Review: Johnny Kung Fu for Nintendo 3DS eShop

When game developers decide to create a new title which pays tribute to the history of the medium, more often than not they will look to recreate the glory of the 8- and 16-bit eras of gaming. But the folks at UFO Interactive Games decided to take a detour onto a side road when they hit 8-bit Boulevard and sought out a different type of oldschool experience to homage when creating Johnny Kung Fu.

Before the Game Boy made the handheld video game market a force to be reckoned with, there was Nintendo’s Game & Watch, along with other similar LCD (liquid crystal display) offerings from the likes of Konami and Tiger Electronics. And it is this style of game, specifically the Game & Watch line, which served as the inspiration for much of Johnny Kung Fu.

The premise of the game is that Johnny must rescue Paula from Mr. Wang by infiltrating his tower and using his mastery of the art of Kung Fu to take down his many minions while climbing floor by floor to the top. Upon reading the description of the game (but before actually getting a look at it), I actually thought at first that this might be a remake of the NES classic Kung Fu, itself an adaptation of the arcade game Kung Fu Master. Alas, it is not to be, and I continue to await a Virtual Console release.

Though it’s not a remake of Kung Fu, what Johnny Kung Fu brings to the table is nothing to sneeze at. It begins with a level which is reminiscent of the Game & Watch (hereafter referred to as “G&W”) Donkey Kong as Johnny avoids bombs being rolled at him, knives thrown at him, and lasers fired at him in order to reach an elevator to the next level.

For those unfamiliar with the style of game, there are only certain areas of the screen where your character can appear and animations take place; you’re only allowed to jump, for example, where a jumping animation is depicted. Things move one frame at a time, and so you must time it so that you act correctly in the context of the proper frames shown.

This carries through to other types of G&W-styled levels sprinkled throughout the game, including some based on Judge and Ball. There are also some levels, the “Colour” stages, which act much like the G&W sections, even though the look is closer to the more contemporary areas. Here, a mischievous henchman turns out the lights, and in order to restore color, you must hit him while avoiding his blows in one of four spots across the room. Later on, this is complicated by having to dodge knives thrown from the background.

Some sections feature more contemporary gameplay, with smoother movement and animation (trust me, there is definitely a distinction in this game) as you brawl away at numerous minions before facing a boss. Here, you have use of punches (Y), kicks (X), and jumping (B), as well as the ability to leap between the foreground and background (R). Unfortunately, the bosses and later minions have a tendency to pull out cheap invincible moves they like to spam you with; the worst comes when you’re in the middle of a combo and can’t get away before they perform their super move.

There are also other boss battles which involve a large projectile-throwing man; it’s your job to bat each projectile away, while being sure to swat a flashing one which moves at a different speed back at him, leaving him open to attack. But you can’t just use your combos here; each hit requires precision, lest your life bar be whittled away to nothing.

And really, by and large, that seems to be what the game ultimately demands of you before too long: perfection. You are given an hour to complete the tower’s trials (don’t worry, it saves a temporary file for you if you need to break away), and losing all of your lives will cost you five more minutes of time. Thankfully, you get a new set of lives for each new level you reach.

The game manages to be at once fun and infuriating due to its demands, however. I often did better on subsequent tries, though some stages felt cheap and unrelenting, especially with the time factor to take into account. About midway through, the Donkey Kong levels had almost no break in the bombs, with some killing me as soon as they appeared. Meanwhile, dodging knives while trying to hit and not be hit in a later “Colour” stage seemed to leave no chance for escape.

In addition, though the first several stages vary wildly from one to the next, they do repeat before long with new hooks. Throw in the need to repeat these stages beyond their normal cycle, and the game can feel a bit repetitive despite its variety. Plus, the fact that losing can reduce your time to a degree that the game becomes unbeatable can also provide an additional dose of frustration, particularly given that it will let you keep going despite no possible way to beat it in the time left.

Johnny Kung Fu is a fun game, but is perhaps not recommended for those without a thick skin to endure the punishment it deals out. They say practice makes perfect, and perfection is what you will ultimately need to succeed, though the question becomes one of whether or not everyone has that perfection within them; I’m still looking.

Johnny Kung Fu was released for the Nintendo 3DS through the Nintendo eShop on July 12th, 2012, and is priced at $5.99. A review copy was provided by Nintendo of Canada.

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David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.