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Kung-Fu Live review: Kinect-like on the cheap

Matt Cabral

With a motto like "Serious fun for people who don't take themselves too seriously," it's no surprise Virtual Air Guitar Company's debut title is the brimming-with-dumb-fun Kung-Fu Live. Utilizing the PlayStation Eye camera to inject players into an arcadey, comic book-inspired 2D beat-'em-up, the title should appeal to anyone who's mimicked the Karate Kid's crane kick or threatened a potential bully with a deadpanned, "I know Kung Fu." Actually getting yourself in the game, however, can feel like a kick to the swimsuit area, and could steer some Bruce Lee-wannabes from a weekend's worth of hilarious chop-socky hijinks.

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

KFL puts players in the game like surprisingly few PlayStation Move and Kinect titles do, using the camera to place them in the action in near real-time. Rather than watching some cutesy Mii-like avatar deliver your moves, KFL excises the middle man and allows a live version of yourself to kick virtual ass. The result is intentionally ridiculous, as there's no filter in place to pretty-up your drunken monkey limb flailing; you'll look just as silly in-game as you do in your living room. Additionally, you're not forced to mimic moves or follow prompts, so your faux fu skills -- mostly punching, kicking and jumping -- are mirrored and executed on screen, no matter how bizarre. Want to punch a thug in the nuts? Go for it. Bitch-slap a scumbag in the kneecap? Sure, why not? You can even bring in real-world objects to do your bidding. I completed a whole level wielding nothing but one of my wife's UGG boots.

Despite encouraging free-form fighting, KFL includes some super moves requiring specific motions to pull off. Striking a Ryu fireball pose, for example, will send you hurtling across the screen with an extra powerful punch. Mastering this and other special abilities, such as a baddie-barbequing lightning attack, is necessary too, because KFL's lineup of meat bags can also dodge, block, and deliver life-siphoning blows. Thankfully, a warning prompt telegraphs their strikes, giving you a second or so to duck or jump, while an absurdly exaggerated back flip allows you to evade attacks. All this wild fist-to-face action will leave you soaked with sweat -- no joke, this is a very physical game that will tax your heart and muscles.

While the gameplay generally serves its intended purpose, while unintentionally giving you one hell of a workout, it has its share of hiccups. Hits don't always register damage on foes and the camera sometimes ignores your inputs; more than once I threw my arms in the air to execute a back flip only to be left open to a head-aimed foot. If you're expecting a dedicated fighting experience, these flaws will no doubt annoy. Otherwise, you'll hardly notice them in your haze of furious feet and fists.

More frustrating is the title's tedious calibration process. Getting yourself to appear on screen, sans gaping holes in your body, isn't easy and depends on various factors. The size of your room, its lighting conditions, the color of your clothes and how much they blend with the background all play a part. There are plenty of presets and manual ways to tweak this, but it's still a irksome task that took me over 30 minutes and a wardrobe change into the ugliest pair of sweatpants I own. The biggest deterrent is space, as the game recommends you stand at least six feet from the camera. I was well over that, and the sole of my sneaker was still introduced to my fireplace screen multiple times.

If you've got the space and the patience to play with the settings, it's worth turning your living room into a virtual dojo. In addition to gameplay that entertained me more than most Move and Kinect launch titles, the comic book setting totally sold the B-movie vibe. From wife beater-wearing thugs to slick ninja assassins, you'll take on the usual suspects in ripped-from-the-paneled-page settings such as alleys, temples, and rooftops. The comic book presentation is further supported by between-chapter cutscenes starring goofy pictures of yourself. When you've mastered the solo run, KFL invites you back for an amusing take on local multi-player that pits your air-fighting skills against up to four DualShock-wielding friends.

Fans of Kung fu pulp or those who want to sample motion-controlled gaming without breaking the bank should find enough stupid fun in KFL to warrant the $14.99 download. Just don't blame me if you can't lift your arms in the morning.

This review is based on the final PSN version of Kung Fu Live provided by Sony. Matt Cabral covers videogames, television, and film for a variety of mainstream and enthusiast print and online outlets. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @gamegoat.

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