Sometimes games look like a super cool idea when you’re young. Robots, dragons, space aliens! They’re all so weird and fun, any game featuring them must be amazing! To me the same thing went for ninjas. Black belt karate champions that were swift, stealthy, and strong. And if the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles taught me anything growing up, it’s that anthropomorphic animals made the best ninjas.
Which brings us to T’ai Fu: Wrath of the Tiger. A Playstation game many of you likely never even heard of, but one that I was intrigued by the moment I saw it on the shelf to rent in my hometown. Sadly, we didn’t have a PS1 at the time, so I was instead relegated to playing games like Donkey Kong 64 and the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. I know, poor me. But jump ahead to like, 2012 and I finally picked up the game used and on the cheap. Jump ahead again and it’s 2022 and I finally popped the game in to play, a full 23 years after release!
For the uninitiated, T’ai Fu is an action game that has you taking control of the titular T’ai, a tiger gifted with the skills of ninjutsu. He is on a quest to learn all the secret arts of the kung fu masters in the area, which in so doing grants T’ai additional powers and abilities. These abilities can be used for combat and for platforming, which is great in idea but not handled well in execution (the PS1 and platforming is super hit or miss). Learning new moves, battling foes, navigating perilous platforms, and becoming the most badass ninja tiger around is the name of the game!
T’ai Fu looks visually impressive for a PS1 game. The locales you’ll visit are bright and colorful, and fairly detailed. A finicky camera makes navigating these areas less than ideal, but it can be forgiven easily enough. The combat, which is the main thing you’ll be engaging in, has some depth to it, but does get stale quickly. Action games have evolved a lot since the original Playstation, and the slowness you’ll experience here is less than ideal. Equally dated are the platforming elements: they aren’t bad, and for the time they are average in my opinion, but combining with the poor camera angles and general blockiness of the PS1 leave a bit to be desired.
Worth noting, the voice actor for T’ai is John DiMaggio, who has provided the voice for a ton of famous characters (Jake from Adventuretime and Bender from Futurama are my favorites). It was a bit of a surprise to first hear his voice here, as I had no idea he was in it. While we’re on the topic of sound and voice acting, there are a lot of unique lines here that are delivered well. A few other notable voices are present too, making T’ai Fu: Wrath of the Tiger an impressive sounding game.
So why didn’t we hear a lot about T’ai Fu and why isn’t it talked about today? Well… it’s kinda just okay.
Production values were high. The developer, DreamWorks Interactive, had a few quality games under their belt, including Skullmonkeys, BoomBots, and Jurassic Park: Warpath to name a few. You can see the quality in the design and sound, however that didn’t really help the actual gameplay. I found it kind of bland and not all that fun. After a couple hours at most, the game was more a chore than anything. I found myself wanting to play more just to hear John DiMaggio’s voice, and not to really experience the story or gain new moves and abilities.
So what we were left with is a game that looked cool but just didn’t play well. It also didn’t help that other major games released around the majorly overshadowed this one: Silent Hill, Super Smash Bros., and a little game called Final Fantasy VIII were all released around the same time and completely dominated gamer’s minds.
After 22 years I’m still happy to say I lived out little Jason’s dream to play this game. It wasn’t nearly as good as I had hoped, but I do still think I would have loved it had I played it back in 1999. Playing games decades after release showcases the flaws so easily. With that in mind, and trying to keep an eye for what would have been top quality back then, I think T’ai Fu would have just been a “meh” game. And even now as a nostalgic retro game, I can definitively give it a solid “meh” rating.