Bad Tiger! Bad Dragon! No sequel for you!
In the world of kung-fu, your skill and the art in which you display your martial style is a direct reflection of your worth as an honorable warrior. To show poor skill when facing a greater fighter is to give him no "face" – although simply kicking a lot of ass tends to speak volumes no matter how you slice it.
Unfortunately, Ubisoft's third-person action hack n' slash Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon does none of the above.
CTHD is the video game adaptation of Ang Lee's hit movie of the same name. The movie was adapted from part of the fourth book in a five-book series collectively titled The Crane – Iron Pentology written by acclaimed wuxia novelist Wang Du Lu. With that long-winded history, you'd think Ubisoft would have taken great steps to properly honor the since deceased novelist. But right from the beginning, this shameless offering does nothing of the sort.
Seasoned kung-fu practitioners can usually spot great form by observing an opponent's strong stance. However, CTHD's stance is weak and watery, opting to rehash the exact same plot seen in the movie. This is often the hallmark of simplicity and lack of creativity. To the game's credit, you will at least get to see video clips of the movie's best scenes, but don't expect anything new from the story.
As the plot progresses you will play as each of the movie's four main characters – the legendary wuxia Li Mu Bai, his friend Shu Lien, the young upstart Jen and her forbidden lover, the nomadic Dark Cloud. In between cinemas, the game plops you down in an area where you will fight several swarms of relatively mindless lackeys armed with swords, staves, throwing darts, sabers and so on. Fallen foes will drop health potions and weapons to keep you going. After you repeatedly beat the tar out everyone in a given area, you must follow the blue torches and proceed to the next.
The fighting is one part innovation to 99 parts repetition. All you do on every single level is button-mash with your prosaic list of combos and strikes. You'll be bored before your character can work up a virtual sweat.
Controlling your avatar is simple enough. You have four attacks: unarmed light, unarmed heavy, armed light and armed heavy. Tap different attack types and you can perform a combo (ex: unarmed light, light, heavy). As you can imagine there are not many variations and you will have seen nearly every attack in about an hour.
One combat feature is worthy of a brow-raise. Combo blocks allow you to combo your defensive moves and parries by consecutively pressing the block button at the appropriate times. When it works (which isn't often), it can look pretty cool. But even here you will have seen all the block combos before long and your enemies aren't putting up enough of a fight to warrant learning the frolicsome skill.
Also, the camera is less than friendly. It can be controlled with the right analog stick but it is a lunky, tiresome affair that further impedes any intended fun-factor.
The movie and even the comic book show high production values. Sadly, the game's engine does not. Easily on par with a first-generation PS2 game, CTHD looks bland and featureless. Textures shows little detail and colors are few and simple. The characters models are comprised of minimal polygons, leaving them bulky and lifeless. The animations are the one highlight, but even they earn the game no bragging rights.
There are a couple things that are done well, though these have nothing to do with gameplay. One is the music, which is taken note-for-note right out of the movie. But that begs the question, "Why not just watch the movie?" The other is the impressive comic book images from ComicsOne's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon graphic novel by Hong Kong comic creator Andy Seto. These can be unlocked as you play through the game. Yet again this begs the question,"Why not buy the comic?" Both the DVD and the graphic novel are a fraction of what it costs to buy the game.
And make no mistake - the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon game is just not any fun at all. It's grossly repetitive, strictly linear and painfully boring. For a young audience of primates with low expectation and few brain cells, this might pass as a one-time rental. All other fans of anything kung-fu, don't lose face; show the late Wang Du Lu some respect and avoid this one like a kung-fu fighting leper.