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Kung Fu Strike: The Warrior’s Rise Review (PC)

One of the major complaints about modern gaming is that the challenging, brutally punishing games of our childhood no longer seem to exist. Whether the return of those games would fill us with frustrated glee or controller smashing rage is difficult to say. For everyone who loves being punished by Demon Souls or Ninja Gaiden, there are many gamers who are put off by the lack of checkpoints, tutorials and hand holding.

Kung Fu Strike doesn’t seem like a painfully difficult game at first glance. Most aspects of the presentation – even down to the font – make this feel like a Capcom game. It is very definitely targeted at the console crowd with bright and stylised visuals, and despite its appearance on Steam, all of the instruction screens show an xbox controller. In spite of this modern and inviting beginning though, Kung Fu Strike will happily kick your ass. Over and over. Till you cry.

From the opening moments of the game, Kung Fu Strike makes its intentions clear. It is a hardcore fighting experience, and it has no patience for those who aren’t willing to develop the technical skills and split second timing to succeed. And patience is something you will need to have in large doses if you are to get past the early levels where you will either fail, or scrape through each with pitifully low ratings.

It’s an obscure reference point, but the first game I thought of when I started Kung Fu Strike was Jade Empire. With its themes of Chinese warriors, monks, staffs and swords, its a cocktail of eastern clich├ęs that are eerily reminiscent of Bioware’s classic RPG.

The visuals aren’t outstanding, but they are chunky and bright and strangely welcoming. While up close the character models aren’t that impressive, during action the animation really shines and the ridiculous martial arts moves and long combos look great. If you’re a fan of Crouching Tiger and Wu Shu, there’s a lot to love here.

The game only really consists of combat, with each level a simple arena in which you fight a number of enemies. Your jumping, kicking avatar (General Loh) has a range of attacks. There’s no complex controls and the game doesn’t even use standard kicking or punching buttons. Instead the controls are streamlined to just an attack, jump attack, evade and deflect.

Even just holding the attack button will make General Loh go through a series of impressive, quick attacks. In this way you can direct your moves by simply moving the control stick in the direction of your opponents. Although this works early in the game, you quickly learn that you need to vary your attacks and maximise your combos to have any chance of survival.

The basic attacks need to be mixed up with your jump attacks, which float your enemies in the air. Continuing your combos in the air can keep you out of danger, and is required when your opponents begin blocking your ground attacks.

The real complexity comes in with the “deflect” action. This works a little like the parry system in the Arkham games, but its not till you play for a while that you begin to realise how it differs. You can’t rely on simply hitting the parry button at the right time. Instead, you have to look closely at the animation of your character and be aware of your enemies incoming attacks at all times. The difficulty comes in hitting the deflect button with just the right timing. While some enemies might telegraph their moves, others hit multiple times (requiring multiple deflections) and others try to mess with your timing with deceptive rhythms to their moves.

Indeed the biggest issue you will have with the game is its misleading similarity to other titles. The combat feels so much like recent Batman outings that its hard to avoid falling into the rhythm of laying into one enemy while waiting to counter anothers attack at the last moment. This simply won’t work, and you have to be more willing to move around and dodge as well as make use of your arsenal of semi-secret attacks to prevail.

As you learn the games deceptively deep combo system, you start to realise that there are a great deal of “secret” moves to discover that make combat easier. As you combine jumping and ground attacks in specific combinations, you can begin to execute spinning kicks and diving punches and when this happens, you will start to apply the right moves at the right time to get space away from encroaching enemies and string together longer combos.

As you play you also unlock new attacks and abilities. Frustratingly though, many of these abilities are required to have any real success in the game. Until you unlock moves like the air evade, you will struggle to make any real progress. I recommend everyone who plays unlocks air deflect and air slide and unlocks extra chi slots as soon as they can.

Chi attacks are another key ingredient for success in Kung Fu Strike. You can charge these super attacks by holding two attack buttons once you have built enough meter, and they inflict much greater damage than regular attacks. If you time these attacks to interrupt your enemies hardest attacks, you even get a cool red and black silhouette effect that looks very cinematic and is hugely satisfying.

I found that my time with General Loh was best enjoyed in quick bursts. Despite the hardcore difficulty, there’s an arcade feel throughout the game. In some ways, it reminds me of a classic coin-op beat em up, with good play rewarded with defeated enemies flying off in all directions. Even when you are being beaten badly by the agrressive AI, there’s enough cool effects and well judged slow motion to make the whole experience exhilarating. This “edge of your seat” experience is helped by the fact that any mistake can see your rating for the stage plummet, or even see you killed off by one of the games merciless boss characters who perform unblockable, lethal attacks.

One of the trickiest thing a developer can do with a difficult game is balance the challenge with the frustration the player feels. The very best hard games, like Super Meat Boy or Ninja Gaiden, make the game systems so complex and the gameplay so rewarding that you battle through the frustration to develop your own skills and become a better player. Once you begin to learn the intricacies of the combat system, Kung Fu Strike is like this too. Its tough, rewarding, brutal and glorious.

I can’t finish Kung Fu Strike yet. Its too difficult. But I will one day. Even now, when I think I am at the limits of my skill, I know I will get better and I won’t give up. That’s because I like the game. I like it a lot. It may kick my ass, beat me down and step on my neck, but its just making me stronger. Lots of games can make you feel like you are a deadly warrior, but only a few ask you to prove that you are one.

8 five-point-palm-exploding-heart techniques out of 10

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