Kung Fu is a landmark video game. Not because it was one of the first arcade titles to make the jump to a home console with little to no loss of quality. Nor is it because the game was one of the first side scrolling beat-em-ups to ever be developed. Those are certainly good enough reasons to call Kung Fu a landmark title, but I was thinking of something else entirely. You see, Kung Fu was also the first game that sent hundreds of mindless, crazed, knee-hugging midgets in its effort to thwart your progress. If this isnít a milestone, then I donít know what isÖ
Kung Fu starts out innocuously enough. You begin the perilous quest to save your beloved Sylvia from the evil Mr. X at the bottom floor of a Japanese style dojo. As you begin walking from right to left, you are accosted by a number of poorly animated, purple-garbed thugs. Luckily, our hero, Thomas, has a number of ëkung fuí moves at his disposal to deal with this threat. With a quick press of the A and B buttons, he can unleash lighting fast punches and kicks to send these goons falling off the screen to a watery grave. Pressing up on the pad and then the attack buttons also allows you to perform jumping kicks and punches, the later being mostly useless as youíll punch over the top of everyoneís head.
At first this seems quite challenging, battling through waves of charging enemies, but then you come to the shocking realization that these thugs donít fight back. Yup, thatís right. Not one kick, punch, or anything else that could be called an attack is ever performed by these mindless baddies. The only way they can remove any life from your energy gauge is by running up and grabbing on to you. Even this pathetic attempt at aggression is easily warded off by a quick back and forth flick of the d-pad, and the poor bastards just fly off the screen to their deaths. After kicking dozens of these poor fools in the face and watching them recoil in horror as they fall off screen, I began feeling an acute sense of self-loathing for my cruel and heartless actions.
Luckily, before these depressing musings are able to mature into thoughts of suicide or worse (like the need to watch 28 straight episodes of Yu-Gi-Oh), the game sends the first knife thrower at you. It is immediately apparent that these baddies are different from the charging thugs, for not only are they are clad in black and white, but they also have the intelligence not to use their faces for attacking your fists and feet. These aptly named knife throwers try to thwart you by standing just outside your attack range and hurling knives at either your head or kneecaps. These attacks can be avoided relatively easily by either ducking or jumping, but when waves of purple thugs keep running up and grabbing you it becomes much more challenging. I have become much more comfortable with beating the crap out of the mindless charging thugs after having them immobilize me on countless occasions as a blade thrower sticks a knife right between my eyes.
As you continue on kicking booty through the first floor of the dojo, you may notice that you are passing underneath a series of Japanese kanji characters that are evenly spaced out on the buildingís roof. These characters are the Japanese kanji counters for one through eight, so when you reach the eighth and final kanji you know you are at the end of the level. When you do finally come to the levelís end, you will find yourself face to face with a boss. The stick wielder is the name of the boss for the first level, because he attempts to bash you over the head and in the family jewels with a very largeÖwellÖstick. Thankfully, the charging thugs and knife throwers wonít attack you while you fight the boss characters, at least not during your first time through the game (more on that later). As is generally the case with first bosses in video games, the stick wielder is relatively easy to defeat. A few well-timed low kicks are usually enough to send him to the same watery grave that youíve sent countless charging grabbers. After the stick wielder is disposed of, you find yourself at a set of stairs, thus signaling the end of your harrowing journey through the first floor of the dojo. The game then tallies your score based on a combination of how much life you retained and the amount of time left on the clock, and Thomas proceeds to head up the stairs to the next floor.
As you start out on the second level, you find yourself assaulted by an odd combination of falling snake-filled pots, magical fire breathing dragons and explodingÖballÖlikeÖthingies (I doubt even the developers know what they are). This is a nice change from the regular baddies and serves as a good test of thumb dexterity, as only well-timed jumps, ducks and strikes will see you through unharmed. Not to worry though, your favorite neighborhood charging grabbers make an appearance about half way through the level. But, just when you least expect it, something unfathomable happens.
Sandwiched inconspicuously between two regular-sized grabbers you spot an actual midget grabber! Surely this is just a sick joke, right? Itís bad enough kicking the crap out of the hapless grabbers, but THIS? How is one supposed to sleep peacefully at night knowing they just ruthlessly pummeled dozens of defenseless midget grabbers?! But wait! Whatís this? I just tried to low kick one of the midget grabbers and the lilí bugger did a ninja-style flip and jumped on my head! All rightÖthese short bastards are going down!
After fighting your way through the annoying combination of regular and pint-sized grabbers, you come across the second floor boss, the boomerang thrower. Once he is defeated, you head on up to the third level and the process repeats again. The dojo has a total of five floors and throughout the remainder of the game youíll face a number of different enemies such as mutant moths, a big bald black brawler (say that three times fast), a wizard and the dastardly Mr. X himself. The wide variation of baddies you encounter on the way through the dojo makes playing Kung Fu very entertaining, but the game is much too short to offer a significant amount of replay value. The average gamer will beat the game in ten to fifteen minutes, and that just doesnít cut it. The good news is, after defeating Mr. X and saving Sylvia, the game starts over at a higher difficulty level where the grabbers keep coming after you, even during boss fights. This is certainly more challenging, but the levels and enemies are still exactly the same, so youíll be hard pressed to find much of a reason to keep playing.
Kung Fuís visuals are decent for an early NES game, but they are lacking in many areas. The characters are large and colorful, but hindered by a severe lack of animations. The levels themselves are almost carbon copies of each other, with the only difference being the water seen at the bottom of the dojoís first floor. Next to the limited replay value, the graphics are the gameís biggest weak point.
Fortunately, the aural presentation in Kung Fu is quite excellent for a NES title. All of the sound effects fit the game perfectly and help keep you immersed during your short trek through the dojoís five floors. Little touches like the mocking laughter of a boss after he kills you and the emphatic ìacho!î Thomas yells while performing kicks really add to the atmosphere. The music is also quite good, but a bit repetitive. The tune that plays during the actual gameplay repeats the most, but the muffled, rhythmic nature of the song keeps it from grating on your nerves.
Whether or not you will enjoy Kung Fu largely depends on what you think of being attacked by hundreds of pant leg-grabbing, ninja-flipping midgets. If this sounds like your idea of gaming nirvana, then by all means, go and pick up a copy of the game immediately. For the rest of you, it comes down to whether or not you are willing to purchase a game that can be completed in about ten minutes. For an early NES game, Kung Fu does pack a good amount of gameplay punch for the limited amount of time it lasts, so if youíre borderline interested, I say go ahead and take the plunge. Besides, what else are you going to spend that 50 cents on… a Safeway Select Soda?