When Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists of Plastic was first announced for the PSN about a year ago, I was excited. Finally, a PlayStation console would have something to put up against the likes of Super Smash Bros. as a competent party fighter. At E3 last year, most editors agreed that Fists of Plastic seemed like a nearly finished product, boasting crisp graphics and smooth gameplay. Surely, over the course of a year, the developers at Tarsier Studios could flesh out this great looking game to make a great game, right… right? Unfortunately, the game’s singleplayer mode only lasts an hour at most, and the lack of online play will prevent most players from getting too competitive with it.

The original Rag Doll Kung Fu was one of Steam’s first indie games, launched in 2005. The original game was made primarily by then-Lionhead Studios employee Mark Healy, who would later go on to form Media Molecule and LittleBigPlanet. The original game had a strange mouse-only control scheme that required micromanagement of every individual limb of the fighter. Other than the basic concept of a game based off stereotypical kung fu movies and fighters exhibiting rag-doll physics, Fists of Plastic has very little in common with the original game.

Goofy action figures battle it out.

Goofy action figures battle it out.

In Fists of Plastic, you control a plastic toy action figure; the left analog stick controls movement, and the face buttons control jumping, kicking, punching, and blocking. With R1, you can grab on to ledges and swing around for added mobility. You can grab items and swing them around with the analog sticks, or even just swing your arms around a-la LittleBigPlanet just to taunt your foes. There are also several special moves that can be pulled off by using intuitive motion controls: shaking the controller will charge up a lightning bolt which can be thrown at enemies, holding the controller upside-down will have your character meditate to regain lost health, and jolting the controller in various directions will allow you to pull off long-range punches or ground-pounds. The jumping feels a little big floaty, but this is required to reach some of the more altitudinous locations. The motion controls are incorporated very well for the most part and keep things from getting too complicated. Rather than memorizing complicated strings of button-presses, you just have to remember a motion, which becomes second nature.

Players can also acquire an array of hilarious items as they battle on. These items include powerups like noodles for health or statuettes for “chi” energy. Weapons include boxes, clay pots, nunchakus, poles, and throwing stars. Even a well-aimed throw of noodles or game-specific items like rubber fish can act as weapons. The weapons can be swung around with the right analog stick, and can be thrown at enemies quite satisfactorily with square.

The singleplayer mode is disappointingly short, consisting of only nine challenge modes, including a tutorial. Unlike Super Smash Bros., and even the original Rag Doll Kung Fu, Fists of Plastic features no story mode. You only form of “progression” is by unlocking one challenge after getting a bronze medal (or higher) on the last. These challenges are great for honing your skills on specific tasks individually and get progressively harder the longer you last. By getting certain scores on these you will earn ranks, trophies, and new costume items.

The challenges are similar to the kinds you would find in a Smash Bros. game (Break the Targets! Board the Platforms!). In order, the challenges are Survival, Sharpshooter, Capture the Fish, Acrobatics, King of the Hill, Way of the Firefly, Cleaning Up, and Kung Fu Juggling. In Survival mode, you must eliminate as many opponents as you can in five minutes. The opponents start weak and slow, but grow in numbers and strength as you eliminate more. Sharpshooter has you break targets with throwing stars—missing a target will cause you to lose your combo multiplier. Capture the Fish plays out like a game of basketball; you need to pick up a rubbery fish and toss it into a basket as many times as possible while being fought off by progressively stronger foes. Acrobatics has you swinging from one platform to another as many times as you can to build up a huge combo. King of the Hill requires you to fight your way to a platform and clear off all enemies on it, then taunt like crazy! In Way of the Firefly, you must use your flying kicks one after another to destroy targets floating mid-air without landing. Cleaning Up is one of the most fun challenge stages; you need to throw as many enemies off the cliff of a moonlit ninja temple as possible. Finally, Kung Fu Juggling will have you trying to keep an enemy in the air as long as possible by pulling off difficult combinations.

Avoid being hit by flaming balls in dodgeball.

Avoid being hit by flaming balls in dodgeball.

Overall, these challenges are pretty fun, and with the promise of global rankings, simple trophies, and unlockable costumes, they may keep you coming back for more. Still, the challenges feel more like minigames—little distractions from the main game. That’s where Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists of Plastic’s biggest disappointment lies: it feels like everything is there but the main game. The presentation is beautiful, the controls and physics are spot-on, even the multiplayer mode (more on that in a bit) is great… but the game still feels like there’s a massive part of it missing.

If you’re chilling out max and relaxin’ all cool some of your homies, Fists of Plastic’s multiplayer mode is pretty much a guaranteed hit sure to appeal to most hardcore and casual gamers alike. The included multiplayer modes are Deathmatch, King of the Hill, Capture the Fish, and Dodgeball. Deathmatch is just a standard battle, and can get rather bland after a while. Capture the Fish and Dodgeball is where the real fun is. Just like with Comet Crash, Fists of Plastic was the catalyst for a lot of yelling in my apartment; when one player would pull off an alley-oop on somebody else’s fish toss or when a dodgeball would rip through three players at once, the collective excitement in the room would remind me of Goldeneye 64 days past—a feeling I rarely have with modern video games. Unfortunately, Fists of Plastic features absolutely no online multiplayer, a previously announced feature that would be perfect for this kind of game. If you don’t have friends to play with, the multiplayer mode will feel pretty dry with just dummy AI to play against. With a dry multiplayer experience, there will be little reason to unlock new parts for character customization. With little reason to unlock new parts, there is little reason to play the challenge mode, and the entire game falls apart.

Closing Comments:

Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists of Plastic is a great multiplayer experience that will last you a few hours. Unfortunately, the lack of a solid singleplayer mode or any online multiplayer experience will have you questioning if it was really worth spending $10 on this digital title.

The Rundown:

Platform: PS3 (via PSN)
Developer: Tarsier Studios
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Genre: Fighting / Party
Offline Multiplayer: 4-player battle
Online Multiplayer: Leaderboards
ESRB Rating: E 10+ for Cartoon Violence (seriously, guys?)
Official Website: Developer / Console

Presentation: 7

Everything seems very well thought out… but where is the online multiplayer, where is the singleplayer story mode?

Graphics: 9.5

As far as PSN titles go, this rivals Flower for the best-looking game.

Sound: 7.5

The music is catchy and the sound effects are spot on. Unfortunately, the tunes can be a bit repetitive after a while.

Gameplay: 9

There is a certain level of unexplainable satisfaction you get from throwing a clay pot at your buddy’s head… Fists of Plastic’s gameplay is fun, tuned, and refined.

Lasting Appeal: 5

This game offers very few reasons to come back other than something to do to burn some time or the occasional brawl with a PS3 newbie.

OVERALL: 6.9 / C-

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