Back in 1984, a video game was released in Japan under the name Spartan X. It was also released on both the Atari 2600 and 7800 as Kung Fu Master. Here we are taking a look at Kung Fu which was released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in North America in 1985 and went on to sell over 3.5 million copies worldwide. It is widely regarded as the first beat ’em up video game and was made by Shigeru Miyamoto who used the side-scrolling theme of Kung Fu to put into his greatest game, Super Mario Bros. So, enough about its history and cultural significance, what about the actual game?
What was the story of Kung Fu?
Kung Fu followed the main character, Thomas who was inspired by Jackie Chan. It has five levels to get through and you must avoid death by killing enemies. Enemies come in various sizes throwing anything at you including knives a la Streets of Rage. The end game is to rescue your girlfriend, Sylvia from the main boss; Mr. X. It may be a simple story but it’s still nice to at least have some depth to a video game. It is important to remember that this was released in the mid-80s so it wasn’t exactly going to be filled with back story or plot twists but it does have enough about it to keep you invested in saving Sylvia.
By today’s standards of gaming, Kung Fu has an incredibly touch difficulty curve meaning if you’re into a challenge, this might be the game for you. It also has multiplayer options, which is another plus as many NES games are lacking in that department. Here, the idea is to get to Sylvia first; whoever does that wins. As ever in gaming, the multiplayer element adds a bit of variety that should keep you a bit more interested over time.
Not only this but the boss elements of Kung Fu are also quite detailed, especially for a game of its genre. Often in NES games, bosses are simple but difficult where you you can literally mash buttons to earn victory. However, this isn’t the case with Kung Fu as here you’re required to be a little smarter, and look for combos to defeat the boss.
The game features a nice retro soundtrack with an oriental twist. Elsewhere, it’s safe to say that thankfully, Kung Fu’s graphics still hold up. Some NES games just look dated, even back then, whereas Kung Fu looks solid. It’s also good to see an effort was made in making the backdrop look like a real dojo. For fans of the Kung Fu, martial arts era – it seems that this game is genuinely intricate too, using literal techniques that are found in Karate in real life. It is touches like this which are the reasons why Kung Fu is still celebrated today.
Perhaps the biggest issue that most have with this game is the controls. Basically, you use the same button to kick and punch which feels kind of lazy and even on a NES control pad, it could have been formatted differently. This doesn’t ruin the game, but it does take away from it a bit. On the one hand, there’s this game that feels quite revolutionary in terms of what it offers and on the other, you’d think that the controls could have been tightened up to make it a more immersive experience.
A second issue with Kung Fu is that if you do get good at it, then it can be completed in just over 10 minutes. Of course, this criticism is harsh by today’s standards and shorter games were the norm back then. However, it would have been nice to include some kind of arcade version where the goal is to achieve the highest score possible, as well as the main game. With this done, it would have allowed for hours more gameplay, especially with friends involved. That said, this is still judging it from today’s perspective, so maybe its length isn’t really a problem.
With everything said, Kung Fu delivers. There’s a reason that it’s hailed as an iconic game and it was so influential. In short, it is a classic beat ’em up that set the tone for generations to follow. With this in mind, there’s not much better as a gamer than sitting back, relaxing, and beating up waves of enemies. If you appreciate the retro genre, then you’ll probably appreciate this game too. The good news for old-school collectors is that this can be picked up for around $15. Because of its popularity, it’s relatively cheap compared to some of the old NES games that you’d have to rob a bank to be able to afford. Overall though, this is a great game that has solid fundamentals, making it still fun to play today.