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Games for Lunch: Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists of Plastic

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Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists of Plastic

Developer: Tarsier Studios

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Release Date: April 9, 2009

Systems: PS3 (reviewed), PC

ESRB Rating: M

Official Web site

0:00 The mounds of hype around this indie PC release wasn't enough to get me to even try the demo, but they release a free downloadable version on PSN and I'm there. Go fig.

0:01 "Installing trophies." Really? You have to install the Trophies? What does that even mean? "Creating Save Game," OK. "Adjust Screen Size," done. "Sony Computer Entertainment Presents" ... Havok logo ... Epilepsy Warning ... come ON, I want to PLAY!

0:02 An extremely yellow title screen, with action figures in action poses. There's an Afro Samurai-looking dude, a wizened, white-haired, stereotypical kung-fu master, and a Bruce Lee-alike. Let's jump into the tutorial.

0:03 "Master Tang is a loner," says the loading screen. "The Kung Fu community respects his desire for solitude because he reeks of fish..." Heh.

0:04 Just two attack buttons -- a punch and a kick -- but I can point them in any direction with the left analog stick. A bit odd, since the stick also controls movement, but it works. I love the hilariously jerky movements of the action figure characters -- like marionettes being jerked violently about. The floaty jumping reminds me more than a little bit of Super Smash Bros.

0:06 I can pick up pots and such and throw them in any direction with the analog stick. I can also pick up a bo staff and swing it around semi-randomly by rotating the right stick. It looks a bit silly, but it works.

0:07 Hitting guys builds up Chi power, which can be converted into health by turning the controller upside down to meditate in place. A clever use of the motion controls if I've ever seen one. I can also shake the controller to summon a projectile lightning ball to hurl at the opposition. This is less clever and more annoying, to me.

0:09 Super-powered "Jolt" attacks and a ground-pounding body slam require holding a button, aiming with the analog stick, AND jerking the controller violently in one direction. Wow, is that ridiculously convoluted. I miss the simplicity of Smash Bros.' Smash Attacks already.

0:10 After swinging around on the underside of some platforms, it's "Tutorial Completed!" I've unlocked even more challenges.

0:12 The only gameplay modes available seem to be "Challenges" and "Multiplayer." Don't think I'm ready for online multiplayer, and I doubt my wife is eager to play against me, so "Challenges" it is. First up is "Survival." Let's go!

0:13 Quote of the moment, from the loading screen: "Funky dancing is Kung Fu without the violence." I ... I never thought of it like that!

0:15 For the most part, my Survival opponents seem willing to just wander around aimlessly and get pummeled. I'm digging the crazy animation, but the actual combat isn't very satisfying yet. Does the plastic extend into these action figures' brains as well as their fists? Come on, put up a fight!

0:17 Careful what you wish for ... after dispatching a few combatants, the enemies actually start fighting back a bit more. They finally wear me down despite my efforts to meditate and gain back some health (all of which the PS3 seems to miss). Oh well ... it was fun while it lasted. The ability to attack in any direction effortlessly is a nice addition for this type of fighter.

0:21 The "Sharpshooter" challenge is all about aiming shuriken at cork targets. They start big but get smaller as the time ticks down. Some are stationary while others float in wide arcs, requiring a bit of anticipation to hit out of mid-air. Seems like good training for analog stick aiming, though I always have trouble getting precise direction with the PS3 stick. I prefer the 360 pad and the Wii Nunchuk, each of which have tangible hints as to where the cardinal directions are. The PS3 stick is too uniform and slippery-smooth for me.

0:22 "A patient man may spend all day catching a fish. A smart man just buys one." Heh.

0:28 Speaking of fish, the next challenge asks me to pick up a floppy green fish and deposit it in a basket. Easy enough, except for the angry kung-fu opponents blocking my way. They start out pretty dumb, but so do I, trying to make easily blocked long-distance shots instead of just jumping to the basket and dunking it, in effect. Eventually they get more aggressive, but it's still pretty easy to slip past for an easy bucket. I almost made it to the gold medal before finally succumbing to their attacks. I could see this one being a lot of fun in multiplayer ... I hope it's available.

0:32 The Acrobatics challenge is all about swinging between the undersides of platforms without touching the ground. I have real trouble aiming precisely enough to make the grabs, until I realize that I can hold down R1 to fall through the platforms from above. This discovery is too late to make much difference in the final score. Let's try that again.

0:34 I'm doing just great, building up a few decent combos, when I accidentally fall through a bridge at the bottom of the level to my death. Just when I was about to hit the silver medal, too! One more time...

0:37 Got up to silver pretty easily this time. I would have done better, but my thumbs keep betraying me -- I'd hit the "jump" button when I wanted to hit the "kick" button to help gain some swinging momentum. Oh, well.

0:40 I like the King of the Hill challenge a lot. It's all about knocking the opponents off a high, shining platform, then doing some LittleBigPlanet-style poses while you're all alone up there. It's a frenetic battle of positioning with enemies flying everywhere. Love it!

0:43 The next challenge has me flying through the air with rocket-like Jolt attacks, trying to hit targets without landing. I really like the infinite multi-jump effect of the attack. I really DON'T like having to shake the controller like a seizure patient to do it, though. The DualShock just isn't sensitive enough for this kind of action... The PS3 constantly delays acknowledgement of my shakes or just misses them altogether.

0:46 The next challenge is all about knocking opponents off the side of a cliff. Suddenly the Super Smash Bros. comparisons look even more apt. I can't even manage a bronze medal on my first try ... the enemies usually just punch me away when I try to get close enough to pick them up (and eventually hurl them off the side of the cliff). Am I missing something?

0:49 A much better performance on my second try. I focus less on the throws then just pummeling them over the edge with a series of punches and kicks. I even manage to save myself with a Jolt rocket boost when it looks like I'm going over the edge at one point. It's a bit sad how proud I am of pulling this off...

0:54 The hardest part of the Juggling challenge is just getting my immobile, frog-suited opponent up in the air. Actually, it's pretty hard keeping him there too, since he flies off to the sides at a pretty good clip. So I guess the entire challenge is "the hard part."

0:55 OK, let's see how badly I get beaten in multiplayer with my last five minutes. Hmm ... there's no online play? So I have to play against someone in the same room? Oh ... I can play against computer opponents. Well how is that "Multiplayer" then?

0:58 I'm absolutely loving the Dodgeball mode I decided to try. Throwing a glowing blue dodgeball at your opponent is the only way to score. This leads to some hilarious melees where all four characters slap each other silly trying to pick up the ball. Then, once someone has it, everyone scatters and ducks for cover behind their blocking shields as the ball ricochets around the pirate ship environment.

1:00 The match ends as the Afro Samurai guy blocks my throw, sending the ball rocketing back at me as super-speed. This last bit of scoring leads to a two-way tie in the score. That'll teach me to be greedy...

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.


Why? It's eminently playable, high-energy, frenetic fighting action that always sits just on the happy side of total chaos.

This column is based on a free downloadable copy of the game from the PlayStation Network.



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