Entering a new series into the fighting game genre is a difficult task. It's so incredibly easy to just slap together a game, that any company can do it; yet rare and coveted are the titles that boast balance and fine-tuned controls. Those few that do are played for years to come by devoted groups that delve deep into the game mechanics to find new strategies and way to exploit moves by single frames of animation. However, the crippled, broken mess that is Tao Feng can never dream of being one of those games.
The pain doesn't start immediately: you have to actually get past the menus before the cringing starts. Immediately upon reaching the select mode, it's natural to wonder where the arcade option is. Single-player doesn't have any random round-robin battle progression, but merely something entitled Quest. This is the only oddity from the usual assortment of fighting game modes, and I'm fairly sure you already know what's in the Survival option, so I'll just touch on the unusual portions.
In Quest, you first pick from one of the two warring factions, and then one of those characters to battle against the other side. Each character faces off against their antagonists to receive the pieces of an ancient artifact in hopes of reuniting all of them. This will give the winning side immortality, and having both of them obtain such a gift will also unlock the sword-wielding boss as a playable character. Beating Quest with a character removes your ability to select them in that mode, but also gives plenty of story specific to each fighter and their relation to the person he's fighting. It's actually quite interesting, and one of the two redeeming factors the game has.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. You'll have to actually pick a character in order to play through said Quest mode, and the process of choosing conveniently doubles as a warning klaxon telling you to find a way to re-shrink-wrap the game and return it ASAP. The males are a mixed bag, ranging from variations on classic traditional outfits to hysterically bad 60's science-fiction movies. Characters like Divine Fist - who is such a complete and total Jet Li ripoff, I'd bet Mr. Li could sue them for defamation - actually look pretty cool, while Fiery Phoenix is nothing special but makes you sound ridiculous if you ever try to utter his name out loud. Whoever named these fighters needed to dig a bit deeper, as just because their title deals with their fighting style doesn't make it A-OK. If I ever nickname myself something like "Fast Jeet Kun Do," I give full permission to passing strangers on the street to deck me at will.
Unfortunately, scrolling through the male characters will also end up highlighting the females, and that is where the character design falls through the floor with the force of an Acme anvil. The shamelessness that pervades them almost made me feel dirtier then the first time Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball got turned on in my house. Where the guys will do warm-ups or flex at the beginning of a match, all of the women feel the need to slowly bend over or do the splits while rotating their chest languidly (some do all three at the same time). This is only highlighted by their intensly idiotic outfits, which range from a couple hanging pieces of near-see-through silk to low-rider pants with easy access holes and a bandanna for a shirt. If this was a time-travelling porno movie I could see how these getups would fit in, but in a fighting game it makes Street Fighter characters look as tame as the UFC.
On the bright side (as it may be), all of this ridiculous stupidity is presented with a wonderful graphics engine. Backgrounds look incredible, with tons of objects and beautiful sculptures, and in screenshots it really shines with beauty. Unfortunately for all involved, it's a different story in motion. The animations are stilted when presented alone and never flow during moves and combos. Characters ooze an unshakable feel of being shoddily put together, like the programmers only worked on movement during their lunch breaks when otherwise bored. The juggling animation fares no better, sharing a small bit with the old 2D Mortal Kombat way of handling that, only now it looks twice as horrible and doesn't even have a campy goofiness to it.
From here on out it's a mishmash of various fighting games that tries desperately to find its own niche. The developers combined the pole-swinging of Power Stone with Super Arts from Street Fighter, added a huge heaping amount of combo-heavy nonsense that relies on characters becoming dizzy at the slightest touch, and then decided to remove any and all forms of defense save block. Unfortunately (yet again), block doesn't actually work all the time and seems to enjoy taking a break once in a while just for the heck of it. The lack of anything else to stop attacks makes this all the more glaring, as there are no reversals, quick dodges, parries, or anything of the ilk. It's like they played Soul Calibur once and decided they liked the 3D movement aspect, whereupon they tried to remake Killer Instinct while tossing in some Time Killers limb damage for good measure. Almost a shame it failed at everything it tried to do, especially the control aspect.
Well, perhaps I'm a bit hasty in the defense area, as there are two techniques that can be used for such a purpose. Thing is, I'm pretty sure one of them wasn't intended to be, and I know for sure that the other wasn't. The first one is the gimpy, unresponsive throwing, which near as I can tell actually deals not only with button presses but also with the pressure sensitivity gauge. I can never get throws to work just pressing the throw command, I have to really mash those buttons in there to get it to respond. In any case, throws have a large startup animation but also can throw an opponent at almost any time. That includes if they're in the middle of an attack and have a kick flying towards your head - they can be grappled right out. Tomfoolery, all of it.
The second defensive technique is actually unique to Tao Feng, so it could actually be called innovative. This "masterful" manipulation is mostly due to some horribly shoddy work (what else is new?) and understanding how far moves will make a character travel. Once understood, one can begin the practice of what is known at my household as the Camera F***. Tao Feng features the worst camera in the entire history of fighting games, an accomplishment which in and of itself demands the question, "How do you screw up the camera in a fighting game?" Get near a corner and you've got a good chance of the camera performing a 180-degree flip at any moment, often for no reason. If you're blocking, kiss it goodbye as you don't have much of a chance of flipping your block with the camera, especially if your opponent is in the middle of a move when it happens. Shuffle in the corner and it's possible to make the camera spin in circles, negating any possibility of ever blocking or being able to tell what moves one is performing. To that end, it is actually a viable technique to learn how the camera responds as best as one can and perform moves specifically to make it flip and leave your opponent open. Unblockables, if you will.
But that brings another problem in, as one of the primary good moves to do to activate a Camera F*** is the wall jump. However, in line with the throws, pressing the action button while near a wall or pole does not guarantee you will actually jump off the wall or swing on the pole. Often, in the middle of battle, I'll press the button a good four or five times in a row and have them sit there, back pressed up against the wall, doing nothing. Other times I'll get vaguely near an object and they immediately latch and perform the move no problem. I'm not really sure where this ends up on the list of grievances against this game, but I suppose placing them in any sort of order won't do much to alleviate the pain, will it?
It's painful that such a product was released, maybe even more painful that this actually had a nice-sized ad campaign going for it. The money that was used to create this game would have been much better spent doing something more like burning it. Even if the end result is the same, at least then I would not have been subjected to this torture and could have spent that waste of life on something at least mediocre. I wouldn't call Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance much more then a decent-to-good fighting game, but it certainly beats the living hell out of this steaming pile of excrement. Yet something evil this way comes, as the sequel is already in planning stages. I can only pray it never lives to see the light of day, as to quote someone that had to spend far more time with it than I did, "There's a direct correlation with how much time you spend versus how much you loathe it."
· · · MechDeus