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KUNG FURY: STREET RAGE Review: A Call-Back to Cathode Rays

The 1980’s were certainly an odd time in the footnote of America’s pop-cultural history, a time where muscle-bound action heroes dominated the silver screens and kung-fu beat ’em ups dotted arcades across the nation. It was this world of testosterone-powered explosions and nigh-invincible bullet sponges that Laser Unicorns found their inspiration for Kung Fury, a Swedish take on this era of Americanized martial artistry and cops with an axe to grind and nothing else to lose that was successfully funded via Kickstarter.

Yet, it wasn’t just a film that called back to that era of grainy film reels that Laser Unicorns was able to finance. No, they even had a video game in the works being developed by developer Hello There AB, a video game that granted a nostalgic look back on those hallmarks of arcades across the nation: over-the-top side-scrolling action.  From the silver-screens of computer monitors around the world to the dreary haze of arcade screens replicated through those very same monitors, the world of Kung Fury: Street Rage is a world that hinges on one man with a pension for punching things in a variety of stylish ways standing alone against the tide of endless Nazis following the morally reprehensible rule of the vile Kung Führer.

The Story: Kung Fu Nazi Action

As a game that is itself a tie-in to the quintessentially 80s martial arts action flick that bears the Kung Fury brand name that revolves around a Miami cop that travels back in time to avenge the death of a friend at the hands of kung fu Hitler but instead gets sent back to viking times you’d be understandably concerned that it would be rather remiss in the story department and you’d be right.

“BEAT THE NAZIS TO STOP KUNG FÜHRER AND UPHOLD THE LAW!” Touts the Steam storefront blurb with all the effect of the capital lettering in tow and, in all honesty, that’s all the back story you’ll get for the game.

Source: store.steampowered.com

Source: store.steampowered.com

To be frank, though, what more justification do you need?

There is no morally complex characters deserving of a close and critical analysis of their motivations but rather the simple delight of ‘us v. them’. It’s just you and an endless horde of Nazis keeping you from your goal and it is up to you AND YOU ALONE to save the world from their evil ways and take vengeance for your fallen friend.

It’s certainly a callback to those beat ’em ups of old like Double Dragon or Golden Axe that played upon those common tales of love and vengeance respectively to give the protagonists a reason to the punch and/or hack through hordes of disaffected youths and axe-wielding goblins which certainly helps ingratiate that “it’s an 80s game” mentality.

It’s simple, it’s flashy, it’s not all that relevant, the story of Kung Fury: Street Rage follows what I would almost call the typical formula for the sort of arcade games of the 80s: there to draw you in so that the killer gameplay would keep you glued to that CRT monitor for the next couple of hours.

Though it might not exactly hold up in today’s modern age of complex story-telling and next-gen polygonal facials, Kung Fury: Street Rage wears that nostalgic 80s feel like a tacky orange 3-piece disco suit in that it’s there to remember the simpler times of gaming and there’s nothing wrong with that. Every once in a while we need that cheesy action movie to indulge those baser aspects of human taste.

The Gameplay: The Precision Button-Mashing

The story follows the gameplay in that traditionalist ‘arcade-style’ mindset. You’ve only got two buttons and two buttons alone to fight off the ranks of soldiers, agents, kung fu ninja chicks, and robots that have pledged their hearts and souls to the evil machinations of the evil Kung Führer: a left attack and a right attack.

Though it may seem easy, the game serves as an example of Bushnell’s law (i.e. the “simple to learn, hard to master” idea).

Gameplay is just the simple matter of pressing these corresponding directional attacks at the right time so that they may properly dispatch the enemy in a head-explodey, neck-snappy, or that old personal favorite of mine, fly high into the airy, manner. The only problem is, some foes can take more than one hit to finish off and some might even have the gall to dance around you like some sort of lethal ballerina.

Sure, it seems easy at first, kicking the faces off of screaming Nazis with the heel of your red Converse skater shoes, but the difficulty ramps up rather quickly with the rapid introductions of these aforementioned death ballerinas and Mr. I-work-out-so-it’s-gonna-take-two-hits-to-kill-me and it only gets worse from there.

