Rag Doll Kung Fu. This is the name of a game that has no rags, no dolls, and absolutely no form of humanly recognisable Kung Fu. Those zany developers. Or, more accurately, that zany developer. This game is the rather oddly inspired brainchild of just one man, that incorrigible Mark Healey of Lionhead Studios. Obviously in some horrendously painful brainwave of abstract genius he came up with a concept that would topple the expectations of the gaming public, and set up a whole new pathway of gaming evolution. That’s right, Cabbage Farmer Pro. But owing to a cabbage famine in Northern Yugoslavia, and the subsequent paucity of high-quality cabbages, he was forced to try out his secondary magnificent plan – Rag Doll Kung Fu.
I have seen all sorts of weird and wonderful gaming ideas. But it really does take a mind of vastly wandering psychosis to come up a Kung Fu game which has absolutely no Kung Fu involved. Trying to adequately describe the lunacy of RDKF is like trying to ice-skate with a bulldozer. Words simply cannot do justice to this completely nonsensical game. But please bear with me as I attempt the impossible.
Gameplay revolves around the concept of building up and maintaining Chi, which gives you the power to perform your martial arts moves. Perhaps the flaw with this otherwise sensible concept is the fact that Chi is attained by waving your mouse in continuous circles around your character. Then you perform attacks by frantically dragging around your various body limbs and walloping the enemy with them before they can do the same to you.
Game characters are made from a rubbery gloop that bends to simply any contortion with no apparent harm to the player. Bending your legs behind your neck, then plaiting your chin into your backside, followed by a tendon-ripping 840 degree side-stretch, and your little in-game dude will still stand there grinning as though it is all just a game. Movement involves grabbing a limb of your character and dragging him in the direction you want him to go. A horizontal drag will send your jellified avatar flailing awkwardly in a flurry of misshapen limbs in your desired direction. Or dragging him upwards will result in an ungainly leap with the grace of a recently castrated, one-legged elephant.
The concepts within which you use these drunken controls can be divided into single player and multiplayer. The single player storyline follows the training and development of a kung fu warrior (yourself) who then gets thrown into a remarkably shallow plot involving ninjas and fighting and stuff. The cutscenes linking each mission seem to be Mr Mark Healey and friends mucking around in the woods with a camcorder, waving their arms and legs about in a vain effort to look even more ridiculous than they already do.
Multiplayer then allows you to take your ungainly character and clumsily fight against other cack-handed players online, in a humorous celebration of quite how random gaming can be. Fighting becomes less a game of skill, and more a game of luck and chance, with seemingly arbitrary successful hits. Ok, I know I am exaggerating this slightly, and after a lot of practise, some can get quite aux fait with the controls and handling of these bouncing heroes, but on the whole it is just too sloppy and imprecise to feel any tangible sense of actually being in control.
You also have your gamer image to maintain. It does not help when people come into the room to find you staring grimly at the screen, tongue protruding from mouth in stark concentration, foam emitting from the corners of your mouth, and your hand whizzing round and round the mousemat in continuous circles, whilst intermittently muttering curses and obscenities. Plus the whoops and high-pitched screams emanating from your speakers, as well as the rubber avatars bouncing around the screen like jellified scarecrows do not give credence to your claim that this is an adult game.
But hey, I’m in a good mood, so I’m going to pull something positive from this. RDKF is fun. It’s a laugh. And isn’t that what gaming is all about? Sure, it is a bit of a five-minute wonder, but there are worse ways to spend your gaming time. RDKF won’t teach you anything about Kung Fu, but it might just teach you not to take yourself so seriously…