When the NES was launched, one thing that stood out in the launch titles of their games was the use of the black box design. Marking on the failures of games released in years prior to the black box games, the NES games had an enlarged pixellated picture of the game you was about to play, rather than using photo realistic graphics on the game labels, and large bold lettering. The most well known of the black box games would be Super Mario Bros, however in total there was at least 20 games that had this design for the games, and one of the better black box games was Kung Fu, a port of the arcade game Kung-Fu Master that was released on the NES in Europe in 1985. So after all this time, how does this early beat-em-up game compare to its peers, is it more Chop Kick or more Chop Suey?
Turning on the game you have the option of choosing Game A or Game B, for 1 or 2 players. The difference in the two game modes seems to be that in mode B, you face more enemies making your quest to reach Sylvia that much harder. When selecting the 2 player option, unfortunately it is not both players on the screen at the same time, but similar to Super Mario Brothers in which you take it in turns to complete the level, so it’s nice to have that little bit of competition seeing who can go further in the game without losing lives and really who is a Kung Fu master. You’ll also notice the lack of music on the menu screen – it seems with other black box titles your treated to some jaunty ditty to set you in the mood. So has this be forgotten about for Kung Fu? Fear ye not, for when you choose your game mode, your treated to a short, opening themed music and then away you go with Thomas.
The idea is to go from one side of the screen to the other, stopping you on each level is a number of different enemies that get progressively more difficult as the game goes on. On the first level for instance you encounter relatively mild thugs who want to hug you, draining your energy bar, and also knife wielding thugs hell bent in stopping you from completing the level. In later levels you encounter enemies that drop from the ceilings and from the sky, dragons appearing from the balls that drop and snakes that crawl along the floor, so a variety of enemies to tackle on with your mad skills. At the end of each level you’ll encounter the level bosses – it’s not always immediately clear how to defeat the boss. For example, without giving too much of the game away, the boss on the third level if you try punching and kicking his body you’ll do hardly any damage, you’ll need to find his weak spot. It certainly is a nice challenge after each level to work out to defeat the boss without the need for solidly mashing buttons.
Speaking of mashing buttons, the controls of the game are incredibly simple – the A button is used as a punch and the B button kicks. You can also jump with up button of the d-pad and pressing the A or B button provides a jumping punch and jumping kick which can be more powerful and useful for certain bosses *ahem not level 3 boss ahem*. You can also duck and attack, with the down d-pad button and A or B. The controls are fluid and responsive, and makes it easy to attack swarms of thugs that approach you on each level. The music in the game is in an Oriental style that fits the game perfectly, making you feel like your making your way through the temple and set in China or other Far Eastern locations. The sound effects are relevant for the game, a differing noise for when you punch to when you kick. The music and the sound effects in the game are good enough so that you don’t need to mute your television when playing, it seems to enhance the game.
Although the game is relatively short to complete (according to Speeddemosarchive, the record is 3 minutes 54), it is still one of the best black box games on the NES and is fun to pick up and play if time is not on your side. With the fluid controls and fun enemies, you do feel a sense of achievement defeating the level boss and walking up the stairs, making you one step closer to rescuing Sylvia. Copies of the game are still out there in the wild, it’s not too expensive but as always depends on the condition of the cartridge. For those who follow on Twitter you may have heard me say about this as one of my favourite NES games, to which it’s not a term used loosely, however personally aside from Super Mario Brothers, for myself it ranks high up there, so do pick up a copy, get focused and prepared to rescue Sylvia from the mysterious Mr X – he’s quite a popular enemy in retro gaming by the looks of things…
Rating – 5 out of 5