|Man, am I ever a sucker for some good old fantasy kung-fu
action. When I saw the advertisement for T'ai Fu, a collaboration between Activision and
Dreamworks, I knew I needed to play this game. The screen captures and description hooked
me, and I wasn't entirely disappointed when it came to actually playing T'ai Fu.
T'ai Fu is set in an alternate China where animals have been anthropomorphized and rule the world. The different animals have separated themselves into individual clans, and each pursues their own ends. In the beginning of the game, the Dragon master has upset the tranquility of the land by taking over everything. He has killed off the Tiger clan entirely, except for one orphan tiger, T'ai Fu. T'ai has been given to the Pandas to be raised in secrecy, but the first scene of the game involves the Dragon master coming to the Pandas to eradicate the overlooked warrior. Fortunately, T'ai survives this initial encounter and begins a quest to learn the different animal styles and end the tyrrany of the evil Dragon.
The game plays much like any other 3D action-adventure title. You play T'ai, and walk around different levels seeking out the masters of the various clans. What makes T'ai Fu unique is that you actually fight each enemy you come in contact with as you would in a fighting game. Granted, the controls are not as complicated as in various fighting games, but the idea is exactly the same. By completing each stage and encountering the animal masters you learn new combos and special moves which become essential for passing the later levels. The fighting control is quite good, so avid fighting gamers should have a good time with this one.
T'ai Fu utilizes cartoon-esque graphics. The rendering is very nice, but shy of some of the 2.5D games such as Abe's Exoddus or Heart of Darkness. The game does not utilize any FMV sequences, but allocates that space to spoken dialogue. Even more surprising, the voice actors are actually decent. T'ai is a hotshot young fighter with quite the lip on him. There's a lot of "ass-kicking" and such going on. Overall, the plot combined with the graphics and dialogue works extremely well. I could have envisioned this game as an animated feature.
Unfortunately, the graphics are occasionally glitchy, allowing for penetrable walls and landscape, as well as the occasional invisible pit. Along these lines comes the other major criticism of the game, which is the fact that there is no camera control. For the most part this isn't a problem, but when dealing with tricky terrain it would be very nice to have a look button. The lack of camera control makes it difficult to get a real sense of the layout of a level, and thus it plays much more as a 2.5D game rather than a 3D game.
T'ai Fu is also short. I attribute this to the fact that it seems to be geared toward a younger audience who might have a harder time with the levels. I would have liked to have seen T'ai Fu go the way of Heart of Darkness and incorporate a second disk as well as some FMVs to draw out the experience a little longer. I see the two games as being very similar. They are both geared toward younger audiences, but retain a high enough standard of graphics, story and play that give the games a much wider appeal.
I flew through T'ai Fu until the very last levels, which become huge jumpfests. This is the final drawback to the game. Prior to the end of the game, I was set to give T'ai Fu a four star rating (one star off for the lack of camera and the glitchy graphics), but after jumping around in snow and lava for twice as long as it took me to play the rest of the game I am unwilling to go that high. Hence, another star off for slapping us devoted gamers with another lame set of jumping excercises.
Fortunately, the game is intriguing enough to keep you coming back for more, and eventually you'll monkey and crane your way through it. I highly recommend the invincibility code for the latter levels. Overall, T'ai Fu is an excellent weekend rent for most gamers. If you're shopping around for a good all-ages game for youngsters, then it could very well be worth a full purchase. It hints at the possibility of action-adventure-fighting games in the future in a good way, and that's exciting.