North American arcade flyer of Kung Fu Master.
|Publisher(s)||Irem (JP arcade)
Data East USA (NA arcade)
U.S. Gold (computers)
|Composer(s)||Koji Kondo (NES version)|
|Genre(s)||Beat 'em up|
|Mode(s)||Up to 2 players, alternating turns|
|Cabinet||Upright, mini-upright, and cocktail|
|Arcade system||Irem M-62|
|CPU||Z80 @ 3.072 MHz (main),
M6803 @ 894.886 kHz (sound)
|Sound||2× AY38910 @ 894.886 kHz,
2× MSM5205 @ 384 kHz
55 Hz refresh rate,
512 out of 1536 colors
Kung-Fu Master is a side-scrolling beat 'em up action game produced by Irem that was originally released as an arcade game in 1984 and distributed by Data East in North America. The game was initially released in Japan under the title of Spartan X (スパルタンX Suparutan X?) as a tie-in based on the Jackie Chan film Wheels on Meals (which was distributed under the same title in Japan). Besides the names of the protagonist and his girlfriend, and the general theme of rescuing a damsel in distress, the game has little bearing on the plot of the film, allowing Irem to export the game without the license by simply changing title.
The players controls Thomas, the titular Kung-Fu Master, as he fights his way through the five levels of the Devil's Temple in order to rescue his girlfriend Sylvia from the mysterious crime boss Mr. X. The game is credited for laying the foundations of the beat 'em up genre, combining side-scrolling platform and fighting game elements with multiple enemies.
The player controls Thomas with a four-way joystick and two attack buttons for punching and kicking. Unlike more conventional side-scrolling games, the joystick is used not only to crouch, but also to jump. Punches and kicks can be performed from a standing, crouching or jumping position. Punches award more points than kicks, but their range is shorter.
Underlings encountered by the player include Grippers, who can grab Thomas and drain his energy until shaken off; Knife Throwers, who can throw at two different heights and must be hit twice; and Tom Toms, short fighters who can either grab Thomas or somersault to strike his head when he is crouching. On even-numbered floors, the player must also deal with falling balls and pots, snakes, poisonous moths, fire-breathing dragons, and exploding confetti balls.
The temple has five floors, each ending with a different boss who must be defeated before Thomas can climb the stairs to the next floor. Thomas must complete each floor within a fixed time; if time runs out or his energy is completely drained, he loses one life and must replay the entire floor. If a boss defeats Thomas, the boss laughs. Although there are five bosses, the game only uses two different synthesized laughs. (The NES version uses a third, high-pitched synthesized laugh for the Black Magician, the fourth boss.)
Once the player has completed all five floors, the game restarts with a more demanding version of the Devil's Temple, although the essential details remain unchanged. A visual indication of the current house is displayed on the screen. For each series of five completed floors, a dragon symbol appears in the upper-right corner of the screen. After three dragons have been added, the dragon symbols blink.
The game was produced for Irem by Takashi Nishiyama, who also created Irem's 1982 arcade-hit Moon Patrol, and later designed the original 1987 Street Fighter at Capcom before leaving to run SNK's videogame development division, creating the Neo Geo arcade system board and its games like Fatal Fury: King of Fighters, Art of Fighting, The King of Fighters '94, and Samurai Shodown there, as well as several of their successors.
Kung-Fu Master was originally inspired by Hong Kong action cinema, particularly Bruce Lee's film Game of Death, before eventually being released as a tie-in for the Jackie Chan film Wheels on Meals (known as Spartan X in Japan).
Ports and re-releases
Kung-Fu Master was ported to the Atari 2600, Atari 7800, Amstrad CPC, Apple II, BeOS x86, Commodore 64, DOS, Java, Linux, NES/Famicom, MSX (Irem/ASCII version as Seiken Achō), PlayChoice-10 (arcade, nearly the same as the NES version), Sega SG-1000, Sinclair ZX Spectrum and Windows. It was also made for the 8-bit Gameking console, under the name of Nagual. Some of the 8-bit conversions offered highly degraded performance, sound and image resolution. The NES version was ported and published by Nintendo simply under the title "Kung Fu" in North America and the PAL region. The Atari 2600 version is notable for being one of the last commercial games released on the console which was, impressively, 10 years old at the time this game was released for it in 1987.
