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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
game: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
two star
posted by: GF! Back Catalogue 10/2004 => 1995
publisher: Ubisoft
date posted: 12:00 AM Wed Apr 21st, 2004
last revision: 12:00 AM Wed Apr 21st, 2004

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By Jeremy Kauffman

I have a new objective for the next wayward videogame developer trying yet again to capitalize on the popularity of a blockbuster movie: forget trying to make a great game, just try to make one that doesn't insult the property on which it was based, its fans, or the gamer. The film Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon is a cinematic tour de force of grace and poetry in its story, its style, and, of course, in its action. The Ubisoft game based on the film has none of this. It is an ugly, clunky, button-mashing mockery of everything that fans loved about the film and gamers wanted to experience.

The game follows the paths of the three characters from the film: Jen (the 19th Century China version of a hip, perky, young feminist bucking the establishment), Yu Shu Lien (the vengeful and lovelorn martial arts apprentice), and Li Mu Bai (the legendary and equally lovelorn master swordsman). The developers did their homework, as all of the primary set pieces from the film make an appearance. The game begins in the courtyard and stops for a fight in the dojo. It takes players to the desert, the waterfall, the forest and into the cave for the final confrontation with Jade Fox.

Each level begins with a scene from the movie, which depending upon how you look at it is either a blessing or a curse. The film, even when presented in short, non-contextual moments, is beautiful and engrossing. To see Jen, masked and mysterious, glide into the courtyard, or Li Mu Bai stepping weightless across the branches, is to relive the experience of watching the film. It is enough to give fans goosebumps as the game moves into the playable level, which is a replica of the scene that you have just watched. Of course, then you have to play the game, and it is, in every way, a let down from the expectations that they have set up.

The primary problem with the game is its limited and unresponsive gameplay. Take the first level. You will watch Jen run along the rooftops and walls, twirl and fly in a ballet of action. Of course, that is the scene from the movie. When you actually enter the level you are limited to a typical four-button attack scheme (light and strong, armed and unarmed attacks), a grab, a block, a jump, and a double jump. Jen can jump and redirect off of walls and glide to the ground from the top of a double jump. While the jumping and gliding is pretty cool, the actual fighting scheme is very dull. As enemy after enemy runs at you, the action boils down to a couple of lame kick and slash combos repeated over and over, punctuated now and again by a jump and a glide to escape from multiple opponents. The enemies do carry a variety of weapons, each of which you can swipe and use, which would be great if the weapon that you use affected gameplay in any meaningful way.

As the game progresses, the characters learn new special moves that are attributed to the style of combat you favor (if you use weapons more often, you learn armed special moves; use your fists a lot and you will learn more unarmed moves). Special moves are performed by stunning an enemy, grabbing them, and pressing a specific combination of buttons. These moves, while often quite impressive, are overcomplicated for what good they do. On the other hand, the blocking system is too easy to cheat. When your characters are attacked with a combination of moves an icon appears on the screen and you are required to press the block button in time with the attacks. This is a good idea, except that if you simply press the button as fast as you can you can bluff your way through and come out pretty much unscathed. The presentation gets a leg up by using the scenes and music from the film. The graphics, visual effects, and sound within the game, however, do nothing to rival the current generation of videogame trend setters. If it was worth going into more detail about this, believe me, I would.

Look, it's tough to live up to the expectations set by a film like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. However, there are the makings of a great game in that flick, and the fans deserve better. As I sat there, dispatching enemy after enemy with the same six or seven moves, occasionally laboring through the steps to perform a special attack, I couldn't help thinking of old school brawlers like Double Dragon, in which a friend and I would waste so much time and effort attempting to nail that perfectly timed two-player special combo. Eventually we would pull it off. We would ooh and ah, and bask in the moment. Then we would go back to punching and kicking, because, in the end, it is more effective anyway. I also couldn't help thinking about how much more fun I had playing that game than this one. That lead me to think about how, as a game, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon isn't too far removed from Double Dragon, which lead me to the conclusion that for all of our Halos, our Splinter Cells, and our Battlefield 1942s, the videogame industry hasn't come all that far in the last twenty years, at least not in a top-of-the-bell curve kind of way. Upon that realization I gave up, put down the controller, opened up the liquor cabinet, and proceeded to get hammered. Of course, I wouldn't recommend that. If you are itching to relive the sublime experience that was Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, do yourself a favor and watch the film. And if you are seeking an intense and immersive martial arts fantasy game, I would suggest you play Jedi Academy. As a matter of fact, those are the very things I intend to do after I finish this sentence.