Where can you find a game loosely related to Jackie Chan, All Japan Pro Wrestling, every major Neo Geo fighting game, freaky oriental threesomes, and Tiny “Zeus” Lister? Grab your dogi, throw on your favorite slippers, and strap yourselves in because we’re in for a wild ride today Nintendo lovers! Who’s ready for some good old fashioned Kung Fu?
Originally released in the arcades as Kung Fu Master, this was one wildly popular game. If you were alive, had a spare quarter, and were able to hold a joystick in the early 80s, you played Kung Fu. Everyone of age who experienced the thrill of kicking three baddies in a row hauling ass towards you never forgot it. The things about this game we DIDN’T know are easily just as interesting to say the least.
Launched in Japan as Spartan X, Kung Fu was actually based on the 1984 Jackie Chan film of the same name. Martial arts legend Chan played Thomas, the protagonist of the movie and game, who is attempting to save his girlfriend Sylvia from the most generically named baddie ever, Mr. X. The movie was released here in the U.S. as Wheels On Meals. No, that isn’t a typo, they actually thought that title was going to bring movie-goers out in droves. What the goatfuck you ask? Get this, the last two films the Golden Harvest studio shat out were named Megaforce and Menage A Trois. The executives got the oogy boogies about their next venture starting with the letter M, so Meals On Wheels got flipped on its ass and became Wheels On Meals instead. I couldn’t make this insipid shit up if I tried.
Excuse me a moment for an out of character pause. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the main theme for Spartan X was used as the entrance music for Mitsuharu Misawa, one of the greatest professional wrestlers of any era who tragically passed away in the middle of the ring in June 2009. He was a gentleman in every sense of the word and a true ambassador to the sport. Rest in peace Emerald Warrior. I miss you.
Beat ’em ups seemed to be released every week in the late 80s/early 90s with some legendary titles like Golden Axe, Double Dragon, Streets Of Rage, and Final Fight at the forefront. These and every game like it owe everything they are to Kung Fu. The first of it’s kind, they made it count (unlike Dk Jr Math) and it spawned more games that ate quarters than can be mentioned in one review. The lead programmer, Takashi Nishiyama, went on to Capcom where he was the head of a little game named Street Fighter. He could’ve been quite content with his legacy left at that but the guy went on to even greater heights when he was hired by SNK and designed a cutting edge contraption called the Neo-Geo System Board. This mad professor of gaming could’ve stopped THERE but what did this under-appreciated genius do as an encore? He created every major SNK fighting IP as he went along. Yes, the head programmer on Kung Fu is responsible for all-time heavyweights Fatal Fury, Art Of Fighting, Samurai Shodown, & the epic King Of Fighters franchises. Quite the fucking résumé no?
Onto the game itself, this is definitely one of the better Black Box games. By today’s standards, it would seem pedestrian but if you look at it in the same vein you’d hear a garage band’s first album before they refined their sound, there isn’t alot to complain about. You play as Thomas, going from floor to floor kicking and punching your way to the level boss. The true innovation here was that no two bosses were the same, a feat even Mario didn’t pull off. They aren’t just lazy palette swaps either as one throws a boomerang, another resembles Deebo from Friday, and Mr. X himself looks like Deadpool unmasked to reveal an 8-bit Owen Wilson. Even more awesome is the way they will laugh in your face if you grind through the level only to be defeated at the end. Oh, will it ever piss you off proper until you have the sweet joy of handing them their ass. In my opinion, alot of games today are missing that type of motivation to move ahead. Could be just me, but I’ll lose sleep to beat you if you laugh at me for failure digitized or not.
Some may cavetch the game is too short but it’s in the vein of quite a bit of the older NES games in that when you see the ending, it’ll just throw you back onto level 1, ramping up the difficulty until you can’t handle it anymore. Sure, it’s possible to save the girl within a day of first playing but try to save her 5 times and watch controllers explode through windows. There is only one music track as you plow through the level but it is note for note faithful to the arcade version and doesn’t distract from the hectic action. Only negative I can think of is the unevenness of the challenge. Stage 2 is twice as hard as any of the other levels. If you can survive the falling snakes that take a third of your life and disco balls that explode into a 5 way spread shot the 2nd floor offers, this game is your bitch.
THE FINAL VERDICT
8/10 All beat ’em ups should look up at Kung Fu as their granddaddy and shower it with the respect it deserves. Hell of a challenge (bite me stage 2), original bosses, and a fun factor that forces you to get that much further each time you play. There was a sequel released only in Japan as Spartan X 2, but it didn’t capture very much of what made the original so special. One measure of a game to me is the ability to pick it up and play it without having to memorize a moveset, read a long-winded manual, or spend hours learning the controls a la Clu Clu Land. You moved forward and fucked shit up until the stairs, climbed up, and commenced to fucking more shit up, which sometimes, is all the good dumb fun you need. After all, it’s meant to be a game, not a college course, and this one hit the new concept it brought out of the park.