The original arcade version was later included along with the arcade versions of 10-Yard Fight and Zippy Race in IAC/Irem Arcade Classics for the PlayStation and Sega Saturn, released in Japan only in 1996 by Irem and I'Max. The arcade version was also released to cell phones.
The arcade game received a positive review in the April 1985 issue of Computer and Video Games, where reviewer Clare Edgeley described it as "one of the most hard-hitting, breath-taking fast games for Kung-Fu adepts." She described the player character as "a whirling, kicking, jumping, fighting machine controlled" by "an eight-way joystick and punch and kick buttons." She notes the fights are "hard and draining" but praises the "very fast" pace of the game, the "catchy" music, the "smooth" and "picturesque" graphics, and the "lifelike" movement animation. She concludes, "If you thought Karate Champ was good – wait 'til you try this one!" The June 1985 issue of Computer and Video Games notes that the arcade game has "proved to be a great success".
Video game sequels
Irem's 1988 Vigilante was intended as a followup. The gameplay is nearly the same, but with a completely different plot added to it that takes place in the urban areas of New York City, where a nameless titular character must save his girlfriend, Madonna ("Maria" in the Sega Master System version) who was captured by the Skinheads ("Rogues" in the Sega Master System version). One unique feature is the ability to pick up and use the battering weapon: the nunchuks, until either the player gets hurt, finishes a stage or begin battling the final boss.
In 1990, the arcade game received a completely different Game Boy sequel titled as "Kung-Fu Master" ("Spartan X" in Japan), which has similar gameplay to the arcade game, but with a completely different plot, setting, set of enemies and stages. Some of Thomas's new abilities are back-flip kicks and small bombs dropped by enemies. The flat levels were modified into stages with different platforms and objects in an urban city style similar to Vigilante's. The English version was modified from the Japanese version, by changing the look of Thomas and add some small enemies in the final stage before fighting the final boss.
In 1991 a Japan-exclusive sequel to the game was released for the Famicom, titled Spartan X 2. Like Vigilante and the Game Boy version of Kung-Fu Master, Spartan X 2's plot is also quite different and takes place in an urban area, with no mention of Sylvia, but rather "Johnny Spartan", a member of an unnamed crime-fighting unit who wears a red, short-sleeved jacket, an charges with foiling a group of drug smugglers. One unique feature is the ability to crouch for a second before either sending an uppercut or grab and throw enemies from behind.
Director Agnès Varda featured the game prominently in a live action film of the same name (Kung-Fu Master!), dealing with an affair between a 40 year-old woman and a fourteen year-old boy obsessed with the game. When he finally beats it after 6 months, he asks a bartender to give the older woman a call to let her know. The bartender is initially a bit dismissive but still picks up the phone. However, she cannot get the message because she is not home, and the bartender reaches her daughter who is too young to be a messenger. The film was retitled Le Petit Amour for U.S. release so it would not be perceived as a martial arts film.
- Spencer, Spanner, The Tao of Beat-'em-ups, Eurogamer, Feb 6, 2008, Accessed Mar 18, 2009
- Kunkel, Bill; Worley, Joyce; Katz, Arnie, "The Furious Fists of Sega!", Computer Gaming World, Oct 1988, pp. 48-49
- Leone, Matt. "The Man Who Created Street Fighter". 1UP.com. Retrieved January 15, 2012.
- 'Kung Fu Master (Coin-Op) by Data East', Great Game Database.com Retrieved April 15, 2005
- 'Data East goes bankrupt', GameSpot (July 7, 2003) Retrieved April 15, 2005
- Bousiges, Alexis. 'Kung Fu Master', Arcade History, (March 2, 2005) Retrieved April 15, 2005.
- Kung-Fu Master guide at StrategyWiki
- Kung-Fu Master at the Killer List of Videogames
- Kung-Fu Master at arcade-history
- Spartan X at arcade-history
- The home versions of Kung-Fu Master at MobyGames
- Windows remake of Kung-Fu Master
- Kung Fu Master (Flash Game version)
- Santa Fu - a Christmas-themed remake Kung-Fu Master at I-Mockery
- Kung-Fu Master at World of Spectrum
- Kung Fu (NES) at NinDB