Electronic Theatre In-depth Review: Tao Feng: Fist of the Lotus

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baldy.JPG (1900 bytes)            Tao Feng: Fist of the Lotus has made its appearance on the Xbox, bringing with it the promise of revolutionising one-on-one beat-‘em-ups with a host of newly developed ideas, violent, well-developed characters and a wealth of environments to pound and interact with, all running on the Xbox’s meaty graphics processor.

            For those of you who’ve been in the know since the early days, Tao Feng will feel extremely comfortable and familiar. The title was lead by one John Tobias – a name that, for some, will install either instant glee or dismissal – Tobias was the co-creator of the original Mortal Kombat title, and has worked on several editions since, but it now seems his most fitting work, and what is often footnoted as the true next-generation Mortal Kombat instalment, remains to an elusive Xbox title which only seems to be able to attract the die-hard away from the gloriously glossy tag-battles of Dead or Alive 3.

            The first thing you’ll notice about the title is that, even without any sign of XboxLIVE! features, the multiplayer mode heads-up the Main Menu. This will be an obvious clue to any regular gamer that the multiplayer mode is where the game’s true depth lies, but first we’ll examine the options available in solo-play. There are two main features – Quest and Survival.  “Quest” is basically a story mode, which sees the character roster divided into two sects, the Pale Lotus and the Black Mantis. Each of the characters has to battle their way past the six opponents from the opposing sect in order to collect all six pieces of a talisman. Although, as a “Quest” mode – the newly flavoured alternative to the “Arcade Mode” found in most beat-‘em-ups – the game may seem limited with only six characters to work through for each of the twelve starting characters, but the difficulty curve throughout each character’s mission is incredibly steep, and you may be trying to beat the sixth opponent for two or three characters for some time.

            The “Survival” mode on offer is just that – the same and usual survival mode you see in any self-respecting beat-‘em-up these days. The health of your character is limited, and will not restore between fights as you try to vanquish as many opponents as possible from a randomly generated, progressively difficult roster.

            On to the multiplayer. As stated above, this mode initiates the Main Menu, and so leads me to believe that many great things lie in wait for the inevitable bouts of mate-butt-kicking. When beginning the first match, you will notice something about the mode – the lack of options. Of course, the usual handicap and stage selection are in there, but other than that there is very little variation. But why need there be? Why does everything have to be over-complicated? Tao Feng appears to strip back the barriers of today’s “five minutes of options just to fight” games and returns one-on-one beat-‘em-ups to its roots. Simple and addictive – the intricacy of detail within the fighting system more than makes up for any option-based shortcomings. I’ve been reluctant to tell you how the game actually plays until now because, to be honest, a fighting game as pure as this cannot be truly appreciated within the context of such a mediocre one-player. With two of the main buttons designated for kick and two for, you guessed it, punches, the combinations of attacks is seemingly standard at first, but even the most novice of beat-‘em-up players will be able to develop a decent three or four hit counter-combo with the first couple of fights. The R Trigger adds a nice bit of variation – the player has the ability to launch themselves from walls or swing from poles or trees grounding their opponent from mid-air, or being left vulnerable to a counter when an attack fails.

            Another nice variation on the fantasy-style of beat-‘em-up genre is the limitation on special moves. All those flashy looking fireballs and flying kicks you’ve gained a reputation for being able to pull off at the drop of a hat are no longer instantly within your grasp. Your character now has a “Chi Meter”, which gains power with every attack you manage to land. Once full, a press of the white button alone, or along with left or right on the D-pad will launch one of your Characters Chi attacks. Each character has three Chi moves, which allow for the Xbox to show off some of its lighting effects – especially on the rare occasions of two Chi moves colliding.

            The last of the intriguing new features the game features is the ability to weaken your opponents’ attacks. Both the legs and arms can be damaged – reducing the damage attacks with the specific limb cause by 50%. Any damaged limbs can be repaired as a secondary feature of the Chi Meter. This is a nice touch which, although offers some added depth, I feel could have been explored further.

            The graphics the title sports remain impressive after more than a year and a half of release. The battle-damage your character builds throughout your challenges appears much more detailed than that featured in Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, and the arenas in which you fight are large and varied, if at times a little bland, but all the environmental features and character animation is spot-on.

            The main complaint about the basic gameplay would have to be the camera. With all the aerial-acrobatics going on with the large and detailed character models, the camera often seems to find itself a little confused, leaning in one direction before spinning to the other leaving  you vulnerable to enemy attacks as you are caught unaware, prepared for the camera’s original plan.

            As a beat-‘em-up appearing exclusively on a system with an overabundance of average fighting-titles, Tao Feng had a lot to prove to rival Dead or Alive 3 and compete against the slightly more recent Soul Calibur II. With a complete package more akin to the likes of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat rather than Tekken or Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution, the title may not be enough for those who like to tweak a game to their exact specification. Those who are happy to play the game as it comes will find a very enjoyable multiplayer fighting experience, but I doubt it’ll be one that challenges the longevity of Soul Calibur II or the imposing force of online-play that’s on the horizon, Dead or Alive Ultimate.




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