Rag Doll Kung Fu is an unusual fighting game, designed to be played completely with mouse-cursor input. Players control their combatants with clicks and drags that cause limbs to swing and move. The game was created as an recreational side-project by Lionhead Studios artist Mark Healey, who describes the action as "a kung fu fight with string puppets in which you don't have to worry about getting the strings tangled up or even having a kung fu fight at all if you don't feel like it." Originally available exclusively through Valve's "Steam" digital distribution service, a retail-boxed version of the game comes from independent-minded publisher Merscom.
Rag Doll Kung Fu, the brainchild of Lionhead Studios' artist Mark Healey, is a wacky, highly original "beat 'em up" game in which you control every single movement of your character using only the mouse. Created entirely by Healey alone, the game is available via Valve's Steam service, and while it may be annoying having to pay for an undoubtedly amateurish product, this one might just prove too much fun to pass up... or not. You'll have to try it for yourself to decide.
When I say you control every movement of your character using only the mouse I don't mean the classic "point 'n click" adventure style. You are more like a puppeteer, making the little stringless marionettes that are the characters perform a chaotic self-destructing dance around the screen - hence the "kung fu".
Every action, from complex kicks and punches to a simple step forward is done by grabbing individual limbs and placing them where you want them to be. You click on a limb with either the left or right mouse button, the left button to drag and move, the right to direct an attack, all the while swirling the mouse in circles in any spare moments to charge Chi, the energy necessary for both jumping and any attacking. Moving around is as simple as dropping one foot in front of the other, so simple in fact, that it seems an impossible task at the beginning. This is the first game in which you literally have to learn to walk.
Fortunately, the game shares some puppeteering lessons during its initial stages, and given time and a healthy doze of patience, you will end up being able to walk in a relatively normal fashion. But even if you do manage to get accustomed with the system after a while, it never really gives you the feeling that you're in complete control, the fighting being nothing more than a bunch of characters erratically flinging themselves across the screen with reckless abandon. Throw in multiple opponents, weapons and special powers that come with later levels, as well as a camera that more often than not seems oblivious of your presence and you've got a rough idea of what to expect. At least it's fun to watch.
As for the objects you can interact with go, besides the rest of the puppet circus, there are pots that can be smashed to release bonus weapons such as nunchakus, swords or throwing stars (used by swinging them madly at opponents of course), mushrooms that can be eaten in order to gain the temporary ability to fly, butterflies that can be captured and allow you to fire yellow electricity from you fingertips, the usual stuff.
The game doesn't last longer than three hours, but there are a number of bizarre mini-games that can be unlocked by finding the bonuses scattered throughout the levels. These include Rag Doll Soccer, Rag Doll Athletics, Ninja Onslaught, Movie Maker or Chu Chu Wing Pooh, each with their own set of levels to play through, which extends the game many times its size, presuming it managed to kindle your interest in the first place.
Video and Audio
Rag Doll Kung Fu is one pretty good looking 2D game. Well, it looks 2D, but seeing how the camera can zooms in and out of the action you'd think it's a 3D game in disguise. Everything is lovingly detailed, from the environment to the cartoony puppets themselves, and the numerous special effects glow, sparkle of twinkle splendidly.
Between levels there are hilarious cut-scenes from a low-budget ninja film made by Mark Healey and his chums, extremely silly, with deliberately abysmal dialogue like "Idiots! Bring me his pubes!" or "Let's do some ninja shit!", which fit superbly with the game's overall silliness.
Aurally, the game's soothing oriental music is beautiful and the sound effects are appropriately arcadey. The characters speak in what sounds like Chinese, but whether it is indeed case I really can't tell. It wouldn't even be surprising if it wasn't.
The game can be played online and even by two people on the same computer using two mice, which adds some more long-term appeal to the puppet show. Don't worry; online, everyone is struggling with the controls as much as you are.
Rag Doll Kung Fu is one unbelievably funny game, highly original and fun to play even though overcomplicated and quite often frustrating. However this is one of those games that you really need to experience for yourself to make up your mind.
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