Martial arts are such a dividing topic. Is it for offense or defense? Should it involve grappling, kicking, and punching? Should it simply defeat your opponent, handicap him, or even kill him? One reason we all know martial arts is because of the movies, especially those from Hong Kong. With the Peking Opera’s style ending up in film, we had a few decent classics, but they were a niche market. Then came the legend, the Little Dragon, Lee Jun Fan, or as we westerners know him, Bruce Lee. Bruce’s films not only showcased the philosophy behind his creation, Jeet Kune Do (a martial art whose core philosophy is to learn from many different arts and create something suited for you), they also brought the Asian martial arts film genre into more contemporary settings instead of the period pieces. Lee’s influence would lead to more international stars, like Jackie Chan and Jet Li. And all three have had video games based on them. While both Jackie and Bruce have had over 20 games together of various quality, Jet Li only has one. And… it’s a unique one.
Rise to Honoron for PlayStation 2 follows the trends of a lot of the Wushu master’s more recent films, set in a contemporary setting involving lots of triads, American urban environments, and stunts that would be impossible if not for the use of wires. Yes, Wire Fu in a video game that doesn’t have the word “Matrix” preceding it.
The storyline follows an undercover Hong Kong cop named Kit Yun (Jet Li) as he works as a bodyguard to the father of his childhood friend Michelle. When the boss is killed, Kit quits both his position in the gang and his job as a cop in order to honor the man’s final wish: take an envelope with information on the gangs to his daughter. So, in a story that goes from Hong Kong to San Francisco and back again, Kit must fight to follow his own path of honor.
The game’s key selling point is the voice acting, likeness and motion capture work of Jet Li. The story is honestly just painfully average. I’ve never seen a story that literally was just nothing but set-up for fight scenes. The only reason you’d want both is because you can play the fight scenes. The graphics are impressive for the PS2, with the character model of Kit Yun looking perfectly like Jet Li. And the animation on the fighting is a perfect representation of Wushu in action. There’s also some great cinematography during the various levels. Sound-wise, the music is average, and the voice acting seems incredibly bored and phoned in. Then again, we’re not here for the talking.
So, how does it play? It’s a mixed bag. The controls are interesting. The face buttons are not used. Only the shoulder buttons and the analogue sticks. The shoulder buttons are used for context based moves like jumping or picking up things, even blocking. The left stick moves you, the right is used to attack. Yes, this is one of those two games that used the right stick to allow you to attack in all directions. This allows you to string together combos in 360 degrees. The game also has two other types of gameplay: chase sequences (this is trial-and-error and irritating), and gun battles (which makes no sense, since Li isn’t known for leaping through the air in slow motion with two guns firing). That’s it. Wash, rinse, repeat.
While the analogue stick combat is innovative, there’s no upgrading. No, I’m not kidding. You finish the game with the same move set you start with. And you can’t expand your health or adrenaline meter (which lets you counter and unleash super combos). And that’s not the biggest problem this game has. The difficulty is all over the place. Some sections are so easy you feel like a martial arts master. Then the next level, you’re getting your ass kicked so bad it’s embarrassing. The fluctuating difficulty, which can change in the same level at times, is one of the biggest faults this game has going for it. This is a game for the truly patient and calm.
Unlockables include behind the scenes videos, and two skins for the main character based on Li’s looks in Once Upon a Time in China and Fist of Legend. While this game is one I’ll always put in for a fun time, it’s still an acquired taste. If you find it, be warned, you may lose your mind when that one boss kicks your rear eight times.