—everybody was kung fu fighting—
If you’re in the mood for beating up baddies martial-arts style, then you can’t go wrong with Kung Fu Master. My memories of this game range from console, to sporadic PC experiences with various iterations on the theme, but today’s review is about Ironclaw’s rendition. Kung Fu Master – originally known as Kung Fu, was developed and published by Nintendo for the NES system in 1985 after its initial release as an arcade game in 1984. You play as Thomas, who is out picnicking one day with his girlfriend Sylvia when disaster strikes; some brutish rogue emerges from the bushes and kidnaps her, leaving you only with a note that challenges you to go and rescue her—if you dare.
Things kick off with an energetic backing track that instantly plunges you into the arcade filled worlds that await you. Each stage is beautifully decorated with colourful 8-bit artwork that includes some nice and simple background art, and some really cool looking dragons. Although the main action happens in the middle of the screen, above that you have several bars representing player health, the number of enemies to defeat, level stage, and boss health. Below are two bars, one for stamina (which gets depleted when Thomas runs), and the special ability bar/power meter, which you can max out and use to unleash an awesome burst of power. Like many other arcade games, Kung Fu Master is governed by a time limit that counts down from 200 in the top right hand corner, and this encourages you not to beat around the bush too much or simply stay in a corner, waiting for enemies to come to you. This game is all about being proactive, and facing the wrath of enemies big and small head on-or should I say, foot on.
The PC version uses the arrow keys for movement, and the Z and X keys to punch and kick respectively. Hold shift and you can make Thomas run faster, but only as long as the stamina bar lasts. Simple the controls might be, but gameplay in Kung Fu Master is engrossing and fun, whether you’re crouch-punching those elves, or kicking the heads off those guys dressed in aqua and magenta (possibly the most horrible clothing combination I’ve ever seen). All of these controls are explained to you in the ‘how to play’ section, which you can access before you start the game. That’s great in terms of clarity, especially when it comes to special attacks like ‘hadouken’, which are accessible from level 2 onward and correspond to numbers 1, 2 and 3 on the keyboard. You can also play the game on one of three difficulty levels-easy, medium, or hard, and these basically increase the amount of damage enemies can inflict upon you. This is a good game design feature since those that are looking for a more intense arcade experience can do so, but it also gives people a better chance at beating the game if they find it too difficult on medium or hard mode. Your first boss in Kung Fu Master is Dirty Harald, who uses a bat as his weapon of choice and isn’t afraid to use it. With a few kicks to the shin, he is easily disposed of and Thomas can make his way up that classic staircase to level 2. In contrast to the relative simplicity of level 1, level 2 challenges you with fire barriers, robots with googly eyes that scale the floor, and reaches a crescendo in a final showdown with none other than Mega Man himself. He is much harder to beat, and assaults you with fire beams that sweep the floor (plasma ball) as well as giant brick clusters that drop from the ceiling. I perished many times during this battle, and am yet to beat it, but I think it has a great difficulty level that challenges you without becoming frustrating. (Update: Mega Man is done and dusted. Guess who the level 3 boss is?)
Despite all Kung Fu Master’s overwhelming good points, there are a couple of minor points to critique such as not being able get out of an ‘enemy jam’, or when too many enemies converge in on you and drain your health smart fast. The second, well it’s more of an observation than a criticism. Now, I’m sure I’m not alone when I say this, but one thing that will always baffle me about (the great majority of) games is how the enemies never seem to take any damage other than when you attack them. Whether that damage means fire, knives hurtling through the air, or the attacks of another enemy, the baddies are inexplicably invincible, and Kung Fu Master is another game that commits that crime. Fortunately, there is a parody that deals with that very subject on the developer’s Newgrounds page, although the ending is a bit macabre.
Overall, Kung Fu Master is a great port of a great game that delivers players that magical arcade experience. For those looking to exercise some swift kicks and mighty punches today, you can give Kung Fu Master a shot today for free. And if you’re the type of person who likes it when the damsel-in-distress trope is turned upside down, then you might enjoy this video in which Sylvia is saving Thomas instead.
Why you should play it:
- You like martial-arts
- You like or miss old action/arcade games
- You want to save Sylvia
- Great art
- Highly enjoyable gameplay
- Simple level design
- Good replay value
- Great soundtrack
- Can get stuck in groups of enemies