Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists of Plastic Review: Karate Chop!
Action figures are a fundamental cornerstone of almost every young boy’s childhood, so much so, that many adult males have trouble letting them go. At some point, early on in every boy’s life, he picks up his favorite armed service themed figure in his right hand, and then reaches for his favorite plastic sculpted wrestler in his left and proceeds to smash the two of them together, attempting to ask the age old question; “Who would win in a fight, G.I. Joe or Hulk Hogan?” While those fights may only be pretend, and usually result in someone losing their arm, “Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists of Plastic” is now here on Sony’s PlayStation 3 to either help recreates that same type of experience by taking it to the next level, or help you work through some of those residual childhood issues.
Set in a variety of different location, all inspired by the Orient, “Rag Doll Kung Fu” won’t help you figure out whether or not Jake “The Snake” Roberts could take down the Cobra Commander, but it will put you in control of some pretty great looking kung fu fighters. “Rag Doll” is a multiplayer party game at heart, similar to Nintendo’s classic “Smash Bros.” franchise, borrowing the same type of level design, and gameplay style, but, after that, it pretty much goes off in its own direction.
Over the course of the last few years there seems to have been a fundamental shift in the thinking behind the way many games are made. Instead of kickin’ old-school and creating a really deep single-player thinkfest, most games that have been released include some kind of multiplayer options. Some games have tacked them on as useless mini-games, others have created co-op story modes, to go along with the ultimate time waster (not a bad thing) – online multilayer, and while these modes and options don’t necessarily detract from the game, adding in obvious option for replayability, they don’t always result in great games. Sometimes you tend to get the feeling that the game should have been designed as a single player only experience. However, “Rag Doll Kung-Fu: Fists of Plastic” players might actually experience the opposite, and realize that this was originally intended to be a multiplayer game, and it somehow ended up with a single player mode tacked on for training purposes.
The single player challenges mode serves as a great tutorial for the game, introducing the controls, and the different game modes, but that’s all it really accomplishes. You can unlock all of the challenges in about an hour off game time, but you’ll keep coming back to them to best your high scores, and unlock new items that you can use to customize your character. You’re also briefly introduced to some of the game’s other characters, but they really only serve as a showcase of the items that you can unlock if you do well enough in that challenge. They don’t come back as an evil arch nemesis or anything like that, they’re just there to issue the challenge. Don’t get me wrong, the single player is fun, vital to learning the game, and will have you coming back to it time and time again, especially if you want to unlock more parts for your character. However, in the end, the multiplayer is really where it’s at for “Ragdoll.”
Four player on screen fighting has worked extremely well for more than a few years now, and adding another game to that genre can’t hurt. “Rag Doll” offers a deeper level of character customization than any other game in the genre does, going so far as to include the ultimate unlockable, a Sackboy costume. But, beyond that, it’s your standard on-screen wackiness with items randomly appearing to either help you or hurt your opponents, along with the occasional nunchuck or staff that you can use to kick some plastic ass. Simply put, “Ragdoll Kung Fu” is a great game for you to either play with a few friends huddled around your flatscreen, or take online and showcase your skills against the anonymous masses.
At the same time, it’s not all about fighting; the mulitplayer offers four unique modes of play. There’s your standard Deathmatch battle to the death; whoever has the most kills wins. But, in addition to that, there’s also King of the Hill, Capture the Fish, and Dodgeball modes for you to choose from. King of the Hill is pretty straightforward; you just need to stay in one specific section of the screen for longer than your opponents to win. Capture the Fish and Dodgeball are the two modes that truly make “Rag Doll Kung Fu” a unique multiplayer game. Capture the Fish is very similar to basketball, if the hoop was a basket, and the ball was a fish. Basically you need to fight it out with your competition to deposit the most fish in the basket to win - weird, yet surprisingly fun. Dodgeball is not unlike the schoolyard sport of the same name. It’s played with one ball, and up to four players on screen at once. Essentially you need to throw the ball hard enough to knock your opponents out, and if you knock out the most, you win. All in all, the multiplayer is where this game shines, and it does a surprisingly good job, even with only a few modes to choose from.
The controls are pretty basic, sticking with punch and kick as your main course of attacks, and keeping with the general kung fu theme of the game. There are some intricacies that make it slightly more complicated than some other fighters because it basically gives you control of each of your characters arms. “Rag Doll” also takes advantage of the PS3’s six-axis motion controls in a unique way; allowing the player to flip the controller upside down putting their character goes into a zen like state where they recover health and become extremely vulnerable. It’s a nice little risk/reward system that rewards those players that know how to get away from the action for a few seconds.
“Fists of Plastic” offers a pleasently refreshing art style, where the characters and levels look realistic, and yet artificial at the same time. The game draws obvious inspiration from action figures, and keeps that aesthetic throughout most of the game, forcing each character to be subject to the rag doll physics (get it now?) of the Havok engine. It’s a smooth party fighter, that looks quite good in HD. You really get a sense of the game’s humor through the graphics and art as well, since it basically makes fun of every Kung Fu movie ever made.
“Rag Doll Kung Fu” isn’t going to be a game for everybody, but it is for gamers that like to play with (read: beat up) their friends. It’s also worth checking out to get a sense of the beginnings of, the soon-to-be classic, “LittleBigPlanet,” as one of the founders of Media Molecule, Mark Healey, created this game. Everything from the jumping to the controls feel very familiar, and there’s even an appearance “LBP”’s star, Sackboy. If you’re looking for a well-crafted, funny, multiplayer party game on the PS3, you don’t have to look too much further than “Rag Doll Kung Fu.”