If there’s one thing I’ve learned from DreamWorks, it’s that animals doing martial arts is cool (I’ve also learned that big green ogre women can be oddly attractive if they sound like Cameron Diaz, but that’s another story). Well, developers cTools Studio have seen the magic at work and decided to sprinkle the same sparkly dust over their latest platformer, presumably in the hope that by putting “Kung Fu” in the title alongside a random furry animal will spell success. It kind of works, even if it is a little misleading.
That may sound as though I’m hung up on the perceived lack of actual kung fu perpetrated by our leporine protagonist, and in fact I am a bit. I wanted a kick-ass bunny in a gi, running up walls and awesomising fools. While I didn’t get what I want (and really, when do we ever?), Kung Fu Rabbit is at least an enjoyable platformer.
In so far as I can tell, the backstory – told in animated frames at the beginning – involves lots of little rabbits being taken away by aliens and locked up. As a heroic hare with spiritual training, Kung Fu Rabbit takes it upon himself to rescue them all. Although there isn’t actually much kung fu involved, the carrot-loving burrower is a dab hand at scaling walls and leaping gaps, which is handy as every one of the tiny levels is a well-designed physical puzzle tasking you to find four hidden carrots (optional) and the trapped bunnies (compulsory).
The levels begin very easy, with a simple moving platform / oil pit set-up that’s hardly taxing. It escalates quickly however, soon filling the levels with enemies made of black sludge, platforms that fade in and out of existence, projectiles to dodge, and surfaces covered in deadly oil. Being a kung fu master, Rabbit can only kill enemies by stealthily hitting them in their light blue weak spot (usually on their back), so the tactic with every new enemy is to watch what it does and position yourself accordingly for attack. You can spring from most vertical surfaces, and the venerable lettuce-botherer can clear a fair distance in a single bound. As a result, levels are compact, focused affairs – even finding all the carrots is usually only a case of working out how to reach them as they’re rarely hidden.
Carrots are stored as currency, though only one of the four (the big, golden carrot) is re-collectible when you replay a level. They can unlock a variety of one-use tricks, such as a smartbomb to remove all on-screen enemies or a placeable checkpoint, and collecting all four will unlock a level in the extra-curricular bonus stage (which are the same as the standard stages, really). Spending 50 in a single lump will also unlock a higher difficulty setting that fills all the stages with extra enemies, traps, projectiles and hazards. In this mode it becomes incredibly difficult, even frustrating, but that’s the whole point.
What begins as a very straightforward platformer soon becomes an exercise in mild rage, and if you choose to play in hard mode you must be very brave indeed. It’s not in the same league as, say, Super Meat Boy (which it references on occasion), but it offers a decent challenge of its own nonetheless. When you’re dodging projectiles, trying to get behind enemies, running across crumbling platforms, hopping over bricks that only stay solid for three seconds and attempting to avoid the entire floor of the level, it ain’t no day in the cabbage fields.
In line with its uncluttered ethos, Kung Fu Rabbit is minimalist in its level design and art style, and there’s an obvious and expected Eastern influence in the graphics. Rabbit himself is a funny little square-headed dude, only identifiable as a hunter and slayer of carrots by his big floppy ears. The sound is even more low-key, barely noticeable besides the “diddle-iddle-ing-ding-dingdingding” of the title music. It’s a design choice that may well have been made due to its indie origins, but it suits Kung Fu Rabbit perfectly, adding a dose of charm to proceedings that blunts the odd bout of frustration.
VERDICT: Kung Fu Rabbit is a very simple little game that did very well on mobile devices but doesn’t bring anything new to the Wii U version. It does nothing special with the GamePad (actually it does nothing with the GamePad at all) and besides the steadily increasing level of challenge and subsequent appeal to indie-game masochists there’s not a lot to get excited about. Which doesn’t mean it’s a bad game, just that it doesn’t quite do enough to stand out from the crowd.
GOOD. A game that scores 7/10 is worthy of note, but unworthy of fanfare. It does many things well, but only a few of them incredibly well and, despite a handful of good qualities, fresh ideas and solid mechanics, it fails to overwhelm.