Once upon a time in LittleBigPlanet, a kid called Sackboy started getting bullied by a gang of violent douchebags. Fed up with his repeated beatings, the beanbag sought help from a local handyman - an old Asian chap who just happened to be a Karate maestro. After painting many fences and waxing many cars, Sackboy suddenly discovered that he had an awesome repertoire of martial art skills. He then went on to defeat the Cobra Kai using an über-predictable Crane Kick before going on to appear in a series of lacklustre film sequels. When a developer called Mark Healey heard this story, he decided to make a PSN game about it. The End.
Somewhat surprisingly, there's a tiny grain of truth embedded in that paragraph of nonsense. Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists of Plastic is in fact a distant relative of LittleBigPlanet, in the sense that its lead programmer is the aforementioned Mister Healey - one of the four chaps who set up Media Molecule. The original Rag Doll Kung Fu was released on PC back in 2005, and now the PS3 is receiving its own shiny, cell-powered version.
In essence, Fists of Plastic is a multiplayer-focused beat-em-up in which you control a martial arts marionette - think Team America meets Bruce Lee. The first RDKF featured a rather unusual control system whereby you used the mouse to directly manipulate each limb of your chop-socky puppet; this game uses a more traditional setup that relies on the analogue sticks and face buttons, but retains the wobbly character models and integral physics that made the original so distinctive. Punches and kicks can be aimed in any direction, and you can use R1 to pick up and throw objects, weapons and your beleaguered opponents. When armed with a Kendo stick or nunchuks, you'll be able to use the right stick to flail about your tools of death. Oh, and you can also block - you'll need to do this a lot.
On top of these basic moves, you also get access to a handful of special abilities that are triggered using the motion sensors on the Sixaxis. Turning the controller upside-down will result in your puppet performing a Dhalsim-style meditation n' levitation that refills their health bar; shaking it about will summon a ball of energy that can be flung at other fighters. Other options include a rocket-powered flying punch and a defensive shockwave attack. Each of these manoeuvres will cost you Chi - fighting spirit that you build up by grabbing power-ups and twokking seven shades out of your rivals.
For the lonely single player, Fists of Plastic provides a set of challenges that allow you to hone your abilities and face off against AI-controlled enemies. Each of these mini-games has a bronze, silver and gold target to beat that will unlock the next task, along with new body parts to customise the look of your fighter. This is all very well and good, but it's in multiplayer that you'll find the real meat of the game. There are four game modes to bash through: Deathmatch, King of the Hill, Capture the Fish and Dodgeball.
The good news is that all four flavours offer lots of fun - particularly when played with up to three chums. Standard deathmatch is complete chaos, with a feel that isn't a million miles away from Smash Brothers; Capture the Fish offers a slightly slower and more considered contest, with players competing to throw their slippery target into an awaiting basket. King of the Hill is even better: we've all played this kind of game before, but there's something particularly gratifying about the combination of ragdoll physics (well, puppet physics) and over-the-top special moves. Energy balls work well here - particularly when you put all your Chi into one massive blast that blows everyone off the "Hill". Another nice touch is the fact that you can dance to increase your score when you're on the scoring platform: hold L2 and R2, and you'll be able to conduct a Sackboy-like freestyle celebration. I like doing windmills with my arms, like a ninja Pete Townshend.
The last game available is Dodgeball. This works pretty much as one might expect: as soon as the ball is grabbed and thrown it catches fire, killing any player it touches. At present there seemed to be a bit of inconsistency with the mechanics - sometimes you throw it and your opponent escapes unscathed - but this didn't stop Seb and myself from declaring this mode to be our favourite. Indeed, it was the sheer fun factor of Fists of Fun that helped us to overlook the odd problem. Fighters are quick to respond when it comes to running and fighting, but jumping suffers a delay that's even worse than in LittleBigPlanet. Since you dash about at a fair old lick of speed, this sluggishness feels particularly noticeable. Still, there's time for Tarsier Studios to get this right.
Even if they don't, this one oversight is hardly game-crippling. For the most part Fists of Plastic seems like it will be another great exclusive for the PSN. It's pretty mad, it looks nice and it features a brilliant array of silly kung-fu noises like "HWWWOOOOOAAAAARRRRH!" What's not to love?
Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists of Plastic will be released on the PSN later this year.