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Kung-Fu Live preview: You are the controller


Kung-Fu Live made quite the impression when I saw it a few months ago, promising a full body-controlled gaming experience -- using Sony's PlayStation Eye instead of Microsoft's much-hyped Kinect.

As with Kinect, you'll need a lot of space in order to play comfortably. The developer tells us that you should "ideally have about 7x9 feet of space." The camera needs to be able to see your entire body, from head to toe. You'll also need some bright lighting, and you'll have to watch what you wear. For example, wearing a white shirt against a white wall will confuse the game. (Hence the jacket in the picture above.)

Gallery: Kung Fu LIVE! (PSN) | 18 Photos

When it works, Kung-Fu Live impresses in a way that has you doubting the necessity of Microsoft's far more advanced Kinect technology. The menus function almost identically to the Kinect Hub -- to make a selection, simply hold your hand over an option for a few seconds. (You can also use a DualShock or Navigation Controller to get through the menu options more quickly.) The setup for Kung-Fu Live is also unexpectedly easy. In fact, calibration takes less than a minute, besting the lengthy process demanded of Kinect. There are more advanced options you can tweak if the game isn't tracking you properly, but I had no problem simply booting the game and getting started. The game automatically detects new players, too, making it very easy for you and a friend to swap in between levels.

The comic-styled introductions to each level might be reason alone to pick up the game. Before each chapter, the game will ask you to contort your body in certain poses. Without any context, it becomes a physical version of Mad Libs -- and the payoff is well worth it. Seeing yourself transplanted into a campy Kung-Fu comic is laugh out loud funny, and a terrific demonstration of the tech that powers the game. Best of all, you'll be able to replay these segments and even export them as images on your PS3 hard drive.

The gameplay, while technologically very impressive, hasn't completely sold me yet, though. Seeing my body appear on screen in real time is rather novel, especially considering the simplicity of the PlayStation Eye camera. I remember kicking an enemy while he was down on the ground, and being so pleased when the game registered it. I remember being particularly awe-struck the first time I performed a charge attack, by thrusting two of my arms in one direction. But, the experience lacks a level of smoothness that would make the game feel more natural. Your on-screen body feels less like you, and more like a puppet. Jumping, and the simple act of moving left and right, just doesn't feel right. Interacting with virtual items in the environment, like trashcans feels sloppy and counter-intuitive. Punches sometimes don't connect, and dodges sometimes don't register. Sometimes, the camera will lose track of you. The preview build, as it is now, still has too many issues that take you out of the experience.

Still, when it works -- and it does more often than not -- Kung-Fu Live is a lot of fun. For example, what other game lets you somersault over a group of enemies, shoot lightning out of your arms, and go in for a finishing uppercut? This is undoubtedly the most physically demanding of the recent batch of motion controlled games, and arguably, has the potential to be the most rewarding as well.

Kung-Fu Live will be available on the PlayStation Network later this year.

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