Kicking it Old School

Review Johnny Kung Fu
Having a chance to check out UFO Interactive’s latest addition to the 3DS eShop this week offered another title looking to make everything old new again, or is that everything new old again?

As often happens to Kung Fu heroes, Johnny Kung Fu finds his best girl kidnapped and rushed away to the top of an ominous corporate tower. Determined to ride the elevator straight to the top, players find a nostalgia trip when confronted by the first floor, which is decorated with ye olde Game & Watch aesthetics.

Suddenly Johnny is displayed on a black and white screen, with every possible move he can perform faintly visible and waiting for the player to move in order to light up the action. Enemies roll bombs down a slope toward him, throw knives, and use laser fields, all of which progress with a methodically slow but joyously old school “bleep”.

Johnny can move a little quicker than these obstacles, making short work of this first challenge – plus it certainly helps that you can see the path of every attack like an old Tiger game.

This initial stage left me anticipating a series of escalating scenarios based on this shtick, and while that does occur, there are actually a few more tricks to this Kung Fu pony as the following floors confront players with entirely different situations before looping the experience.

Suddenly Johnny Kung Fu is a colourful side-scrolling beat ’em up, where Johnny can punch and kick waves of foes before tackling a mini-boss, learning new combo attacks along the way. And yet another floor finds Johnny engaged in a battle where players face one opponent, waiting for a countdown clock to see which of the two has the higher number – if the player does, they can attack, and if they don’t, well they’d better dodge. There’s also a nefarious floor where Johnny needs to move quickly to keep bombs in the air on the way to a never-so-final showdown with the big boss you’ll always hope results in rescuing your girl.

All the while, Johnny is ascending to higher floors of the building, and the difficulty of each of these recurring scenarios rises exponentially – more waves of enemies, more obstacles for the Game & Watch set, and more of those bloody juggling bombs that seem to give me plenty of trouble. Side-scrolling stages play out on the top screen of the 3DS while black and white challenges use the bottom screen. It’s a ride that promises to raise your blood pressure – so far I’ve made it to floor 16 before breaking down in tears.

The additionally terribly clever bit is that a countdown clock is continually ticking away the time Johnny has to free his girl. And while this provides an incentive to chew through floors quicker, it also creates an interesting dilemma whenever the game-over screen appears, because players can choose to continue in exchange for losing five minutes from the timer versus starting the entire ride over again.

Clever charms are worth quite a bit here, and replay rush modes help fill out the offering as well, though Johnny may be looking for a few dollars too many. I do hate to quibble over quarters, but Johnny Kung Fu’s rising difficulty on small repetitive ideas may be a hard sell at $5.99 compared to the depth of other eShop offerings.

However if you have a few ebucks burning a hole in your digital wallet, Johnny does offer an interesting remix on past ideas that drew out a nostalgic grin before it had me grinding my teeth.

Mind you I haven’t made it to the top floor yet, so, grain of salt and all that.

Johnny Kung Fu hits the eShop this Thursday, July 12th for $5.99.

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