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Kings of Kung Fu OST (Review)

July 28, 2015 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook Kings of Kung Fu OST (Review)on Twitter

Ah, the kung fu flick. That amazing period in the 1970’s when a revolution in Chinese cinema barged its way into America. Over the decades it’s congealed in the global consciousness to also include funk, blaxsploitation and hip hop characteristics. It is from this muddled soup that several games have sipped their inspiration and one of the latest is Kings of Kung Fu. The setup is clever with Hollywood stuntman, Red Ronin (the game’s Sho’nuff stand-in), holding a fighting tournament amongst his fellow stuntfolk for a starring role. It’s a great conceit to bring lookalikes from the history of kung fu together in a one-on-one fighter. After the jump I’ll dig into the funkiest part of the game, it’s soundtrack.

The music is where the game exhibits its biggest funk and hip hop influences across 29 tracks composed by Jay Bowman who also created much of the game. Each of the fifteen environments has their own theme and while most are immediately recognizable on sight, the music doesn’t stick as close to the source material. Instead the soundtrack keeps a mostly consistent theme throughout with thick beats and heavy bass guitars over minimal melodies. Sometimes it’s a piano, sometimes a brooding funk guitar, and sometimes the traditional Chinese instrumentation of kung fu film scores.

The few deviations strive to more closely mimic the movie scenes that inspired them. “Factory” is the track that accompanies Red Ronin’s stage and it captures the feel of The Last Dragon theme without directly copying it. “Harlem 70’s” is one of the longer tracks and as the title implies it perfectly captures that 70’s funk feel with synth organs, horns and strings. The track “Shaolin Road” leverages the flute and sitar sounds that are synonymous with Asian film scores with more varied percussion than just bassy beats. But these are the outliers and overall the soundtrack remains bass-heavy with a more modern hip hop feel.

The biggest disappointment is that over half of the songs are less than thirty seconds long. As rounds in a fighting game can last seconds or minutes most of the music is simple loops and the soundtrack files only offer a single rotation. There isn’t much time to build and there isn’t much time to get into the groove when listening. Thanks to the consistent, bass-heavy themes, though, listening on random presents a steady experience fit for head-bopping or just playing in the background while working.

Ironically, some of the longer tracks are “Unreleased 1” and “Unreleased 5 Legends of Kung Fu”, both of which are obviously not featured during gameplay. These tracks have the same heavy bass sounds of the shorter loops but get more time to grow. “Unreleased 1” is a soulful piece with a great, simple piano melody that slowly builds and fades as a choppy string sample takes over the tune. “Unreleased 5 Legends of Kung Fu” builds much the same way but with long, drawn out horns instead of piano. It’s another simple melody but it makes for one of the more memorable tracks because it has the time to expand. Elsewhere, the track “Dragon” builds to its wobbly synth melody with sharp, discordant string accents and “Kumite’s” funk guitars noodle up to a nice synthesized string interlude.

I wish all the music could’ve had the same time to build like those last few tracks. An extended cut would be much more listenable with longer tracks but there’s a lot to like about the music that is here. I know it sounds odd but I really do recommend listening on random as the shorter loops flow pretty well into one another. As it is Kings of Kung Fu’s soundtrack is fitting for the modern kung fu style and is provided as DLC for $1.99 alongside the $9.99 full game on Steam. It’s worth pointing out that the full game is required in order to buy the soundtrack.

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