Rag Doll Kung Fu is a game that's sure to make an impression. Whether it's an immediate spark of interest, or a feeling of total bewilderment, RDKF is going to turn the heads of anyone within eyeshot. An independent side project of Lionhead developers led by Mark Healy, it's a refreshing and original game with humor and style to spare, made possible by Valve and their Steam online distribution platform.
If I had to fit Rag Doll Kung Fu a genre, I'd call it a 2D fighting game of sorts, but don't expect Street Fighter when you fire it up. The game controls entirely with the mouse, and has players drag, drop, fling, and twirl their characters by whatever appendage they choose. It's almost like Worms meets Smash Brothers, if you could somehow imagine such a thing. Although it takes time to master and often feels frenzied and imprecise, it's hard to deny that your little fighter is fun to control.
There's some meat to Rag Doll's gameplay as well. Players will spin the mouse to charge up attacks, drag different limbs to deal different amounts of damage, and even drag hands to block oncoming attacks. There's some fun power-ups tossed in as well. Look forward to dragging your players hand between a patch of mushrooms and his mouth, and then sending him soaring through the air in a psychedelic rainbow blur. Molesting butterflies fluttering around the screen will allow the savvy kung fu master to light up his opponent with pyrotechnic projectiles, including fire and lightning. And of course the experience wouldn't be complete without an arsenal of weapons to flail about including swords, nunchakus, and a helmet that shoots lasers.
Rag Doll will also get some notice for its completely unique visual style. It features some very nice 2D graphics in a 3D engine, with characters broken up into segments like a paper doll or an old 16-bit Gunstar Heroes boss. It features a ton of layers, which create the illusion of a 3D world, complete with detailed fields of grass and a very nice focal blur effect that create a completely surreal world with a sense of depth.
The animation is likewise unreal, with off-kilter characters stretching and distorting as they fly around on screen. RDKF definitely has a look, and it comes off as very polished.
Camp meets Quirk
The game's story mode centers around Haj Ji Mi, played by Mark Healy himself, and features a series of missions which range from all-out brawling to collecting items. In between missions, players will be treated to some truly campy live-action FMV in the style of a 1970s Kung Fu movie, complete with awful effects and awkward subtitles. These make little sense and don't tell much of a story, but they most assuredly made me chuckle on more than one occasion. The story mode shouldn't take most very long. Some hidden secrets and high-score tracking will give players incentive to replay, but many will probably move on after completing it.
Luckily there's plenty to move on to. A host of modes, mini-games, and other content is available for the unlocking. The one-player mini-games are varied and all playable for high scores. Some of these could have afforded to have a steeper challenge or selectable difficulty, but they're fun to play. Multiplayer is also a major component, and Rag Doll allows for 8 players to duke it out, locally or over the internet. Local multiplayer requires multiple USB mice and the space to use them, but if you have it, this is the way to go.