Released by IREM in 1984, Kung-Fu Master (known as Spartan X in Japan) was the first side scrolling beat-em up and represented a significant increase in 8 bit video game graphics and sound.
You play the role of Thomas, the ‘Kung-Fu Master’ in the title, and your mission is to rescue your girlfriend Silvia from the evil Mr.X!
To do so you have to fight your way through 5 scrolling levels (5 floors) of the ‘Devil’s Temple’.
I remember the first time I played this game at my local video arcade.
As a 10-year-old kid way back in 1984, this game was A-MAZE-ING! What made it so good?
Kung-Fu Master has an upbeat, pumping soundtrack which although considered repetitive and simple by today’s standards, back then it really got the adrenaline pumping!
This 8 bit game also had great audio effects – loud thwacks and smacks when beating your opponents and the digitized voice samples such as the “woo-ta!”
Thomas yells out as you make him perform a jump kick, or the evil laugh of Mr.X, really set it a notch above any other game of the era.
Kung-Fu Master was interesting too because it introduced some original genre defining concepts not before seen in any other video game.
These concepts would be copied for years (and decades) later.
This includes one of the first concepts of the ‘health bar’.
If one of the opponents managed to grab hold of you, your ‘health bar’ would quickly diminish unless you toggled the joystick rapidly left and right to ‘shake him off’.
The second concept was that of an ‘end boss’ who had to fought at the end of each stage, before progressing to the next level.
Controls are fairly simple – move the joystick to walk left and right, joystick up to jump, and a punch button and a kick button.
On each level you are confronted from both directions by hordes of henchman that can be easily dispatched with a single punch or kick.
There are knife throwers that will come along intermittently and require ducking or jumping the daggers before you can get in close to take them out.
Later levels have you avoiding objects which fall from the ceiling.
These included such things as vases with poisonous vipers inside, dragons which shoot out flame, or even deadly moths which try to attack you.
Kung-Fu Master looks simply to play and control (and it is), but that belies a deceptively tricky game which like many other 80’s 8 bit video games was enjoyable, and addictive to play.
It has that ‘I’ll give it just one more go’ quality, and before you know it, that ‘just one more go’ has turned into an hour later!
Stage 1 – Stick Fighter
This adversary has a piece of timber which he tries to club you with.
He will raise his arm back before attempting to strike you either up high or down low.
Make sure to time your movements and move in as close as you can before letting rip with a flurry of punches and low-level leg sweeps
This will take him out quickly when in close range.
Stage 2 – Boomearang Guy
Boomerang guy must have spent some time in Australia to learn his deadly boomerang technique!
Either duck or jump over the boomerangs, always being vigilant not to get struck by one as it turns and makes its return trip.
Get in close to boomerang guy and simply unleash with a button bashing volley of kicks and punches and he will be overcome in no time.
Stage 3 – The Giant
This big guy is trickier than the other two!
He will attempt to either punch or kick you and if any of his strikes make contact, they will drain a lot of energy from your ‘health bar’.
I don’t recommend attempting to take him out in one go – be patient.
Time your movements left and right and combine with one or two kicks / punches. Repeat the process until he is defeated.
Stage 4 – The Hunchback
The hunchback uses magic in an attempt to defeat Thomas.
Be wary of the fireballs that this guy throws at you – they can turn into bats!
He can also disappear in a puff of smoke or even make a mirror image of himself so you don’t know which one is the ‘original’ that you should be attacking.
The best strategy with the hunchback is to back him up against the stairs so that he is hemmed in.
The only real useful attack against him is the low punch, so use that repeatedly to kill him, then it is on to level 5!
Stage 5 – Mr X!
Mr X is the final boss – he is also a Kung-Fu Master.
What makes Mr X different from the other bosses is that his energy will regenerate.
This means it’s important to take him out quickly and not afford him the luxury of time to ‘heal’.
Mr.X is also very good at blocking your moves.
For example, if you try a flying kick and he blocks it, don’t repeat the same move but instead go in for a low leg sweep.
Once you attack connects with Mr.X retreat slightly before moving in again.
Don’t try multiple kicks or punches at once as he will take you out – no doubt about it.
After Mr.X is defeated Thomas moves forward to untie Silvia from her chair and gives her a kiss.
Then the game starts over again from level 1, only this time a little bit faster and with more opponents.
Hints & Tips
- If going for points, punching your opponents are worth more than kicks (however kicks seem like the safer option if simply attempting to progress through levels).
- A point bonus is awarded at the end of each level for any time remaining. If aiming for a high point score, don’t muck around and hot foot it to the end of each level.
- On level 2 if the objects falling from the ceiling can be punched or kicked before they hit the ground it will prevent them from revealing their deadly surprise.