For: Xbox 360 (Kinect required)
From: Virtual Air Guitar Company/UTV Ignition
ESRB Rating: Teen (fantasy violence, mild language, use of tobacco)
T here's plenty to like about "Kung-Fu High Impact." It is, in fact, one of the year's better Kinect games, and one of the few that reaches past the realm of fitness tools and minigame collections to produce an actual game that tangibly benefits from Microsoft's motion control device.
Just don't be surprised if some of the most fun you have with it is when you have a controller in hand.
"Impact" is a 2D brawler somewhat in the vein of "Double Dragon," "Final Fight" and any number of other games that propagated during the genre's heyday. The stages are small but open-ended instead of large but constantly scrolling from left to right, but the gist -- punch and kick the bad guys into submission before they do it to you first -- remains the same.
In this case, though, you very literally are the character. The Kinect's camera uses its motion-detecting magic to superimpose a direct feed of yourself onto the level, and once you're there, "Impact's" hit detection leaves you free to punch and kick as efficiently or sloppily as your ability allows. Backflips and a handful of special powers are triggered via poses or half-move gestures (because asking players to actually backflip is asking for trouble). But as far as your elementary punches, kicks, elbows, blocks, dodges, jumps and lateral motion go, successful execution is entirely dependent on your willingness to fight with conviction.
If any of this sounds familiar, it's because "Impact" first tried this, with dodgy results, on the Playstation 3 as "Kung-Fu Live." Fortunately, the Kinect's significantly better ability to discern player from background makes "Impact" effortless to set up and exponentially less likely to betray you in the heat of battle. You'll ideally want to play with good lighting to make it easier to see your onscreen likeness, but it isn't mandatory to do so -- only more difficult if you don't.
On that note, it bears mentioning that even on its base difficulty, "Impact's" single-player storyline can punish you. More than not, it's punishing in a good way, with furious enemy rushes and an expectation that you paid attention to the tutorials about dodging and blocking as well as punching and kicking.
Sometimes, though, "Impact" simply betrays you -- confusing forward jumps with backflips, for instance, or just plain not recognizing a crucial evasive maneuver. "Impact" is tough with regard to mid-level checkpoints and health pickups, and one bungled move at the wrong time can bring your life to an aggravating end. It doesn't happen too much if you accentuate your motions, but it will happen.
Local multiplayer (five players), however, is "Impact's" crown jewel. Player one's role remains unchanged in this mode, but instead of A.I.-controlled enemies, you're taking on your friends, who control the enemies with standard controllers. It's a brilliant way to make a multiplayer Kinect game without cramming everyone into a small space and confusing the camera, and the lengths to which players can comfortably go to torment an out-of-breath friend makes this a must-play party game.