Review by Tom Clark
"David Carradine not included, unfortunately...."
When developing a game, there is one very important, very difficult choice to make. A choice that may well affect the sales of the game. The choice of what to name the game. Some people may ask what's in a name. Would a rose by any other name still smell as sweet (as a famous dead dude once asked)? Well, yeah, it would. But, more relevantly, would you buy a game called 'Average Joe'? No, only the most Viewtiful will do. The name of the game is important. So when it came to naming this little NES title, the developers decided to go for the safe option, and went all Ronseal on us:- Kung Fu does exactly what it says on the tin: it's a game in which you beat up lots of people (rather than a game based on the uber-shibby TV show of the same name). Pure and simple - as Hear'Say [may they Rest In Peace] would have warbled. Mind you, Hear'Say were tossers.
Kung Fu tells the tale of a chap named Thomas. His bint has been kidnapped by a shady character calling himself 'Mr. X.'. And so our Tommy sets off to jump, punch and kick his way to the rescue of the fair Sylvia . Rumours that he also plays a mean pinball along the way are strictly false. And that's about it in terms of the storyline, really....
As plots go, it's all you really need for a game of this genre: a bad guy with a sinister - in - a - camp -kinda -way name, a damsel in distress, and a plucky hero on a noble quest to rescue her. Despite the fact that the extent of Mr. X's plans for Sylvia seems to be his desire to tie her to a chair (brr... evil), and the fact that Thomas seems to bizarrely be wearing his slippers for the duration of the game, the plot works in the simple, honest fashion that only games of this era could ever truly achieve. Nowadays, it would turn out that Mr X was Thomas' clone, and Sylvia was in fact Tom's sister. And there's be an effeminate, white-haired hippie skulking in the background ready to unleash an ancient, apocalyptically evil force at any time. So it's probably best that this game came out when it did.
In just the same way that the plot's curious charm lies in it's lack of modern-day pretension, so the appeal of the game in general lies in it's basic ways (see, I haven't just spent the previous paragraph on a complete tangent!). This game is wonderfully simplistic - you waddle along, punching bad guys. Or kicking them. If they try to attack you can duck. Or you can jump. You bop them hard enough for long enough and they die. You score points for this, and you then carry on until you encounter another bad guy. There are no complex combos, there are no super-moves, there are no weapons (for you, anyhow). Once again, if this game were released now, this would be a crime, but as it is it provides a refreshing break for those of you who have grown weary of the insane button-mashers out there.
The bad guys in this game don't vary much, but there are still some little treats in there. There are of course the obligatory 'Muppets'. Standard goons that wander towards you and try to kill you, failing to do anything spectacular in the process. There are the 'Muppets-With-Knives', which I shouldn't really need to explain. These enemies have slightly more AI than their non-armed compatriots, and will even back away sometimes if you get within foot or fist distance. Then there are the midgets, who tear around the levels like babies on caffeine, before jumping at you in surprising acrobatic style. I'm a big fan of evil midgets in my scrolling beat-'em-ups: due to political correctness nowadays developers can't really allow you to beat up people less able-bodied than your character. But this game came out before political correctness was invented, so if you've always secretly hated Ronnie Corbett and his tribe, then this is the game for you.
This game takes place entirely in Mr. X's secret hideout (obviously not too secret, though: after all, slipper-boy found it okay....), and the five levels take place across the five floors of this humble abode. Although each level looks pretty much just like the last one, in a nice twist that actually makes it feel like you're progressing upwards through the building, the levels alternate between being right-to-left affairs to left-to-right numbers - it's a small touch, but one that works quite well. Guarding the stairs to the next floor on each level is the obligatory boss battle. The bosses are reasonably varied: some are just standard stuff (a dude with a stick.... oooh....), while some are charmingly bonkers, like a wonderfully anachronistic Wizard-type figure who chucks magic at you. First time through the bosses are quite tricky, but if you finish the game and go through it again, ordinary enemies continue to attack you while you face the boss, and things get really quite hectic and difficult, especially on the later levels.
Graphically this game is really quite poor, even for the NES. The characters are quite blocky, and many of them move in a quite jerky fashion (although some, it must be said, are surprisingly smooth in their animation...). The levels all look the same (orange floor, orange ceiling, green roof tiles bordering the top and the bottom of the screen, and a mellow blue background), and there can on occasion be some hideous slowdown when quite a few enemies get on screen at once. But the basic appearance of this game really suits the simplistic nature of the game in general.
In terms of sound.... well... there isn't much. There are a few token sound effects (the best one being the spooky chuckle of the boss characters), and a single musical track that plays through the game. The music is utterly unremarkable. It's enough to get you humming along while you play, but within half an hour of putting the game down, you'll have forgotten how it went. Still, it serves it's purpose well enough, and seems reasonably suited to the foot-meet-face gameplay on offer here.
For all intents and purposes, Kung Fu should be considered quite a poor game: it's short, it's repetitive, it's basic even in comparison with the standard of other games released early on in the NES era, both in terms of presentation and gameplay, and the controls feel rather clunky. It doesn't even have the maniacal addictive nature that many seemingly simplistic games possess. It is reasonably addictive, granted, but on the addict-o-rama scale this game is the Ferrero Rocher to the crack, Pringles or nicotine that are games such as Tetris, Kuru Kuru Kururin or the old Game & Watch titles. But it is the fact that it's so simplistic that grants this game it's appeal. When complex plots, vast arrays of magic spells, or twenty-button combos start to get too much for you, you can sit back with this game for half an hour and just remember how things used to be. This game will doubtless hold little appeal to the younger gamers out there, but if you remember the NES days, then this is an amusing diversion. And today you can expect to pay less than the price of a pint for it, too. Which can't be bad.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 12/16/03
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