Kung Fu was one of the first 18 games released on the NES, and a cornerstone of the ACTION SERIES. Unlike the ADVENTURE SERIES which promised more ADVENTURE, the ACTION was the focal point of this game, ported from Irem's 1984 arcade game Kung-Fu Master. Also known as Spartan X (for our Japanese readers), it should be noted that this game is based on two movies: Jackie Chan's Wheels on Meals, and Bruce Lee's Game of Death.
Plot Thomas' girlfriend Syliva has been kidnapped by Mr. X. Thomas must fight his way through five ACTION-packed stages to get her back.
What It Does Well
This game is considered to be one of the first beat 'em up games, and it is simplistic in its delivery. The player has two offensive choices: punch and kick. They can also jump and duck, paired with the attack buttons will provide a different gesture, such as a jump kick or a low punch. This was actually quite refreshing as so many other games give you a ton of moves to remember or button combinations to pull off a wicked move. Not here; punch that guy, kick another. Advance.
Choosing to punch or kick will actually change things a bit. Some enemies are more susceptible to one or the other, and there is a scoring difference between the two. A kick death will yield you 100 points while a takedown via punch lands you a cool 200 on the most common enemy, and increased totals for the other guys. Of course, your reach with a punch is not the same as the range you'll get from a long leg. Points vs. Safety: the eternal struggle. Bonus Points are awarded for the amount of time remaining should you complete a level, too. You'll want to rack up those points early as you are awarded an extra life at the 50,000 point mark. Traveling through the Devil's Temple will be a treacherous road, and you'll need all the help you can get.
Each floor has different types of enemies; the Gripper is seen on all floors and will simply grab you, draining your life. A Knife Thrower will shockingly throw knives at you, while the leprechaun-esque Tom Tom is too short for anything other than a ducking attack (though he will somersault at your face). They start you off slow with just a few enemies of differing abilities, but it does pick up a bit and you need to quickly think how you're going to successfully dispatch a crowd. (Don't get me started on the exploding Confetti Balls and seemingly invincible snakes.. At least not in this section..)
If you manage to fight your way through the foot soldiers, you have a Boss to fight at the end of the stage, exclusive to each baord. The Stick Fighter at the end of the first floor doesn't pose much of a threat, and the Level 2 Boomerang Fighter probably won't make you rip your hair out either. The same can't be said of later Bosses. If you actually manage to make it through the 5th Level, the game will reset (with your score intact), and you have a chance to continue playing on for the highest score possible.
The game is pick-up-and-play for one or two players alternating, and experienced players can dive into Game B mode, bringing out the tough guys right off the bat. So many games nowadays don't allow you to just hop right in for a few minutes and come back to reality, but Kung Fu can have you cleanly in and out in less than 10 minutes, unless you're Billy Mitchell or the best Kung Fu player ever.
What It Doesn't Do Well
The difficulty of this game hasn't been portrayed just yet. While it sounds simple, this game can be..brutal. I don't even remember clearing the 3rd Level as a kid, and I had to struggle past it in this recent run. I'd always go over to Joe Capella's house, and we'd be so excited to clear the 2nd stage. The Giant, who sits at the end of Level 3 can knock half of your health bar away with a single attack (and his kick reach is RIDICULOUS). It took a few tries, but I finally found a good approach.
That put me through to Level 4, where I had to make my way past some poisonous moths before coming face-to-face with the Black Magician. If you hit his head, it falls off, and he reappears a foot or so back, and you're frozen in place for some reason (I guess he IS a wizard..). Most of the enemies telegraph their moves (even slightly), but you have to pretty much guess if he's going to throw high at your face or a "snakeball" at your feet. At either point, it is too late to change what you've committed to, losing precious life.
Mr. X was actually kind of disappointing. He was a lot easier than I thought he would've been (though I'm not really complaining taking into account my earlier struggles), but I don't think I've lost to him yet. I've fallen on the 5th stage, sure, but each time I've made it to him, I've advanced. I'd expect him to be a little more difficult considering how infuriating the Giant and Black Magician were.
So, you've beaten Mr. X, ready for an awesome end screen. You get it, for a few seconds, and then Sylvia is magically kidnapped again. Oh, women.. Is there a true end to this game? Do you just fight cycle after cycle for eternity? Apparently, after clearing the game 50 TIMES, you'll receive the best ending. Oh, boy.. There is no way to save, and as far as I know no way to get another extra guy after your initial 50,000 point offering. Good luck with that..
And besides all of that, the game is pretty monotonous. "Rescue girlfriend -- hit people," some say, and that isn't too far from the truth. Knowing that this game released at a $50 price point so many years ago makes one shudder, and fans bred on today's games probably would have a rough time ponying up even $5 for a virtual release.
