If you were a kid in the 80’s or 90’s you probably owned, or at least played, the earlier devices that were used for portable gaming. Before the Game Boy released in the late 80’s your portable gaming fix was most likely either a Tiger Electronics device or a Nintendo Game and Watch handheld. These were LCD screen based devices that ran on batteries, and the version you bought only had the one game built into it. Before the Game Boy showed what a handheld could do, these were what you played with in the car, bus, or wherever you were found when not sitting in front of a TV.
Why do I bring this old technology up? Well, here we are with Johnny Kung Fu, a downloadable game for the 3DS. It is a downloadable title found on the 3DS eShop. Its inspiration comes from the classic Game and Watch games that I mention above. It blends in the classic LCD style gameplay we grew up with in the 80’s with modern gaming, vibrant colors and kung fu fighting. Johnny Kung Fu is a brawler at its core, but it throws in some of the classic Game and Watch style levels in between for an odd mashup of gameplay that constantly changes pace.
You play as Johnny, the typical good guy who’s out with his girlfriend Paula. Seemingly out of nowhere Paula is kidnapped, forcing Johnny to run to the closest phone booth, switch into his Kung Fu attire, and save his girlfriend. The Mr. Wang Gang, led by none other than Mr. Wang himself, operates out of the Unethical Financial Operations Corporation (the UFO Corp), which is a seemingly never-ending skyscraper that rises far beyond the clouds. As you enter the UFO building you have 60 minutes to find and rescue your girlfriend, although it’s never really explained why you only have an hour. The 60 minute timer begins the moment you step foot in the building and counts down every second you play. Levels will alternate between the classic Game and Watch style games on the bottom screen to a modern 3D beat-em-up on the top screen.
Each time you beat a level you go up a floor. You main objective to get to the top before time runs out as the timer. There is no time to sit wasting precious moments given the clock never stops. If you lose all your lives and need to continue, the game will deduct five minutes off the allotted sixty minute restriction, and if the timer counts down to zero the game is over and you’ll have to start over again from the first level, and a fresh 60 minutes is loaded up.
There are six different level types, and as you get higher in the UFO building they become increasingly more difficult. You better hope you have very quick reactions as you will need them. The first level you’ll play is one of the classic LCD based stages that is broken into three different sections. You need to dodge bombs while getting close to the enemy to punch and defeat them. The next section will have you avoiding knives that are thrown at you. The last section has you avoiding laser beams to make it to the elevator allowing you to continue your upward journey in the building. The first time you play this level it is quite easy, but the third and fourth time can test your patience as you may need to wait quite a while for that perfect moment when you can finally move forward and avoid the bombs.
Another of the Game and Watch based levels is bomb juggling, which has you doing just that. The first time you play this level there are just two bombs that need to be juggled in the air by doing cartwheels and keeping them up with Johnny’s hands and feet. As you come back to this level it keeps adding more bombs, making it much more difficult and frantic, forcing you to rely on your reactionary skills more than anything else.
The final classic LCD level is a mini-game where you are pitted against an opponent. Both of you have hammers. A quick countdown timer will appear and whoever has the higher number above their head has to attack the other with their hammer. Like all the other LCD based levels, the first time you play this level it is no problem, but the next few times becomes more difficult and you will become frustrated quite easily. The reaction time that you’re supposed to have in this game is unreal and most of the time you might as well just guess to either attack or dodge, cause there’s no way you can react in the amount of time you’re given.
The modern levels look drastically different as everything is in color, looks hand drawn (though with that flash game style), and has more than one button for you to use. Some levels have you beating a bunch of bad guys and once they have been cleared you fight a mini-boss. Sometimes you will play a “Change to Color Mode” level where the world will look like the classic LCD style, but as you defeat your enemies the meter fills and you win once the bar is filled and Johnny is restored to his colored greatness.
Then there are the boss levels. Here you’re pitted against a boss that will throw knives at you, and eventually rockets in the later levels, and you must time your punches and kicks to ricochet them back towards him. When you deflect them back they will all miss except for a slower moving one that will hit him and stun him, allowing you to jump in for a single hit before you retreat and do this all over a few more times. Once defeat the boss you learn a new and more powerful move that can be used when fighting the waves of new enemies as you continue through the game. I found that the boss fights tend to drag on a little too long, and while you are awarded with a new move for your arsenal, you begin playing the same levels all over again but on a higher difficulty setting.
You can’t fault a game that looks like it’s from the 80’s when that’s what it’s trying to be. The LCD levels look as if they are real as you can even see the ‘spots’ where you’re able to move and jump. The modern levels pass the test, and while you can jump to and from the foreground, the 3D slider never really had much of an effect on the game and I found it easier to play with the 3D off. It would have been cool to see the Game and Watch levels on the top screen with the 3D on so that they ‘popped’ more, but alas, you play these levels on the bottom screen where the 3D is not capable. As for the sound, you’re going to hear a whole lot of kung fu punching and kicking sounds, and that is about it for the most part. There are two or three spoken lines of dialog at the beginning of the game but they are voiced pretty badly, although I think it was intentional.
With only six different types of levels found in the whole game, the only difference being the difficulty as you progress, it was hard to keep interested in the game playing six times or so since you need to start at the bottom floor all over again once your sixty minutes runs out. The game eventually becomes easier once you know what to expect, but it gets to a point of being so dependent on reactionary time that, if you simply don’t possess that skill you’ll never get to save Paula. With a few more level types and a real change in difficulty other than needing better reflexes, Johnny Kung Fu would have been entertaining for more than a weekend; as it stands now, I would let Mr. Wang win this battle. Sorry Paula.