Sunday, May 9, 2010

XBLA Review - Invincible Tiger

I'm a huge fan of cheesy entertainment when it's done right. For example, Nathan Fillion in Dr. Horrible and Castle. Don't get me wrong, he's a great actor. But he plays the hero with the big ego like it was his calling. Another example would be the old and horribly cheesy martial arts films. The plots and acting are so bad you can't HELP but love them. I'm also a pretty large fan of beating things up in video games, from the one-on-one competitive fighter to the arcade-style beat-'em-up that has you and a few friends smacking an endless supply of henchmen and their bosses. So, when Invincible Tiger: The Legend of Han Tao was announced and released, I was intrigued. A game that combined kung-fu flicks with brainless button-mashing sounded like something up my alley and, eventually, I caved in and purchased it. What I got was something a little different and definitely not prepared for.

Invincible Tiger is a side-scrolling beat-em-up that's a little different from the Final Fights and Double Dragons we know and wasted our quarters on. Instead of moving forward and back, our hero finds himself leaping, swinging, or just walking through a door onto quite a few platforms across five different stages and one bonus stage (the credits). The goal is pretty simple: beat the tar out of a bunch of the evil Overlord's minions before they do the same to you. Clear enough waves of enemies and you'll find yourself facing off against that stage's boss. There are a few little things such as a high/low/counter defense system, a meter that can be filled by your offensive and defensive actions and emptied to regain health or power you up, and a score multiplier that's affected by how well you're doing, but for the most part you'll be mashing the X and Y buttons to hit hundreds of opponents and trying to move and jump to get away from them.

The style of Invincible Tiger is a clear tribute to the great kung-fu films of yester-year. From the blatent things like the Engrish narration and the excellent 70's soundtrack to the little touches like the vertical film lines and bad sound quality of the cutscenes, everything is an homage to the days of Kung Fu and Enter the Dragon. The look of the game itself, sadly, doesn't feel as detailed and fresh as the overall style. You'll find yourself fighting the same few bad guys and pallette-swapped ninjas throughout the entire game, and while the backdrops are pretty cool looking and somewhat interactive they really don't make the endless horde of ninjas and mercenaries look any more original. It's difficult to find too much fault in this when it's a problem with most beat-em-ups, but you also have to consider that the excellent Castle Crashers had a nice little theme to each stage, including the (later playable) enemies. Also, some stages feel like they zoom out a hair too far, making the little details such as where your opponent is going to hit you difficult to see. Otherwise, the game looks silky smooth while playing. The sound effects, though repetitive, never failed to make me smile. This must be the fighting game fan in me, but I loved hearing every smack, thud, and "WAAAAAAH" the game threw at me, in addition to the previously mentioned awesome soundtrack.

It's also worth mentioning that the game is playable IN THREEEEE-DEEEEEEEEE. The effect isn't the greatest with the red/cyan glasses method, sadly, and gave me a bit of a headache. It reminded me a bit of the worst parts of the Virtual Boy. The great look of the game suffered when viewed through cellophane, some things just didn't jump out some times, and when it came down to it the game just didn't feel like it gained anything with the experience. The deal breaker with it was that the main method of seeing how to dodge was by a flash of either yellow or blue near your opponent's attack. That doesn't translate well when one eye sees everything in red and the other has a tint of blue, making light colors like white, yellow or light blue (the latter two being the attack colors) have a purple-ish tint to it. So, afer getting hit with a few too many attacks due to not being able to discern whether they were high or low, the glasses came off for the rest of the game.

The controls have both a simplicity and a complexity to them that can be appreciated. X and Y are two different attacks and, when done at different parts of an attack string, do different things. Hitting XXY, for example, moves you far forward with your string of hits, whereas hitting XYY moves you nowhere but does a jump kick at the end that hits on both sides of you. For the most part, you'll be relentlessly smacking those two buttons like they owe you money, but some situations react to certain attacks better and some enemies can even be defeated quicker via one specific string. Investing a little time into knowing these definitely helps, but button-mashing still results in some cool-looking combos. On the movement front, your left stick does the movement while your right stick handles your evasions of jump, duck, roll left and roll right. You're also able to meditate and activate a powered-up mode with the LB and LT, interact with the stage with the B button, and finally jump with A, but dang if I didn't keep hitting the RB and RT for things. After a short amount of time, you'll probably get the controls down, but with any game that mastery won't come for a little while and you will find some frustrating moments of jumping in place when you mean to enter a door or, even worse, activating Hyperstate when you really just wanted to heal up with that meter you just wasted.

When I first started playing the game, I thought I was in for a fun and somewhat easy button masher that wouldn't take too long to complete. What I got was a pretty difficult game. I was close to reviewing the game without finishing it after three failed attempts at completing the second level with each attempt taking roughly 20-30 minutes, two failed attempts at the fourth level set me back a full 90 minutes, and a half hour was gone to dying too many times on the fifth and final level. Essentially, I spent more time failing than I did succeeding, and it got dangerously frustrating. This wouldn't have gotten on my nerves quite as much if it weren't for the fact that playing back through some levels took so long in addition to being a little too mindless for said long durations. And, to add some icing to that cake, I had to run away and heal myself a lot, which took a bit of time as well. On the bonus/credits stage, this can take up to two minutes to heal little by little while you're running back and forth on the stage avoiding the tubby mercenary. It felt like it extended the playtime in a way that wasn't fun in the slightest.

All that said, though, I did feel like I accomplished something by the end of the game, and I did have quite a bit of fun (though I yelled a LOT at the TV). As far as beat-em-ups go, this is probably one of the most difficult ones I've played. With a time trial and endurance mode to mess with afterward in addition to being able to play with a friend cooperatively in each of those modes, it's also one with a good amount of replay value. The demo is a little misleading in how difficult the game is, as I feel like I blasted through the demo but had 90 minutes of controller-throwing trouble on the very next stage. As decent of a title as this is, with a 1200 MS Point price tag it's difficult to recommend to everyone, especially if you're the type that gets frustrated easily or likes brawlers a little more on the simple side. Final Fight, Castle Crashers, or even the Streets of Rage or TMNT games would probably suit you better. If you're hardcore into the genre, though, I'd definitely recommend taking on the demo for a few rounds to check if it's a fight you want to see through to the end.

Invincible Tiger: The Legend of Han Tao is available on XBox Live for 1200 MS Points. Played the game through on story mode, beat the credits, and got a headache for a good portion of the evening from the unimpressive 3D mode. Also have a huge desire to bust out some old Bruce Lee films, but with none in the apartment I might have to settle for Chow Yun Fat.


  1. Hey there, just wanted to say I enjoyed reading your review. It reads pretty fair to me and its useful to get feedback on how we can do things better next time.

    all the best!

  2. yes a good and thorough review, but you forgot to mention how great the animation was!