the approaching thugs.  In the later levels the graphics were not so intrusive.

Level one has basic thugs and knife throwing thugs.  Level two adds saw blades that fall from the ceiling then cut across the floor, as well as female thugs who block high attacks.  All of these match up to NES version counterparts.  The flame jets, which take some timing to get past, represented the NES dragons, and the NES boomerang thug makes an appearance, though he was promoted to Level Boss.

The number and type of thugs attacking at one time appeared to be random.  This led to times where I breezed through a level, and other times where the number of thugs prevented me from moving at all.  The knife throwing thugs toss a blade high (crouch to avoid) or low (jump to avoid).  If the blade hits, the knife thug immediately throws a second blade with no chance of counter attack.  Combined with the random nature of normal thugs I found myself many times losing half my health or more to one knife thug encounter. 

There were times when two knife thugs would arrive at once, one throwing high and the other low, creating a no-win moment.  This also occurred with the saw blades in level two.  I even died once from a knife thug who unexpectedly came in during a boss fight.  Deaths for reasons like these lead me to feel the game is poorly balanced and paced, and not simply a challenge of skill.

The game’s graphics and music are moderate to slightly bland.  I would have found the music less annoying if there was more variety.  The custom Avatar animations are good, include a “nut shot” animation for low blows, but they number too few.  Since I found myself replaying the same level for 30 minutes or more, the lack of variety in animations and music became very noticeable.

I spent 3 hours playing Avatar Kung-fu and only once made it to the 5th level.  I’m assuming there are only five levels as that would match the NES version and the trailer only shows 5 levels.  There are no saves, checkpoints, or continues – when I lost all lives I had to start over.  Like the controls, this feature should have stayed with the NES version.   After 3 hours of replaying the same levels over and over again, hoping the random thug generator would play fair, I gave up on Avatar Kung-fu.

Avatar Kung-fu has promise but in its current state that cannot over come its problems.  Kung fu fighting Avatars are a gimmick, the 240 price point is high for the content, and so I give this game a Pass.  The developer UFO Games is known for creating XBLIG shovelware (also as R3dDr4g0n), this game is no exception, but I sense the skill is there to create something better.  If UFO Games put effort into polishing Avatar Kung-fu instead of going for the quick cash grab (Microsoft promotes Avatar games over other Indie titles), we could have a breakaway hit instead of a frustrating flop.

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