There was once a time where board games would have been considered “portable gaming.” Once the concept started resembling what we know it as today, we were presented with the light-based Electronic Football, which evolved into Tiger’s LCD line of games that made everyone gathering in the lobby before a day of elementary school jealous.
The rich history of Game & Watch and LCD games is where UFO Interactive’s Johnny Kung Fu draws its inspiration. The game throws players into quickfire challenges a la Wario Ware, challenging them to climb a tower and rescue the girlfriend in peril. Switching between short bursts of Game & Watch and beat ‘em up, UFO once again has a formula that sounds brilliant on paper. Unfortunately, much like other games I’ve reviewed from the company, the execution falls just short of the brilliant concept.
JKF features a story which could have also been ripped from any classic gaming story: Johnny’s girlfriend is kidnapped by the Mr. Wang Gang and taken to the top of the Unethical Financial Operations (UFO) building. Jumping into the nearest phone booth to don his kung fu outfit, Johnny must climb 32 floors in less than one hour to save his girlfriend.
It’s nothing novel, but in a game of this genre, players pretty much only need to know why they are climbing the building. In fact, the opening story segment runs longer than it will take some players to clear the earlier levels.
Aside from the main quest, players can unlock endless streams of some of the stage varieties encountered in the game. Also, a “hard mode” can be unlocked by reaching the top of the building in the allotted time limit. These additions are nothing big, but they offer short bursts of gameplay for those that really enjoy a certain aspect of the game.
JKF’s presentation is simplistic, but that was UFO’s goal, and it serves as the basis of the game’s charm. The Game & Watch stages have very appropriate LCD characters with stiff animations and a static background. The fighting and story segments have a very clean cartoon look and they are placed on top of a variety of backdrops which represent a few different eras of gaming. The music and sound effects are equally appropriate to what is going on in the game. The Game & Watch “tick” sound effects are in full force with JKF and will likely bring a smile to an older gamer’s face (or possibly annoy someone who doesn’t know what is going on. Who knows?).
If you are familiar with the source material, then you’ll fit right in with the game’s controls. While the fighting segments are par for the course and control similar any current brawler, the Game & Watch segments bring out the timing-based “perfectionist” in a gamer. These stages move Johnny one position at a time as they either advance up a floor or juggle bombs, and another classic inspired mini-game tests a player’s reaction by flipping cards. In the card-based game, the player has to attack if their number is higher than the opponent’s and dodge if the opposite occurs.
JKF’s biggest problem comes in how often these segments are recycled and the baffling balance of difficulty. As Johnny progresses, he gains new fighting abilities to use in the brawling stages. The enemies in these stages, even the bosses, are defenseless when juggled, making these segments actually easier as the game progresses. While bosses do have invincibility just before an attack, Johnny can also switch planes with a press of a shoulder button to lure enemies over and attack them as they land.
On the other side of the coin, much like the classic Game & Watch games, the difficulty gets cranked up to a brutal fashion as the game progresses. Unlike the brawling scenes, one mistake in the bomb juggling and floor climbing modes kills Johnny outright. By the end of the tower, split-second timing and pattern recognition are a must.
Johnny carries a stock of lives into each floor of the building, but if he loses all of his lives, the player can continue at the cost of 5 minutes of the game’s timer. If the player can’t adjust to the Game & Watch levels, this can easily whittle down the game timer in a frustrating fashion.
Still, these remarks do not mean the game is outright bad. I’m a glutton for punishment in games, and I appreciated what the game tried to do. Much like the LCD game I used to have where you guided a tank across a field being bombed by jet planes, JKF ramps up the difficulty just like those classic games.
Most of my issues with the game came from the lopsided balance and recycling of only a few game types that wear their welcome by the third time you encounter them. While the brawling stages do have a few varieties, such as hitting a boss’ projectiles in rhythm to fling them back at him or restoring color to the environment through attacks, they don’t offer enough variety to keep the game interesting in the long term.
The game could easily fit the bill for someone familiar with what UFO is trying to emulate, but the Game & Watch nature can also turn players off from the title. Also, the game’s only spark of originality is in melding existing concepts together. It’s an odd mix, and I believe UFO is aiming for the players that will “get” JKF. In this regard, there are a number of successes in the title, even though the overall product falls short of greatness.
GemuBaka Final Review Score: 2 of 5
Johnny Kung Fu attempts a marriage between Game & Watch concepts and quickfire brawling segments, and the results are mixed. The presentation and Game & Watch elements are spot on as a nod to fans of the format, but the extremely lopsided balance and repetitive nature of the title really bogs it down. Six dollars isn’t an outright offensive asking price for the title, but there are better games competing for your money on the download service. JKF hits all of the vintage points it tries to emulate, but, in the long run, it is more curiosity than must-own.