Reviews of licensed games of any kind generally follow a pretty standard thread. First of all, the author strings together a quick rant against the licensed title concept in general, pointing out what everyone already knows – generally, they stink. Next comes a short exploration of the particular movie/TV show/property that the game uses, describing its current place in the pop culture pantheon. Lastly, the actual game will be examined, compared to other titles in whatever genre is being implemented, and judged for its strengths and weaknesses.
In the interest of not patronizing anyone (or boring them to tears), I'm going to (almost) skip the first two principles of the licensed game review template. It's no surprise to anyone who's picked up a controller in the past thirty years that games bearing the likeness of their favorite non-gaming characters will invariably be disappointing, and it's likewise old news that fans of the cartoon Xiaolin Showdown will likely be the only folks remotely interested in checking out its PSP namesake.
Therefore, what's left is to dig deep into the game – which, for the most part, is a mildly interesting button-masher with stylish visuals but fatally repetitive gameplay that'll try the patience of all but the most dedicated players. In reality, there's no denying that it is in many ways a clone of Smash Brothers, only with different arenas and characters. That may sound like an overly simplistic description, but it's apt and fair.
Fans of the cartoon Xiaolin Showdown will likely be the only folks remotely interested in checking out its PSP namesake.
The story pits the four young stars of the series – Omi, Raimundo, Clay, and Kimiko – in a battle against the bad guys Jack Spicer and Chase Young. They're trying to steal all of the Wu (the powerful, mystical essence that fuels the brawlers) so that the universe can be theirs. Or something like that. The tale takes quite a while to go anywhere, but at least there's a helpful green mini-dragon named Dojo to narrate the action and explain just why you're doing all of the things you do – kicking, jumping, smashing, and otherwise pummeling hordes of different enemies that are thrown at you inside various settings.
The game's main mode is the Story, which will stretch the antics of the four protagonists over a dizzying number of levels. Unfortunately, for the most part, the action will feel similar despite the different areas, even though they undoubtedly look terrific (as do the players). Most of your time will be spent smashing neverending waves of robots dispensed by Spicer, occasionally interspersed momentarily by picking up pieces of scrolls that will appear on the map. What's most curious about this is that it's very easy – too easy, really – to clobber your teammates instead of the enemies, which I find very strange. Since there is so much action in such a small place, it's impossible not to accidentally knock your friends silly at very inopportune times.
When you're not mistakenly beating the brains out of your friends, you'll be able to grab hold of all sorts of power-ups and items that will eventually let your skills increase and grab special moves and powers. However, your buddies will also vie for these goodies, so if you're not in the right place at the right time, these necessary bonuses will escape your grasp. This is especially unfortunate as you get into the later levels of the game, because going up against the more powerful enemies is suicidal without an extensive arsenal of powered-up ninja skills.
In between the "standard" levels are much more entertaining mini-games – King of the Hill, It, and Keep Away – that keep the action from getting too stale. They're a departure from the regular game, and will allow you to acquire extra power in case your buds took too much from you earlier. I would have liked to see a wider variety of these diversions, though, since they were by far the best part of the game.
From a control perspective, basic kick, jump, and punch buttons can be strung together into all sorts of combos that work very well, and can really do some damage to enemies (or friends, as we've seen). Another curiosity in Xiaolin Showdown is the complete lack of any on-screen indicators as to how your brawler is doing in regards to health or power-ups. About the only way to get any information about how well you've done is the post-match evaluation.
Ultimately, Xiaolin Showdown is a competent but largely uninspiring brawler. It looks terrific, but there just isn't enough variety in the gameplay to be terribly appealing to anyone that isn't already a fan of the show or the game genre. If you do find yourself in one or both of those camps, the surprisingly large number of levels and characters will surely keep you busy for many hours. Just be prepared to battle your friends as well as your enemies – sometimes, you may not even be sure which side anyone is on.