There’s a surprising amount of precision that goes into Kung Fury: Street Rage, so much so that I would say it takes a bit of inspiration from the rhythm game genre. You miss the timing of a critical blow and your character will be all too happy to stand there gawk-eyed as Colonel Hans casually plucks off a heart much like I would casually pick off a mint from a nearby table and considering you’ve only got three hearts to waste in this Sisyphean endeavor, frustration will be a thing that you will know well.

Yet much like that Greco king of old who challenged the gods in his hubris and was punished for eternity in the afterlife, you will throw yourself against this endless wave of baddies set before you in the vain hope of topping the ever-growing online leaderboards right up there with the likes of ‘THOR’, ‘TRICERACOP’, and many other kung fu masters that have ascended to that echelons of coveted enlightenment through that slow and arduous trial.

While fun at first, the game’s idea of difficulty – throwing ever-increasing waves of baddies at you in the hope of slowly eroding away your precision and technique – grows tedious and infuriating rather quickly. Regardless, it certainly reflects that “quarter-grubbing” mentality of arcades of old: simple gameplay mechanics meant to entice the audience into a gradually escalating difficulty curve.

The Art-Style: These Cathode Rays are Hurting my Eyes…

As a game that was specifically designed with respect given to classical arcade screen design, Kung Fury: Street Rage gives a lot of respect to those Halcyon days of cathode rays and retro displays. You can even glimpse the edges of the screen if you manage to pry your eyes away from the unending swarm of Nazis.

For the most part, the environment consists of a single urbane alleyway set under the dreary glint of street lights with the towering American skyline looming in the background. It’s a telling scene of blues and grays playing upon the serene colors of the midnight sky with the occasional lit window to “lighten up the background” a bit.

As you perform your precise ballet of blood and broken teeth, you can often see movie cameos from the fittingly named Triceracop, Hackerbot, and the minigun-toting Barbarianna sort of just sitting there watching as their friend, the man you are playing, is overrun by a seemingly endless number of Nazis. I suppose they’re hedging bets on who can take down the most but when Colonel Hans caps me with a gun and I’m just supposed to sort of walk that off like nothing has happened, my suspension of disbelief takes yet another substantial hit.

Source: store.steampowered.com

Source: store.steampowered.com

Though it’s not like the ninja supermodels and skating computer cases had already had a hand in destroying whatever semblance of reality I might have gleaned from this world of dinosaur cops and barbarian heavy-weapons specialists.

Admittedly, it does fit that tone of 80’s hyperactive martial artistry and over-active testosterone glands which I suppose you could say  nicely with that classic Street Fighter vibe. Though a bit over-the-top at first, the panning scenery does its job emulating the Nazi-infested crime-ridden streets of New York without becoming too distracting for your fascist genocide fantasy.

Story: 3.5/5

  • Classic 80s game story of vengeance.
  • Very reliant on the movie tie-in
  • It’s pretty much just punching Nazis.
  • Seriously, that’s all there is.

Gameplay: 3.5/5

  • Frenetic yet precise.
  • Simple mechanics gives way to blood-boiling fury.
  • Look up a guy named ‘Sisyphus’…
  • Though exciting, can get rather tedious after a while.

The Art-Style: 4/5

  • Obviously a lot of effort going into emulating that classic “80s arcade” experience.
  • Very dedicated to that ‘urbane street-brawler’ sort of vibe.
  • Though pretty to look at, it doesn’t get in the way of your mass Nazi murdering spree.

Overall: 3.5/4

As far as beat-em-ups go, Kung Fury: Street Rage gives a unique mix of precision timing and rhythm mechanics that revolve around punching the enemies at the right moment. To be entirely frank, though, the game lacks that all-important replayability that you’d find in other titles within the genre like the aforementioned Double Dragon and Golden Axe, expect to give this small indie movie-tie in a good two hours of play before things start getting a bit repetitive.

For $2.00, though, I suppose I shouldn’t be asking for sweeping character arcs with multiple stages of personal development spanning across a wide array of areas. Whatever the case, the game is fun while it lasts with what engagement and interest you may have quickly fading away like the transient flavor of a Juicy Fruit.

3.5 out of 5 stars

3.5 out of 5 stars

 

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Categories: Video Game Reviews

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