Kung Fu Panda: Showdown of Legendary Legends takes the movie franchise's core themes of kung fu, lovable characters and comedy, throws it into a 2.5D brawler and leaves you with a feeling of being satisfied but ultimately wanting something else. With the game being crafted by those at Vicious Cycle, the team behind other recent licenced titles such as Adventure Time: Finn & Jake Investigations and Ben 10: Omniverse, you can be sure that plenty of experience at transforming films to the smaller, but interactive, screen has gone into its development.
You'd be forgiven for writing off this title purely because it is a movie tie-in; and with good reason because often that would be the right choice. But with Kung Fu Panda: SLL - the full name can get very tiring, very quickly – the game stands up in its own right as something worth your time and money. Fans of the Kung Fu Panda films will instantly be drawn in by a character roster full of both heroes and villains from the series, and with 20 different fighters to choose from there will be someone for everyone. The stages are also based on locations from the films and full character bios written for every single fighter help the player really feel at home in the world of the series.
Each character has their own set of voice clips that are used when entering a battle – various trash talk-style quips that are fitting for each character - which may start to grate on older players rather quickly, but are sure to leave a younger audience laughing along and joining in. Possibly the most impressive loyalty shown towards the series is in the combat itself, with each character having a move-set designed around their individual style from the movies – but more on this later. One minor thing that lets the game down slightly is the lack of original voice actors from the films including Jack Black (the voice of lead character Po, although this was probably to be expected), though Mike Wingert – the man responsible for Po's voice in the game – does an excellent job of impersonating Black's style and tone.
In interviews with the development team it has been mentioned that this game took inspiration from a whole host of fighting classics such as Street Fighter and Super Smash Bros., with the latter being the main focus, and within seconds you'll be wondering whether you accidentally put in your Super Smash Bros. disc instead and somehow your Wii U has replaced Link and Samus with giant, furry pandas and talking turtles. The game doesn't just take inspiration from Super Smash Bros. - it is Super Smash Bros., just not as polished, pretty or fun.
Kung Fu Panda: SLL has one to four players fighting on a stage, each with a percentage at the bottom which gets lowered as they take damage. The lower their percentage, the further they will travel when hit and being sent completely off screen results in them losing a life or a point (depending on whether you're playing a timed or stock battle). Characters have standard attacks which are used by pressing 'Y', special attacks triggered by the 'X' button (both of which can be altered further by pressing up, down, left or right whilst attacking), and shields and grabs which can be performed by pressing the GamePad's triggers. There is also an option to have your character jump by pressing up on the analogue stick rather than the 'B' button as is the standard set up. Sounding familiar so far?
Combat also includes a variety of items that can be used to help deal damage to your opponents. One that stands out in particular calls another character from the franchise to join you for a short time, making a nuisance of themselves to hinder your opponents. Cough – assist trophies – cough. As you deal damage to your enemies a meter begins to rise indicating how 'Awesome' you are. When this fills you can unleash a devastating attack which is individual to each character… Honestly.
Although the game relies so heavily upon its influences, it has put in some effort to be different. The moves assigned to each character are loyal to the fighter themselves; often the way they move and fight really represents how the characters act in the films – not everyone uses a standard punch and kick combination. It also has some great modes that help to keep things fresh. Alongside your standard time and stock battles are games such as having to keep hold of a crown for the longest time whilst fighting, where hitting an opponent with enough force causes them to drop it. Another highlight is a game where you are tasked with standing in a glowing area of the stage for a longer combined time than your opponents, which creates tense matches of pretty deep, strategic thinking.
Unfortunately, the single player mode is quite bare. After choosing a character you face ten rounds of matches, each against different opponents in different stages with different objectives. Sometimes these matches become two vs two or one vs three affairs rather than your standard one on one and the final round is often against a much tougher opponent. Once you beat the tournament, however, that's it. You can of course do it on a different difficulty and with a different character to mix things up but there is no more to it. Also, with no online multiplayer or leaderboards you only really have that or the local multiplayer mode to choose from. With a few players all sitting around the TV this can be great fun, especially if you love the Kung Fu Panda franchise, but on your own it can become a pretty lonely experience rather quickly.
Kung Fu Panda: SLL has many strong qualities, including a great amount of loyalty to the franchise and real thought for how the characters would fight and move, but suffers from an overall lack of gameplay content. The fact that it draws so heavily from the Super Smash Bros. series is both a blessing and a curse. It would be easy to think of this as a negative; if you want to play a fighting game of this type then there is no reason to choose this over Super Smash Bros. itself. But Kung Fu Panda: SLL isn't trying to compete with a genre defining game – it's bringing that style of play to a brand new audience. Fans of the film franchise that want this game purely because it has their favourite panda in it will be treated to an experience way beyond what is usually expected for a movie tie-in, and one that can provide a fun time.