While it was nice to play a simplistic game so obvious in tone and control, it is not a game that is going to hold your attention forever. Even simple shooters or other action games, such as Life Force or Contra (two games I am a HUGE fan of) are somewhat similar ("Save galaxy -- shoot things"), they offer much better bang for your buck. Maybe this game could've benefited from a Power Up or something similar? I suppose so, but then it wouldn't really be this game, it'd be a totally different title. So many people want to change games or wish they had X or Y features, but that changes the entire deal. I accept that, and others should, too. Maybe having an NES in my youth helped me with this line of thinking? Perhaps.
Should you give it a shot? Eh, you can probably do without it. This game is going to appeal most to people who grew up with these types of game, or even played this very game so many years ago. I can't see a brand new player having this thrust in their face and them doing backflips over it. I did force Mrs_Mustache to play this game as Player 2, and it was kinda fun to figure out new techniques with each other for the Bosses. I vicariously played through her while I was resting from the icy cold touch of death, and I felt her every pain with each hit. Seeing her clear a board was rewarding though, and at one point she managed to beat the Giant without getting hit once. Most impressive!
Even though this released on the NES so many years ago, it isn't available on the Virtual Console. If this type of gameplay somehow sounds exciting to you, you can pick up Vigilante, also by Irem (who made the cult favorite Metal Storm), a TurboGrafx-16 title that plays pretty much exactly the same with the same darn plot, but white guys. "Skinheads" have replaced evil Kung Fu guys, and "Madonna" has been kidnapped while Sylvia remains safe. Nice.
We probably won't see too many games like this anymore, though waves and swarms of enemies are seen in other games like the recent Lord of the Rings entries. This might indicate that the appeal to mow down a field of baddies like an overgrown lawn on a summer afternoon is still there, but the side-to-side aspect of it might be totally dead and lost, buried beneath years of advances in technology and programming. Our past is our past though, and Kung Fu is out there for the playing if you want it. We're all happy for Thomas and his reuniting with Sylvia, but their historical plight may no longer be at the forefront of our present-centric minds. A shame, sure, but the way of the world.
Haha. My love/hate relationship with Kung-Fu continues to this day. I first encountered it in its Atari 7800 form, and It gave me as much frustration then as it did pleasure. I think either me or my buddy got past level 3 one time and we wanted to throw a Pizza Party because of it.
Great review, Stache. I think you're right when you say it's mostly for those of us who played games like this when they were current.
Haha, remember pizza parties? Those were the days. We should totally have one! Oh, if wishes were fishes..
Actually, playing through it "now" and experiencing success leaves a different impression on me than I had. I mean, there were games that we grew up with that were AWESOME, but are just totally stinky now..like Excitebike. That used to be one of my favorite games, and now, I can't even believe we "bought" it. There isn't even a running order!
This game, on the other hand, was simply horrid in my mind, but it was a touch better this time around. I was able to advance, do things that my weak young counterpart couldn't; I felt like adult Simba, or something, finally able to roar. I dropped Mr. X and rescued my woman. I dunno. I mean, its not the best game, but it isn't the worst either.
I don't like to review/score games that I haven't beaten, or gotten really far in, but if I threw up a review of Kung Fu Heroes right now, I can assure you it would not be glowing. I'll see what tomorrow brings..
I played this game back in my youth, and it was ok. But even then, I knew there were better games on the NES, for sure. Even Double Dragon and the brawlers that came after it were more fun I think, since you could now move across an entire field and weren't restricted anymore by the left and right movement only.
after clearing the game 50 TIMES, you'll receive the best ending
Congrats, Stache, no grammar PM from me this time, haha.
Great review Rob, I love Kung Fu! I played it for probably 100 hours when I was a kid, I used to be really good at it, I haven't played it in years though, I wonder if I could remember the rhythm of all the patterns...
Aw man, I remember this game from back in the days. I feel like it was one of these games from back then that was super popular and everyone loved it, but maybe, when all was said and done, it was not actually that great? I'd have to replay it again and see if it passes the test of time.
To be honest, I'm not sure if I ever got much further than the 2nd stage...
I looove Kung Fu. It was my first NES game (second if you count SMB), and I had no regrets whatsoever. Would I enjoy it if I played it for the first time now? I don't know. Frankly, I don't want to know! Because I looove Kung Fu. I've probably put the same amount of time into it as Charles. He's definitely logged more hours on Urban Champion, though.
Looking back, the best things about the game are probably the fast, crisp controls and the sound effects. They made it so satisfying to kick/punch someone, and the voice samples were great, too. Those little circus midgets were hilarious and evil. And the whole bad-guys-sapping-your-health-by-hugging-you thing was kind of strange.
That said, Kung Fu is NOT that hard. Any game that I could beat as a child was NOT that hard. Although I certainly didn't beat it 50 times. What happens, exactly?
Damn, now I want to play it RIGHT NOW. I would so buy a 3D Classics version. Even though Irem doesn't exist anymore.