Reviewed: December 28, 2003
Released: October 9, 2003
As seasoned gamers we have all come to learn that games based on movie licenses rarely (if ever) work. A big reason for this continuing failure is the fact the most games are rushed out the door to ride the wave of whatever momentum the movie might still be generating. Sometimes the delay is substantial enough that the game might tie into the DVD home release of a film. But as games like Enter the Matrix and T3: Rise of the Machines have recently proven, even the best movie franchise cannot guaranteed a great game, no matter how much time you spend on it.
Case in point; take an Academy Award winning movie like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, full of rich Hong Kong fighting action, and spend nearly three years in development and you still end up with one of the biggest disappointments of 2003. Even worse, what momentum the movie and the DVD release did have back in the day is now long gone, so Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (the game) is left to fend for itself in a world of stiff genre competition.
The concept is sound to be sure, and next-gen consoles would normally be the perfect medium to bring this stylized, gravity defying, martial arts extravaganza to gamers everywhere, but the sound premise is overshadowed by weak and repetitive gameplay that is no where near as inspirational or innovative as the film that inspired it.
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon distills the overall plot of the film down to the action sequences and breaks those down into three main sections, each played by a different character. You begin as Jen with early missions revolved around the theft of the Green Destiny sword. Later you will play as Yu Shu Lien and finally Li Mu Bai. The game does an admirable job of honoring the script right up to the final battle against Jade Fox.
During my first hour of play I kept thinking to myself, “This is pretty cool”. The combat wasn’t bad and the gravity defying acrobatics were nicely implemented along with some impressive animation. Then one hour turned into two and two into three and each hour was like the last and I quickly realized that after the first hour I had seen everything this game had to offer, at least in gameplay.
Fight, fight, fight. Get used to it because that is all you will be doing. Enter a new area and fight a few dozen guys before moving on to the next area and fight another dozen guys. The locations change but the gameplay quickly grows redundant. Not even a multi-skilled fighting engine can keep this game fresh from start to finish.
Combat comes in two flavors, armed and unarmed and the more you use a particular fighting style the more skills you earn in that style. It’s almost like a hidden-RPG system running behind the scenes. Special Attacks are some of the most fun you will have in this game but even they grow stale after you have seen them two or three times. To execute one of these exotic attacks you stun your opponent then enter a specific sequence of buttons for the desired move. The only problem with this setup is that the special attack doesn’t flow naturally with the buttons, but rather activates after the sequence is complete.
There is an interesting blocking system that allows you to pull off some impressive defensive moves that rival the combat. Tapping the L1 button in rhythm with the incoming attacks will slowly build an impressive defensive combo that will have you jumping and spinning all over the place. The only problem is that the combo system isn’t as sophisticated as it could or should be and you can pretty much rhythmically tap your way to success.
If everything you have read sounds like fun and you don’t mind doing it over and over again for 6-8 hours then you might actually enjoy this game. In all fairness, other fighting games like Tekken are just about as repetitive, but at least in those games you have far more characters and a greater variety of moves to explore and master.
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon offers three modest sized missions, each with five chapters, and even though the primary character changes, the gameplay and mission structure are nearly identical, as are most of the enemies you encounter. The only enemies that offer a decent challenge or mix-up the fighting style are the four “bosses” and the only departure from endless combat are some jumping puzzles that will have you begging for more combat.
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon does a decent job of mirroring the visuals of the movie. Many of the key locations are recreated, as are many of the signature action scenes from the film. Outside of those major events and a few character-specific encounters, the rest of the game reuses the same scenery and the same fighting action over and over, even when you switch characters and missions. Some characters even play through the exact same levels.
The quirky camera will provide you countless hours of cursing and frustration. In any given scene pick the worst place you can imagine the camera going and chances are it will get there sooner or later blocking your view of the enemies or even worse, the next ledge you need to be jumping to. The movie may have been a legendary achievement in cinematography but the game is in dire need of a director to place and operate the camera. As it is, you’ll be tweaking the camera controls as often as your character.
There are plenty of nicely animated CG cutscenes, so many in fact that is seems the designers were trying to distract you from the lack of gameplay by dazzling you with movies. The only problem is these are just CG replicas of the movie and not all that great. If I want to watch the movie I’ll pop in my DVD.
I really enjoyed the authentic Asian music that featured themes composed by Tan Dun with solos by internationally acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma. There is something almost hypnotic and very soothing about the instruments and whimsical tunes that ease you into the game, and the faster paced music during the combat will get your adrenaline flowing.
Sound effects were very disappointing with generic groans and grunts and combat effects that sound like they were ripped right off of Kung Fu Theater. Not only are they poor in quality they are just as repetitious as the gameplay and even more annoying.
I was surprised that the designers chose to stick with the Chinese spoken dialogue and English subtitles. This was a nice homage to the movie, but the actors picked to read the script give some of the most uninspired performances of recent memory and none of the voices really even fit the characters.
When you finish each mission you are graded on various elements like attacks, combos, blocking, etc. If you get a mission score of “A” you unlock clips from the movie and there are other bonuses like a new playable character (“Dark Cloud” Lo), artwork, mini-games, and some other stuff to discover.
You’ll probably need to replay the game several times to unlock everything, assuming you have the patience to even play it through once. A single pass will take the average gamer 6-8 hours making it great for a casual weekend rental but hardly worth a permanent slot on your game shelf.
Once again we have another great movie that could have been turned into a great game but something got lost along the way. There simply isn’t enough variety in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and the repetitive combat, troublesome camera, and platform-like jumping puzzles will quickly go from entertaining to annoying long before the game is over.
There are many other games that can offer you a far better fighting experience. If you really want to relive the excitement of the movie, go watch the DVD or enroll in a martial arts class. You’ll have a better time.