Don't mess wit' da Liu-Tang.
When I agreed to take this game on, I fully expected a sub-par fighting game with just another tacked on license. I mean really - didn't Shaq-Fu soundly prove that rappers and fighting games don't mix?
However, this game surprised me. While it isn't the deepest or most original fighter in town, the essence of the Wu-Tang does permeate this game. And as a casual fan of their hip-hop stylings, I can admit there is a fight within this four-player face off.
In reality, the actual members of the Wu-Tang Clan don't know any kung fu. Their idea of "Shaolin style" lies in their lyrically sharp rhymes. Of course, mental training is one half of the martial arts. In the video game world, they get to live out their Bruce Lee fantasies by endowing their digital counterparts with kung fu mastery.
Storymode takes you on a quest to rescue your sensei, who's been kidnapped by your classic old and evil "Fu Manchu" Chinese guy. While I don't expect video game stereotyping to suddenly end with this game, it is duly noted that Asians are the baddies here. The counterpoint is that the plot is a throwback to old kung fu inspired films, highlighted by the blaxploitationist knife-wielding mama with a huge afro.
So, off you go from Staten Island to China to do battle. Along the way, your fights are enjoyably mixed up with different objectives. Rather than having to directly fight against an opponent in each battle that leads to the final boss, you're occasionally given a teammate to help out. Other times, you may have the odds completely against you while trying to survive against 3 clones. There might even be an endless army of ninjas to contend with. The variety of objectives is impressive and welcomed.
As you advance, you unlock different tasks that make up the 36 different chambers. Each chamber is set into groupings; when you finish one group, you unlock a secret. Some of those secrets include the regular gamut of extra characters, new arenas, and more finishing moves. Most of the secret characters are really nothing more than new body mappings with some other character's move list. Only if you're completely driven (or obsessed) will you have the patience to keep going at it.
Practice mode is well suited for this game. Rather than just letting you have free reign to try out anything, you're given a move to execute. After you complete it successfully, you're given another. It works more like a set of lessons than free practice. If you get stuck on one move, you can select another move to try out.
Move execution is similar to the Tekken games. While not nearly as complex, there's still some depth to it. The characters tend to follow a similar scheme; perhaps wider variations in the different players would have helped.
I like the stylized art of the members at the player select screen. During the fights, the style is translated well, albeit polygonal. Backgrounds range from Chinatown to a basketball court, though some areas needed more detail.
The framerate maintains itself even with four fighting on the screen. There are some nice flashy effects thrown in for excitement, as well as what is becoming the most overused trick in the special effects industry; when you finish the match, the camera swirls around the fighters in a "bullet-time" (as seeen in The Matrix) knock-off. This then leads into the fatality.
Fatalities are automatically executed depending on the last action button hit before you win the fight. As you open up chambers in Story mode, you'll gain several more fatality animations. When they get old - and they will get old - they can be skipped.
This game is violent. You'll see plenty of blood spurts and decapitations, though you need to enable the brutality through a code. Having to enter it only once does make it convenient, but what if you've got both young and old people who want to play?
While it does sport the ability to have 4 contestants, at that number the fights become less strategy and more about frenzied cheapness. It's even possible to toss an enemy into the air and juggle him back and forth between you and a teammate, scoring big combos for the both of you. While the multi-player fights do lack some post-game statistical information, the one fatality victor does end speculation over who's the baddest mofo in the house.
If your musical interests lie in hip-hop melodies, this game excels. Come to think of it, I really don't see why you would get this game if your musical tastes lie elsewhere. While there are three average songs done by the group, the other pieces work well enough. It would have been even better if more lyrically infused numbers were part of the mix.
If you swear allegiance to the Wu world order and happen to be looking for a good fight to whet your blood lust, go for it Shaolin style. But if you're focusing on the fighting factor, you might be disappointed. The antics of the Clan will eventually wear thin, and you'll be soon be left searching for the next challenge.