Climb into my metaphorical DeLorean, stamp your foot to the floor, watch as the speed creeps up to eighty-eight miles per hour and hold on as we’re catapulted back in time. Don’t worry, you won’t be asked to flirt with your mother or pre-empt a Rock n’ Roll revolution here, we’re only in 2005.
Look, there’s Mark Healey, impressive young artist who made his name working for Peter Molyneux at Bullfrog. He worked on such games as Theme Park and Dungeon Keeper before following Molyneaux to Lionhead and working on the acclaimed Black & White. He seems to be just putting the finishing touches to the original Fable game. You’d think a man like that would need to do something completely different and totally relaxing in his spare time wouldn’t you?
In fact, when Mark Healey clocks off from adding the final spit and polish to Fable he heads home and fiddles with his own private game project which will become the first game by a third party developer to be published via Steam. His private project is dripping with an art style and quirky humour that will eventually be indelibly stamped on little boys made of sack.
His private project is Rag Doll Kung Fu, developed in his spare time and released for the PC just months before he parted company with Lionhead and formed a little studio called Media Molecule. The PC original of Rag Doll Kung Fu was well received; critics and gamers could see how imaginative and technically proficient it was. Unfortunately it was next to impossible to control. You had to lift and place each foot if you wanted to walk and there wasn’t even much of a fight to it. I played it in 2005 and to me it felt more like a demo for a physics engine.
So when it was announced for the PSN I was curious, a little bit cautious and very interested to see how they carried it off. Well, I am delighted to report that Rag Doll Kung Fu (£7.99 on the PSN) has retained the wit, charm and much of the same style as the PC original. In addition to that it has perfectly overcome the control limitations of the original.
Your character moves with the left stick, the face buttons punch, kick, block and jump. Triggers allow you to pose your character and grip ledges, people and weapons. If you’re carrying an object then the punch button throws it, the right stick twirls it. So you can lift opponents and slam them into the floor a couple of times before throwing them across the screen. It is really simple and natural to control but the real genius is in the way SixAxis controls are implemented.
There are a number of motion-sensitive controls but they all feel natural, not tacked on at the last minute. Turn your controller upside down and you meditate, converting Chi (which is earned by performing moves or eating a statue of Buddha) to health (which can also be replenished by eating a box of noodles). All other controls are completely natural, shake for electricity, jerk down for a slam, jerk left or right for a flying punch. It really is impossible to overstate how well Tarsier have implemented the controls.
The game itself is a standard (up to) four-player party-fighting game. You can customise your character with pieces you unlock by playing the single-player challenge modes, which also serve to train you for the multiplayer battles. Gameplay is fast, frantic and lots of fun. There are eight maps and up to four multiplayer modes on each one, ranging from standard Deathmatch and King of the Hill to slightly stranger Capture the Fish (think basketball with one basket and a fish for a ball) and Dodgeball in which you have to throw an explosive ball at competitors.
Local multiplayer is supremely fun and this game nicely plugs a gap in the offerings of the PSN. Online multiplayer is a different story though; it doesn’t exist. This seems like a strange omission and I would think there is a chance of it being introduced in later patches or DLC. As all multiplayer games can be filled with AI characters you won’t have to miss out on the mayhem just because you’re mates have been kidnapped by a badly-dubbed villain who lives in an ice factory.
Interestingly, and hopefully in portent of future developments, all the action can be recorded and saved to your PS3’s hard disk or easily uploaded to YouTube so you can show the world how you lay the smack down. This adds an online aspect to a game which, strangely, doesn’t make much use of the PS3’s connectivity. You can use it to show your mates why you weren’t available to rescue them, email them the link.
Ragdoll Kung Fu is a witty, charming and frantically fun game that suffers from a puzzling lack of online multiplayer and is perhaps a little bit light on replay potential. I think there is great opportunity for patched upgrades and DLC which will solve the longevity issues but if those are paid updates it might just mean that this is a little bit too expensive. With that in mind, if you are looking for a fun party game which is ideal for quick blasts after the pub then this game is perfect.