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Reviewed: Tao Feng: Fist of the Lotus
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: June 24th, 2003
Page: 2

The Good

Tao Feng comes out of the box looking REALLY good -- visually and from the screenshots and claims on the back of the box, this is an awesome fighter.

So, first off, here's the good parts: the game, visually, is impressive. That is to say, clothing is well done, and visual damage to characters is well done. Limb damage is present, but I'll cover that later. For those who have to see them, every one of the female fighters is dressed in almost nothing and has large, bouncing portions of female anatomy, which is a bit annoying to tell the truth; a few normal females would do wonders for some of these games, but the fighters in this particular release could all pass for Barbie dolls. There's also very little music, but the sounds inside the game and the taunts are quite nice.

The fighting system does have a modicum of depth. Note that I say a modicum; it's fine for a while, after you memorize your favorite character, but then it slips and falls short.

Gone are flashy hyper-cheese combos... er, sort of. Gone are combos that, in three button presses, can do 25-30 hits and 75% of a life bar.

The control system, or at least the basic buttons, are quite intuitive: one for each punch, one for each kick, one for Chi, one Taunt, one for environmental attacks, and one to grab-counter. One might wish that the grab-counter were also a block button, however, given the nature of (impossible) blocking in the game.

The Bad

The downside? Unfortunately for most gamers, Tao Feng is going to quickly reveal where it goes wrong. The problem, in part, is that it has too much to live up to, and too much to compete with, but there it is.

Remember the fighting system? One of the claims on the box is that every fighter has over 100 unique moves. While theoretically this might be so, the move list of each character actually boils down to a set of long-string combos (a la Tekken or Virtua Fighter 4) that can theoretically be stopped at any point. This is where John Tobias' first mistake came in; with the power of the Xbox, he could have made an intuitive, free-flowing combo system like we have seen in the Soul Calibur series. Instead, the focus of the game is on memorizing attack strings. Step outside the strings, and combat begins to appear stuttering and jerky, almost to the tune of the deservedly-maligned X-Men:Mutant Academy fighting game series, because ending a combo of even one hit results in serious cooldown time before another attack can be thrown.

Also problematic is the blocking and dodging system. First, John Tobias put in an anti-turtling system; block too often, and your character suffers limb damage. Too much limb damage, and your punches or kicks (depending on where the damage is) will be at 50% power.

This could be a good thing -- but not in a game where the primary function is to block someone's combo, wait for them to finish, and then counterattack in hopes you an slip past their block. It's very Tekken-ish, and not in any good way. 

Limb damage also isn't quite what it implies. Rather than taking a limb out of action, it simply lowers the power of attacks for both arms or both legs. Moving it around a bit -- perhaps cutting 90% off of the singular limb -- would have been better.

Dodging? While ostensibly it is in the system, don't expect to use it. Your character does not maintain lock on the other character when sidestepping; a character attacking in combo, meanwhile, will follow you around. Unless you're able to sidestep in circles around the entire combo, this is useless in the engine. I also noted that in the training mode, the computer couldn't even get its own demos of blocking and dodging to work half the time, which isn't a good recommendation for players being able to block incoming attacks in actual gameplay.

And then there's the ultimate problem; combos that do massive damage in 3-4 buttons are gone, but long-string combos that do 50% or more life remain. And, just as in other games, once one hit of a combo connects, the rest will automatically do so. There's no way to reassert block, no way to dodge, you just have to sit there and take it.

About the 80th or 90th time Geist or Vapor go into their "jumping in, low kick, 10 more hits" combo from the computer AI, you start to get the picture. Block it, and you take limb damage. Sidestep, and it follows you. Counterattack, and you are hit anyways. 

So what is the MO of this game? Throw long combo or cheesy attack. Block. Rinse, repeat. Chi attacks are unblockables, but they are nothing more than toned-down super attacks, and so they mean little to the game beyond their propensity for use as ways to start yet another 10-hit massive damage combo string. The really bad part about this is the fact that very few of the attack strings are intuitive; the way to learn the game is to sit down and memorize, memorize, memorize from an internet cheat sheet or from the manual, and then go in and pray that you can get the one-hit drop on the computer or your opponent that allows you to start off your massive-damage combo.

The Ugly 

Would I recommend buying it? Perhaps. There are players out there who like this style of gameplay, or Tekken would never have survived. It is visually gorgeous, and the first few times playing it (before I reached a character that started relying on cheesy strings) I had a bit of fun.

I'd recommend renting it, to find out if you're one of them or not. Don't expect something completely overwhelming and brilliant - it's just John Tobias' vision.

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Added:  Tuesday, June 24, 2003
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 2/3

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