Kung-Fu is a port of the Irem arcade game Kung-Fu Master and was originally intended as a tie-in product for a Jackie Chan film. Nintendo included it as part of the NES launch library, obviously scaled down to fit on the NES. If you were looking for a more adventurous game to buy alongside Mario, this was probably it. But how does this martial arts-inspired sidescroller hold up today?

Kick! Punch! More KICK!

In Kung-Fu you play as Thomas who is on a mission to save his beloved Sylvia from the evil Mr. X. To reach him, you must first conquer the five floors of his tower, each protected by one of his powerful lackeys. It’s a typical “save the damsel” story for an NES game, but I doubt anybody came here for an engrossing story. You’re here to beat people up!

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The game is a sidescroller where levels alternate between having you move to the left or right. As you go, enemies will move in to attack from both ends of the screen. Grapplers will come in and hold you into place, little midget dudes will try to bounce on your head or grab you at the shins, knife throwers will try to hurt you from a distance, there’s a good variety of foes to deal with. Thomas, meanwhile, has one button to punch and another to kick. You can also do this while ducking or perform a jump kick for maximum damage.

As you work through the hordes of goons, you’ll eventually reach the end of the hallway and have to face off against a stronger foe; the boss of that floor, so to say. These are tough opponents, especially because regular enemies can still come in from the back to aid them. However, it’s also really fair because all enemies, and bosses especially, have good telegraphs for what attacks they are going to do. Keep an eye out for these and you’ll be able to avoid them, get in close, and beat them down in no time.

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Your own health pool is rather generous and while the controls are a bit stiff, they are perfectly fine for the pace of the game. Only a few times did I find myself jumping straight into the air when trying to perform an elegant jump attack, and at all other times Thomas was completely obedient and any damage taken was my own fault. However, this also makes the game a bit too easy. I managed to finish it my first time playing, since enemies go down fast and Thomas is so sturdy. Even Mr. X is easily foiled by ducking and kicking at him.

This leaves points as the main driving force for improvement if you want to get some good longevity out of the game. The faster you finish the stage and the more HP you have left, the more points you will get. You also get points for any enemies beaten and your method for doing so. Punches have shorter range, so they reward more points than kicking, but a jump kick is more precise and thus grants the most points of all. After you finish the game, it will show an ending sequence and then restart back at floor 1. Say about Mr. X what you will, but he is good at this kidnapping thing.

Gameplay score: 8/10

Arcade downgrade

Visually the game is a bit of a disappointment compared to the arcade original made by Irem. The sprites are nice and clear by NES standards, but you really do notice how far ahead arcade machines were in terms of graphical power. The animations are great, however, and make it obvious when your attacks find their mark. The game is also fast-paced and has crisp sound-effects, making it satisfying to play despite seeming so simplistic on the outside.

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The background is the same for every stage, which can be experienced as a letdown. There are some minor differences to spot, though, and it is a stylish picture that helps set the mood for the martial arts-themed game.

Presentation score: 8.0/10


The Good:

  • Fast, aggressive, and satisfying martial arts combat.
  • Reliable controls and well-designed enemies.
  • Gain more points for going faster, being careful with health, and using trickier attacks.
  • More hazards and enemies are added to spice up the later floors.
  • Still looks good, despite the obvious graphical downgrade.

The Bad:

  • The looping background makes each floor functionally identical.
  • Easily finished in mere minutes and offers little to keep playing.
  • Mr. X is an absolute pushover and lackluster final boss.


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