It seems like there’s been a flood of retro-themed entertainment the last few years with remakes or reimaginings of licensed properties making their way to theaters. Especially prevalent is a callback to the 70s and 80s action scene. The developers of Lady Shotgun Games (some of them former Eidos devs) have released their first iOS title, Buddha Finger, which puts its own spin on the kung fu genre. Playing on all of the cliches of the classics, this title challenges players’ speed and dexterity through a series of finger exercises. There’s no Five Point Palm Exploding Heart technique, but Buddha Finger provides players with a fun – and occasionally funny – gaming experience… at least for awhile.
Without giving away too much of the story, players take on the role of a wannabe American ninja whose journey takes him from the Hollywood stage to the seedy underbelly of Hong Kong. Along the way, the story is pushed forward with the sprinkling of revenge, justice, and surprise twists that one would expect from a cheesy martial arts movie. The character art that’s used isn’t going to win any awards for ‘wow-factor’, but the hand-drawn nature lends itself to the feel of a B-movie in video game form. The music riffs also sound like they’re lifted from decades-old action flicks and only further drive that sensation home. It’s an enjoyable homage to a style many movie-goers grew up with 30, 40, or 50 years ago.
No kung fu movie would be complete without fight scenes and that’s the crux of Buddha Finger. Through the training of a martial arts master, players are introduced to new ‘fighting’ techniques throughout the game. Enemies appear on-screen one at a time, and numbered attack points are presented that must be tackled in a particular style and order. Training begins with simple button taps, but graduates to rapid button taps on one spot, sliding from point-to-point-to-point, rotating a finger in a specified direction, and so on. This isn’t a rhythm-based game like Elite Beat Agents, though the controls are similar. Instead there’s a running timer for the player to race against. Complete a few sequences and the foe is dispatched. Players are rewarded with higher scores for quickly and accurately knocking out the attack sequences. The developers seemed to exhaust all of the possibilities inherent in touchscreen control, and the variety of these attack types is appreciated.
Also to its credit, the first half of Buddha Finger is paced wonderfully. The story, full of martial arts movie cliches, advances at a moderate speed. Players are introduced to new attacks just after they’ve been able to get a handle on the previous technique. The developers even mixed in boss battles and some rather unique challenges that use the same abilities. A number of those challenges were used to great comedic effect, but I’ll keep them a surprise.
Unfortunately the second half of the game goes on for a bit too long. Enemies, artwork, and music are reused to the point that they begin to get tiresome. More often than not there’s no story advancement in between levels other than a flimsy explanation for how the protagonist has run into yet another group of baddies. The formula probably works better for people who are only playing the game in short bursts rather than extended sessions. Hardcore gamers shouldn’t have to police themselves, though, in order to ensure a fun, fresh experience from start to finish. Also an issue is the reuse of the bosses. I understand that it’s a common trope for this kind of story to have a defeated enemy make a surprise return, but when all of them come back it loses most of the impact. It’s a little disappointing, but that feeling stems mostly from the fact that the first half of the game had set a pretty high bar.
The padding towards the end of the game is the most glaring issue, but it’s not the only one. The attack technique that requires players to rotate a wheel can be difficult to succeed at, particularly when it’s just one attack in a fast-paced sequence. With a little practice it’s not as big an issue, but towards the end of the game it became habit for me to use a special ability to clear the attacks. It was either that or frustrate myself with sequences that included more than one rotation. There are also attacks introduced later in the game that can require up to four points to be simultaneously tapped. This means all but the most double-jointed of players are going to need to use two hands to succeed. Ergo, the ability to lay the iPad down on a surface is almost required. A minor gripe for sure, but something to consider for the gamer on the go.
Buddha Finger has two great things going for it. First, it plays on a genre and archetypes we all know and many of us enjoy. Second, it’s also simplistic, but varied in its controls. The game’s concept is stretched in creative ways in terms of how the player uses the touchscreen to attack. While the writing is spread too thin in the latter half of the game, that only takes a bit of the shine off of what is otherwise a title that should appeal to a wide, casual gaming audience. A complete playthrough is likely to take most players 2-3 hours in total. For everybody looking to wing chun or wang chung tonight, Buddha Finger is currently available in the AppStore.
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