I’m not sure what started the whole stick figure craze, but I do know that some of the most prolific stick figure videos I’ve seen have come from the Xiao Xiao collection, a series of kung fu stick figure Flash movies made in 2002. I believe a couple of them were interactive, but to me the interactive ones didn’t really keep the feel of the series. Now Clickgamer has released Stick-Fu to the iPhone, and I think we finally have our interactive spiritual successor to the Xiao Xiao series. While a couple of things keep this from being the cream of the crop, it’s none the less a fun romp that does that concept of stick figure gaming much justice.
While the game doesn’t really delve into any sort of plot, your basic objective is to clear the streets of all the stick-thugs. There are five different areas in the game, and you’ll keep visiting these areas (with harder bullies each time, of course) until you can’t take it any more. The game plays out like Double Dragon, where you have a few thugs to defeat, then you move on to a few more thugs, and then you have the boss for the level. A was a bit disappointed in the length of the levels, especially earlier on. It seemed like the first few levels only had four or five bad guys before the boss. There’s also not really any variation in the bad guys themselves. The different colors represent different toughness in the enemies, but their fighting style is all the same. It was also kind of a shame that there were really only five different levels that were repeated ad infinitum. I suppose if that’s the only way they could have a ton of levels it’s better than nothing, but I’d love to see a few more unique levels.
On the other hand, I love the simplicity of the game play. You have buttons to move your character left and right, and double tapping those buttons causes your character to do a dodge flip in the respective direction. Another button allows you to fight, which is a simple matter of punching and kicking the villains, though you have no control over what specific move comes at what time. As you wail on the enemy you build up a combo meter, and when it’s full you can unleash the randomly selected combo you’ve been given. I wish that this could be chosen by the user (even if it meant having to unlock each combo first during game play), but the combos are cool none the less. Combos range from twirling a staff to slamming the ground to activate a row of deadly spikes, and of course there’s the classic Matrix style jump that you can execute. You can even execute finishing moves on enemies that have fallen but “aren’t quite dead yet”, though I haven’t been able to quite figure out what triggers those.
After each level you are given 5 skill points that you can distribute among 3 skills – power, defense and HP. I wish I could give you some magical wisdom on what’s best to build up when, but it seems like no matter what combination of skills I pick I can only make it to level 9. The worst part is that when you finally lose you’re presented with the option to Avenge or Quit. Now to me, the Avenge option implies that I get to continue where I left off. Unfortunately, that isn’t so. When you select Avenge you start back at level 1 with none of the skill points you’ve earned over the course of play. I really wish there were some kind of “adventure” mode where you could actually save your game, and where there was a finite conclusion much like the classics like Double Dragon and Streets Of Rage.
My main gripe with Stick-Fu is the controls. They are simple enough, but they don’t always seem responsive to me. The problem is, I’m not really sure if the controls are at fault or if it’s me. On some levels they seem fine, and on other it just seems like half my requests get dropped. I suppose it could also be the fact that this is a lot more action oriented than most games I’ve played on my iPod, and I’m not really used to repeated “button mashing”. I can see why people have been so skeptical about action games on the iPhone after spending some time with this one.
I love the visuals in Stick-Fu. Each level has a unique feel to it, whether you’re visiting the cemetery with its inscribed tombstones, the graffiti sprawled walls of the ghetto, or the toxic barrel littered dump. The highlight of the visuals is the stick figures themselves, however. They appear out of what look like pools of ink in the air, and when either the enemies or you are killed the bodies dissolve into a bunch of little particles. The effect is pretty cool. The characters themselves are extremely well animated, and while I’m not much for blood spattering fighting games, the effect in Stick-Fu is actually pretty neat. The combos also look really slick when executed.
During combat the sound effects are pretty standard fare, but when your character executes a special kill the sounds are something worth hearing. I especially like when your character makes a “yea-hah” type exclamation during one finishing move. They did a good job with the music as well. The style is not really my cup of tea, but it fits quite well with the atmosphere of the game.
Ever since fighting games became more one-on-one slugfests like Mortal Kombat rather than the side scrolling beat-em-ups like Double Dragon I really started to lose interest in the concept. It’s nice to see some people trying to revitalize the “old style” of fighting game. I think the game would be a bit easier to play with some “physical” controls, and a story mode with definitive goals would be wonderful, but for what it is Stick-Fu delivers fast, furious fun with cool combos and awesome finishing moves. Stick-Fu is proof that you don’t need big, burly characters that can “crush you like a bug” to have an exciting fighting game.