Ah, technology. Marvellous isn't it? Today we can play games without discs, using controllers without wires, and share the experience with thousands of others over connected networks. The last couple of years in particular have placed an emphasis on removing the barriers from gaming, on making games accessible for all ages, genders and mental capacities. Kung-Fu Live is entirely in the spirit of that mantra; it simply asks that you stand in front of the TV and pretend you know a thing or two about kung-fu. At the same time, it capitalises on a gamer's need for innovation. Using that new-fangled motion sensing technology that's all the rage these days, you can insert yourself into the action. You can star in your very own kung-fu comic adventure.
While it's true that the Eye-Toy did a similar thing some years ago, Kung-Fu Live is a considerable evolution of the concept. Rather than simply reacting to motion and translating that into collision detection, the PlayStation Eye allows for a more thought out, versatile style of play. The camera will track your movement, punches, kicks, special moves and evasive manoeuvres. Before each level, the camera will scan you in and create hit boxes for each limb, proceeding to track your motions one to one as you exchange blows with the game's colourful cast of thugs and martial arts experts.
In order to save yourself from flailing about in front of the screen like some kind of beached octopus, you'll need to be acutely in tune with Kung-Fu Live's often-finicky control scheme. Moving about a real life environment (your living room, for instance) presents a problem: it won't take you long to reach a wall. To avoid this issue, the developers have handled movement in a different manner. By thrusting your arms out to your side - as if you were trying to throw an imaginary fire ball - your on-screen avatar will dart in that direction, with an appropriate 'swooosh' sound to accompany the action. It's actually a special attack - a 'super punch' - but it can be relied upon to dart about the level too.
Punches and kicks are executed just as you'd imagine - with real punches and kicks. The game will register any moves you might happen to have in your fighting repertoire, however; roundhouse kicks, elbow jabs, shoulder barges. If you can do it in real life, you can attack your enemies with it. It's all a simple matter of collision detection, allowing you to attack your enemies in a variety of interesting ways. This setup also allows for the use of weapons: if you happen to have a sword or pair of nunchucks lying about (and who doesn't?), you can bring them to the fight, too. Whatever the camera sees can be ported into the game.
Ironically, the special moves are perhaps the easiest attacks to execute in the game. Making a giant L shape with your arms will prompt lightning bolts to fly out the palm of your horizontal hand. It will last as long as the juice in your special bar does, which can be replenished with successful normal attacks. Jumping in the air and bringing either hand crashing back down onto the floor will unleash a ground pound, sending vibrations throughout the level and knocking down any enemies caught in its blast radius. If you arch your back and throw your arms behind you, as if you were about to dive backwards into a swimming pool, you'll back-flip into the air, putting some much-needed distance between you and your foes.
Perhaps the coolest thing about Kung-Fu Live is the opportunity to put yourself inside the panels of stylish comic-book cutscenes. There's a loose and very light-hearted narrative to contextualise the action, which is all portrayed in the form of a comic book. Before each chapter, the game will ask you to strike a pose inside several figure-shaped outlines. This is just a guide, though. You can play around with the templates to your heart's content for some genuinely hilarious outcomes.
There's no denying the concept behind Kung-Fu Live is interesting. Seeing a faithful representation of yourself appear on screen, fighting with street punks, ninjas and 15ft temple guardians is quite the novelty. The version I played has certainly come a long way since the build I saw at gamescom, but I still question whether Kung-Fu Live is refined enough to be anything more than just that: a novelty. My time with the game proved to be a little on the awkward side; unresponsive and slightly clunky. That said, the head-band wearing chap from Virtual Air Guitar Company made the game look the exact opposite, so perhaps it's just a case of becoming fully in sync with the game's way of thinking. Here's hoping the frustrating elements are ironed out before release this winter.
Kung-Fu Live will be available for download on PSN this winter.