The gameplay doesn't do anything a thousand other identical games haven't done before, and the frustratingly repetitive level and mission designs further solidify Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as a mediocre effort, at best.
When Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was released in the US in 2000, the film could not have been called anything other than an unmitigated success. Wonderfully acted and beautifully directed, Ang Lee's Academy Award-winning film was equal parts martial arts action and fairy tale. It told the story of a mystical sword, known as the Green Destiny, and the characters surrounding it. The cast of characters included: Li Mu Bai, a Zen warrior and possessor of the sword; Shu Lien, his compatriot, love interest, and former lover of a fallen friend; and Jen, the young girl whose stifled, aristocratic upbringing has driven her toward a life of thievery and dishonor. More than two years after the movie's release, Ubisoft, in conjunction with developer Genki, has released Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for the PlayStation 2. The game is generally geared towards the ilk of beat-'em-up games--focusing heavily on combat and lightly on plot. Sadly, while a few decent concepts can be found within, ultimately, repetitive action and a horrid narrative design prevent Crouching Tiger from being anything more than another failed attempt at a movie-to-game translation.
As mentioned before, Crouching Tiger is, at its core, a beat-'em-up style of game where you'll be punching, kicking, and swordfighting your way through a bevy of enemies who all gang up on you at once. You'll also be involved in some duels against feature characters, like the insidious master thief, Jade Fox, and the infamous bandit (and Jen's former fling), Lo "Dark Cloud." Upon first inspection, the combat controls in the game actually seem rather counterintuitive. The four main controller buttons are used for strikes and weapon attacks, while the black and white buttons are used for running and grabbing, and the trigger buttons are used for jumping and combo blocking. Additionally, the left thumbstick button acts as your all-purpose "action button." It's kind of an awkward system, at first, but it's reasonably easy to get used to after a few rounds of combat.
None of the combat is especially innovative, except for one key feature: the combo blocking. The movie's fight sequences were complexly designed by famous fight choreographer Wo Ping Yuen, and in an attempt to mimic his uniquely designed fights, Genki has designed a complementary blocking system that lets you duck, dodge, and flip around enemy attacks by pressing the block button in conjunction with a flashing icon that appears near your life meter. The moves you can pull off are actually quite cool, but the problem with the system is that there's no real challenge to it. The rhythm and pacing of all the combo blocking is exactly the same, no matter who you're fighting against. All you have to do is figure out the right tempo for hitting the block button once, and that's pretty much all she wrote. Still, to Genki's credit, at least it's a cool idea.
Cool ideas aside, the rest of the game's combat elements are all pretty standard. Basic attacks, both strike and weapon-oriented, can be strung together into basic combos, and using the grab button allows you to perform some unique special moves by pressing character-specific button combinations while holding your foe. You can also bounce and fly around, like the characters in the movie. You can run up walls, jump up onto roof tops, and glide around in the air. Eventually, though, all of the action becomes extremely repetitive and stagnant, and, after your umpteenth fight against an onslaught of anonymous bad guys, you're just going to wish the game would end.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon omits much of the drama and plot from the movie, focusing largely on the most action-packed sections, with occasional CG cutscenes re-created from the movie just to keep the story going. Throughout the game, you'll play as Li Mu Bai, Shu Lien, and Jen. The story is told in sections for each character, with Jen being the first. Each section has five chapters; each chapter is, in effect, a sequence from the film. In some cases, a new sequence has been created specifically for the game. Once you have taken your character through all five chapters, you'll then re-start the story from the beginning, with a new character. The missions and objectives do change from character to character.
Despite this fact, however, you're still going to run into a whole lot of repetition in the game, and, with each new character section, you're likely to find yourself very frustrated with the fact that you've basically already done everything you'll be doing in the coming levels. In fact, some levels are straight-up repeats of previous missions in the game, only with marginally different objectives, and, obviously, a different character. One example is the famous bamboo tree-flying scene from the movie, which, here, has been turned into a somewhat awkward jump puzzle that you'll have to do with both Jen and Li Mu Bai in each's respective sections. Nothing is different about the level, except for the character switch and, in Li Mu Bai's section, a limited amount of time in which to complete the level. The game is rife with these types of situations, and it wears thin very quickly.