More than three years after it first launched, the PlayStation Eye has finally found a regular place on top of millions of T.V. sets worldwide thanks to the launch of PlayStation Move. And - if the free-motion technology that Virtual Air Guitar has created for its new PlayStation Network brawler, Kung-Fu Live, takes off - it might even turn out in the future that you don’t need to clutch a Move controller in your hands at all, or anything else for that matter to get your motion-sensing kicks.
The Finnish company has created and patented the technology to turn the PlayStation Eye in to a full body motion-sensing device that tracks your every movement around the room. In Kung-Fu Live, you don’t need a magic card, or a magic wand to make wondrous things happen on screen. You just need to have the flexibility of a sex doll and the stamina of Bruce Lee so that you kick some serious ass, but most importantly you need to ensure that you adhere to the strict criteria for getting the game up and running.
To set-up Kung Fu Live to a state where it’s actually playable is a job of mammoth proportions -- that is unless you live in an empty and very bright warehouse. Oh, and you better check your wardrobe to make sure you’ve got clothes that aren’t the same colour as the walls of your room while you’re playing -- a white frock, similar to what Jesus wore, and a room painted entirely black would be perfect. And close the curtains too, as you''ll want to avoid any direct sunlight; and make sure you’re not playing in front of a window. The list continues. As you can probably gather, we found the set-up and calibration of Kung-Fu Live to be a complete nightmare.
In fact, this is the first time that we’ve had to relocate to not just another room, but another house so we can play a game, one where we do have 2.5x 3m (7x9ft) of space in front of the T.V, with no clutter or furniture either side, and sufficient lighting to be able to get a half decent picture of us to appear on screen. Calibration requires you to position yourself in your room so that you appear in a silhouette on screen, and with hands raised you still need to ensure you’re totally within the confines of the T.V. If you're tall that means you'll probably have to stand quite far back - in our case, we had to stand 9ft away, almost in our next door neighbour’s garage. Shorter folk will probably get away with standing around 7ft away.
In all fairness, you are informed during the set-up process that you need to ensure you meet the criteria to get the best experience out of Kung-Fu Live, and there are lots of options to tinker with to try and get your silhouette mapped perfectly on screen. There are even 16 pages dedicated to the set-up process in the game manual. What someone should tell you, however - like we’re doing right now - is all of this set-up information before you buy the game. As you’ll be none the wiser, there’s going to be a lot of people with modest living rooms/bedrooms who just won't be able to play it effectively at all. And then, even with the right conditions, it isn’t always going to perform the way it should.
The technology used in Kung-Fu Live is initially impressive. The PlayStation Eye maps your body, cuts around it and then places you right in to the game. When you first see yourself, dressed in whatever you want to wear (strapping a bandana around the head is a must!) it's an exciting moment. It's like you've literally jumped in to the pages of a comic book and become a bad ass, crime fighting ninja. Well, in fact, that's precisely what you've done. In the story mode, you play as an employee at Madame Wei's Comic Emporium, where you find yourself transported in to one of the comics where you find yourself up against a range of villains, from ninjas to beastly giants.
Kung-Fu Live is a side scrolling beat ‘em set on a 2D plane. The design choice and level design attempts to keep things as simple as possible by ensuring that you only have to fight to your left and right hand sides, from where the baddies appear, rather than straight in front of you. You can move diagonally too, but you'll spend most of the game flailing your arms and legs like a fitting epileptic, and jumping up in the air to rain down powerful blows on your enemies. The fact that you have to kick and punch out to your sides does mean that you miss out on some of the action however, as it's particularly difficult trying to face the T.V. while concurrently trying to pull off moves that vaguely resemble professional fighting styles.
Kung-Fu Live impressively affords you with the freedom to be totally creative with your moves. As long as you hit close to the head, body or legs of an enemy you'll often land a hit, but it doesn't really matter how you achieve it. As such, you can use elbows, hooks, rabbit punches, round-house kicks, whatever moves you've got in your arsenal to take down the bad guys. You can also use props from your own house, which should provide a few laughs. Needless to say it caused some hilarity when we grabbed a gherkin and began beating a thug senseless across the head.
Alongside your own fight moves, there are also some set manoeuvres that you can execute. Air attacks, back breakers and power punches can be pulled off by striking a variety of poses and as you progress you unlock more powerful weapons, such as the ability to slow down time, ground pound, or zap your foes with lightning. Frustratingly however, when you do get to use the more fancy moves the difficulty ramps up to such a degree that the only way you can win is to continue throwing your arms and legs around like a mad-man.
When Kung-Fu Live works well, it's brilliant. The comic book style is endearing, the plot funny and the stringing together of combos can be instantly satisfying. The fact that you actually appear on screen and can take snap shots of yourself to appear in the comic book storyboards is also a big highlight. However, the inability of the camera to recognize your moves consistently is just as tiring as the actual fighting. Try pulling off a flurry of Rocky Balboa-style blows and it’s unlikely you’ll see it play out on screen. And, when you try and move from one side of the screen to the other to reach the bad guys, you'll often slip out of the camera's vision, yet you'll only be three quarters of the way across the screen. The detection problems continue throughout the game, and as the difficulty ramps up the A.I. gets more adept at blocking your moves and you need to apply tactics to beat off five or more opponents. Unfortunately, you can't dodge, block, punch and move, or pull of special attacks, consistently every single time. Like we said: when it works it's great, but when it doesn't it's nail-bitingly frustrating.
Kung-Fu Live was an ambitious project and a brilliant concept for a videogame. Sadly though, the PlayStation Eye just isn’t up to the job. If you've got perfect conditions to create that ideal silhouette of yourself in game you'll have a laugh seeing your actions play out on screen, and you may get some replay value after the short story mode from setting up custom fights or by taking part in the local multiplayer mode, which allows others to use a DualShock 3 or SixAxis controller to play as the enemies. Still, even then you'll be lucky if you get to smoothly fight through one section of the game with all of your movements translated accurately on screen.
-The Final Word-
Meet the strict criteria for set-up and calibration and you might enjoy the novelty of seeing yourself kicking ass on screen, but you'll still have to battle with the controls just as much as you will against the bad guys.