Unfortunately, every review of a motion-control game ends up becoming a review of the tech. It's a slightly different issue when you're faced with a Kinect or Move title, considering the peripherals are still new enough that pointing out any of their limitations is worthwhile, if only in a Buyer's Guide sense. But the PlayStation Eye has been out since 2007. It's not a hundred-plus pound investment, but these days even the developers have acknowledged its limitations. Sony software engineer Anton Mikhailov spoke to me about the difference in quality between the PS Eye and Kinect, arguing that while the former isn't as powerful as the latter, they essentially still do the same sort of thing.
"Kinect can sense the distance to an object..." he says, "whereas with the Eye we have to do vision algorithms to get that. So something like Kung Fu LIVE, that does background subtraction, so Kinect again gets that for free whereas with the Eye we have to do some algorithms. It's always more robust when you get it in the hardware, but the reality is we can still do a lot of these features with just the Eye, and if the users are happy with both then we're equivalent in that sense."
That, basically, is the best way to understand this game. The Eye isn't the strongest peripheral to say the least, but if you're happy enough to enjoy a motion-control title regardless of how much the tech ends up limiting the gameplay, then Kung Fu LIVE will pass your test of approval. All in all it's a clever idea for a game: the PS Eye scans you and you appear on-screen as the hero in a comic book world. In fact, you play a character who has actually fallen into a comic book and is playing through the various episodes.
Essentially this is a basic 2D beat 'em up in the style of Double Dragon. Each stage is prefaced by a series of panels that actually features still pictures of you. You pose for them beforehand, having been shown a series of sketches suggesting how you ought to stand for each panel, and then these images are incorporated into the cartoon scene that follows. It's hilarious to see how they actually end up being used, particularly if you avoid their suggested pose entirely.
But this is just a fraction of the game's actual campaign. The story takes you through the comic's universe and introduces you to kung fu fighters, giants and the like, until you inevitably get to the final boss; an evil type who has created this world. Needless to say the plot is completely peripheral to everything in the game. This is a pure and simple throw-a-punch-hit-an-enemy title, with a combat system built for accessibility. Generally speaking you only need to stick to a few of the basic movements you're taught throughout the title, and these are performed by standing sidelong to your television while your gestures are shown on screen, making it possible for you to interact with enemies.
Well, possible but unlikely. Kung Fu LIVE is just strange. The quality is equivalent to trying to make some kind of homemade green-screen production in your garage, with your digital image looking perpetually washed out and deformed. Even after fiddling with the advanced settings the PS Eye couldn't scan anything below my waist, so throughout the entire game I didn't have legs and my avatar would literally sink to the ground. While every gesture was being shown on screen, the player input was regularly misinterpreted or ignored altogether, and this must be at least partly thanks to the absurdly specific playing conditions that are required for this game. It's not just a matter of pushing a coffee table out of the way – even in a reasonably sized living room with the lights on and the curtains open the game does not play as advertised.
Often a Power Punch - a move that's made by creating a kind of hadouken shape with your arms, and that hurls you forward into your enemy - would throw me backwards or get interpreted as a back flip. During one of the earlier chapters I would randomly float up and down between platforms, even when I wasn't gesturing. The complete lack of fidelity is almost a non-issue, considering damage to enemies is only really based on the speed of your attacks, rather than their style; any attack will do the job, but unfortunately you do need to perform specific moves to get across the screen or to follow enemies. The back flip, a move that is necessary to jump across the scene, almost never worked for me (not intentionally, anyway) so travelling across the screen became a matter of waving my arm in the direction I wanted to go and inching forward, or hoping the enemies would eventually come to me.
Step into the game's up-to-four-player multiplayer and you're greeted by a baffling combination of controllers and motion control, in what ends up being a perfect example of why a basic, old faithful DualShock will always function better than a hands-off "Controller Is You" camera. Only one player is projected onto the screen via the Eye, whereas any other player is stuck button-pressing. While the game has been developed specifically for use of the camera, it's only responsive when you're using a standard controller, meaning the game is always inadvertently in favour the player not using the Eye tech.
It's ironic that the vast majority of motion-control titles are heavily advertised as being simple, easy enough for the average layperson due to the lack of a controller, and yet they all demand more preparation, space and patience than your average console title. But ultimately the issue with a game like Kung Fu Live is that its minimum requirements to play don't seem to be as feasible, which contradicts its casual, pick-up-and-play credo. It asks its audience for an impossibly specific room layout and an ample amount of light from, ideally, multiple light sources and then punishes you with bizarre graphics and unplayable gameplay if you don't reach the expectation.
It's a shame, because the game could have benefited from using a slightly more robust peripheral like Kinect. It's a quirky, albeit very simplistic fighter with more of a sense of personality than most of the recent slew of motion releases. For the lucky few who happen to have the preposterous layout requirements, Kung Fu LIVE is a solid novelty title. Unfortunately, it's being marketed to an audience beyond those twelve people.