Based on a WB Kids TV series, Xiaolin Showdown follows the adventures of four young monks-in-training. They are searching for mystical artifacts called Shen Gong Wu. Each character has a unique personality. The star of the series is Omi, a monk in training at the Xiaolin Temple, and is accompanied by a Brazilian circus star named Raimundo Pedrosa, a Japanese hacker Kimiko Tohomiko, and a rowdy cowboy from Texas called Clay Bailey. The Xiaolin Temple’s head monk has chosen these four to become the Xiaolin Dragons, and thus to go and secure the mystical Shen Gong Wu artifacts. This is all in a kid’s television show, and yet it is fairly interesting material.
The translation to a video game is a rough process, however. It loses a lot of it’s personalities and style, and in its place you get a bland action / fighting / platform game. Think Kung Fu Chaos meets Super Smash Bros, but with less fun and more button mashing.
I’m a fan of cell shaded graphics. I think they look great, especially when they’re done right. This game does a fair job of implementing the graphics into the game, as well as staying true to the source material. However, the graphics fall short in many other areas. One of the issues that jumps right out is camera problems. A lot of the time it feels too slow, and zooms out too far and you can’t follow your character well enough. It seems as if it’s trying to adapt itself to cooperative play, even if there is no one else playing. If you do load up into cooperative play, though, the camera problems are even more irritating and hard to control. It’s a battle against the camera, and one that should not have to be fought. To top off an annoying camera, the lack of any HUD makes tracking your status nearly impossible. Instead you’ve got to be on the look out for your character flashing various colors.
The game is very speedy, and this is in part why the graphics hurt. You cannot track your character well, mainly due to the camera, but also because your characters are fairly and low resolution once the camera zooms out. This problem becomes even more an issue when you load mini-games that have up to 5 people all jumping around in a small area. In addition, the load times are pretty bad. Though for loading a single arena it isn’t too bad, once you start going into secret rooms, or start a “Xiaolin Showdown,” you’ll be welcomed with another loading screen. For the simple arenas and maps, the loading times seem tedious for what you are getting.
There isn’t much to say about sound. There is a sprinkle of voice acting here and there, and it feels accurate enough. The use of voice doesn’t add anything to the game, but on the flip side you can’t say it hurts the game. I just wish they used the voice actors a bit more to spice up the game, as it stand it’s a fairly generic use of voice for a fairly generic game. The term “generic” can also be applied to the rest of the game sound, it’s far from anything that impresses you. The in-game sounds are fairly generic and boring, as well. It’s squarely on par with most other video games based on TV series or movies, and that isn’t saying much.
The controls allow you to easily pick up and play the game without much to learn. Attack button is X, and most of the time you mash on that button. You can mix in an occasional Y for good measure, but this doesn’t add much to the depth department. Now that you’ve learned combat, you can also use one of 3 Shen Gong Wu power ups to aid your quest for… collecting more Shen Gong Wu. As simple as a press of a button (which is B), and you unleash a powerful attack, defense, or any other wide range of abilities.
The targeting system is confusing. Actually, confusing is putting it lightly. On multiple occasions, I want to put my controller through the TV in frustration. My character would not attack the person who he was facing, or would try to attack someone on the entire other side of the map. After many hours of frustration, I finally was able to bend the targeting system to my will. This doesn’t excuse the bad implementation of the targeting system, however. It could, and should, be much more adaptive re into targeting things that you want to target – like the person carrying an objective, or the person you are facing when you attack, for example. Instead, you have to manually do all your targeting via the right analog stick. This is not much fun.
The game is fairly simple. You start by selecting your character and three Shen Gong Wu artifacts, which you can earn by playing or purchasing using coins you collect in various stages. Each level is structured more like an arena, with a few traps and unique quirks to watch out for. Environmental hazards such as saws, flames, and the crushing of elevators all pose a threat to your health, but they aren’t really that challenging to avoid. Enemies come in a few forms, getting more and more difficult to defeat as you continue the story. But as you continue, you also gain new power ups, abilities, and are able to chain more combos together. The melee battle is pretty fun, yet sometimes its a bit too simple, and you wish it were more deep. The more you play, the more tedious this becomes. It takes a few minutes for new “scroll pieces” to appear on the map, and all you end up doing is fighting a near unlimited supply of enemy units.
As outlined in the introduction, there is a fairly solid back story, with some firm characters and personalities. The story of their adventures are good material. However, the translation it made to a video game doesn’t work. The entire story is pretty much thrown out the window, however, except for the characters and the Shen Gong Wu. Even the characters’ special traits and quirks don’t translate well into the game, you just get different voices and appearance. The characters different traits and personalities? Nothing of the sort makes it into the game. The search for Shen Gong Wu? Sure, but Xiaolin Showdowns are a collection of badly designed mini-games more than anything. The story is going from arena to arena, collecting more and more Shen Gong Wu. You get various “bad guys” that show up and spout off some inane taunts, but there is no coherent plot.
The lack of any coherent story isn’t the only confusion. The entire game is a blend of cooperative and competitive gameplay. Normally, you’ll fight a variety of enemies with your teammates in an arena, trying to collect scroll pieces, find the Shen Gong Wu, and completing other various tasks. You can attack your “teammates”, but there is really no point. Yet, using Shen Gong Wu power ups on the true “enemies,” will generally hit your teammates as well. It works both ways, as you’ll constantly get hit or frozen by your so called teammates’ Shen Gong Wu attacks. You have to compete with your teammates as well, despite sharing a common goal, to collect power ups and coins around the map. Once you find a Shen Gong Wu artifact, then you must defeat your teammates in one of a variety of mini-games. So are they your friends or enemies? It’s hard to really know, but they’re an annoyance more often than not.
Despite these difficulties, the game is still incredibly easy. There is no way I’ve found to die, but you’ll find yourself knocked down or confused quite often. If anything, you’ll find yourself on your back or in a daze more often than not, usually in the process of trying to pull off combo moves. This makes the game well suited for younger players. The confusion of battle and difficulty tracking your character around will prove more difficult than defeating enemies. Some boss battles are a bit tricky, but this is mainly due to the time it takes to wear down their massive amount of Hit Points (that seem to regenerate).
The game features a cooperative mode for up to 4 players, except that cooperative mode is competitive half the time. Finding out when your supposed to be allies, and when your supposed to beat the crap out of each other, is just part of the game. If you want, however, you can always just beat the crap out of each other. That is always fun. There is a problem with co-op, though. You can only set it up outside of the game, in-game players cannot join or leave without starting a completely new game. To put it plainly, for a game that revolves around 4 players, this is a stunningly stupid decision.
Of course, the big issue is initial value. Is the game worth the $30 it’s asking for? In 95% of the cases, I’d say no. In fact, I don’t know who I would recommend this game to. It’s not that there is anything horrible about the game. There is a few places where the game is bad, a few places where it’s average, but overall there isn’t much good to say about the game. This game is easy to overlook, you’re not missing much by passing an opportunity to play it.
Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).