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Kung Fu Master (Apple II) artwork

Kung Fu Master (Apple II) review

"Kung Fu Master reminds me of the glory days in the 1980s when my favourite personal computer, the Apple II, co-ruled the roost with the Commodore 64 in terms of snapping up ports of popular arcade titles. As the 1990s approached, the eight-bit Apple II would begin to struggle badly to deal with the ports of the more technically demanding games being thrown at it, and bizarrely, nearly all of these titles came from Data East. From Ikari Warriors to Robocop... On the Apple, none of these ar..."

Kung Fu Master reminds me of the glory days in the 1980s when my favourite personal computer, the Apple II, co-ruled the roost with the Commodore 64 in terms of snapping up ports of popular arcade titles. As the 1990s approached, the eight-bit Apple II would begin to struggle badly to deal with the ports of the more technically demanding games being thrown at it, and bizarrely, nearly all of these titles came from Data East. From Ikari Warriors to Robocop... On the Apple, none of these are much good, but they remain remarkable feats of programming simply for the fact that someone made them run on the computer at all.

Kung Fu Master is an earlier port from Data East, but just because I said that this game reminds me of glory days doesn't mean that the game itself is any good. Quite the opposite in this case; Kung Fu Master is awful. What disturbs me now is that I remember spending a lot of time playing it as a teenager, just because it seemed cool (we didn't have a lot of scrolling games on the Apple II), but objective scrutiny of the experience in retrospect shows that I was kidding myself to think that I was enjoying it. I was frustrated nearly all of the time!

Kung Fu Master presents you with five side-scrolling levels of constantly mobbing bad guys who must be kicked and punched asunder. Each level concludes with a boss fight, and each boss has a cheap gimmick or two up his sleeve. The arcade game was quite influential in terms of the specific bosses and ideas of prolific combat, but the Apple II version is particularly boring. At the arcade, you at least had the novelty of some scenery. Here we have black backgrounds throughout, a black and white hero, and flowery patterned lines for the floors and ceiling which wiggle to try to convince you that they're scrolling. Really, it looks like your man is walking on the spot while the strobing effect of the walls can often create the unfortunate optical illusion that the world is scrolling in the wrong direction, in the same way that car tires can be seen to rotate backwards when filmed. To try to help you feel that you are moving somewhere, there's a lousy numerical counter which plods from one towards six as you near the boss on each level.

You can punch with one joystick button, kick with the other, duck and perform either move, or jump and perform either move - though the jump attack timing is merciless and any aerial attacks are quite useless. The punch has a shorter range but produces double the points that a kick would have in any situation, and your score is one of the few things you can be motivated to care about here. The game is mostly a test of your ability to concentrate for extended periods in the face of tedium, as you will be expected to kill hundreds of identical simpleton foes in a row.

Angry looking men rush in constantly from both sides of the screen, shuddering from one frame of animation to the other. As they near you, they raise their fists in anger. How dramatic! But when they get their mitts on you (assuming you failed to muster the timing needed to punch or kick them), do they break out into exciting kung-fu violence? No! They touchingly stand still and hold you in place, sapping your energy until you shake them off. This stupid-looking and gross sensation of being held often made me swear my adolescent rocks off, as I thrashed the joystick and jammed the buttons in an attempt to fight free. In the meantime, the only decent enemies in the game, the infamous knife-throwers (will they throw high or low? Should I jump or duck?) will toss one annoying dagger into your twisting body after another.

If you're truly slack, you can allow yourself to be pinned by a whole pile of baddies at once, resulting in the spectacularly unappealing scene of yourself sandwiched on both sides by front-to-back men with their arms questing for you, as still more guys heap themselves on the pile. Gross!

As if this wasn't appealing enough, level three tosses angry midgets into the salad. These sad little critters will grab onto your crotch, or if you think to duck, they'll skip off your head for more damage. I have to admit that ducking to waist height and smashing a midget in the face with my fist, then watching his crumpled disappointment as he sailed slowly through the floor, was about the only catharsis of violence strong enough to bring me any real satisfaction at any time during this obnoxious game.

Levels two and four are unique for the assaults you will endure upon them from wildlife, and for the fact that you can now use absolutely no skill at all to save yourself. Level two sees you running through a storm of pots which randomly fall from the roof before smashing and turning into rampaging snakes. You can try to run, you can try to fight, you can try to hide, you can even roll into the foetal position and cry for it all to end, but the truth is that nothing works here. Kicking or punching the pots injures you badly, and the snakes are unkillable. You'll inevitably be brained by numerous pots and chomped by serpents which do HUGE amounts of damage. If you survive, it's just luck.

Level four is more of the same concept, but somehow delivered in an even more painfully random fashion. Enormous wasps materialise all over the screen, float about and occasionally decide to kill you. And so they do.

The boss-fights throughout Kung Fu Master are also negligible experiences, since it seems the only strategy you can use with any consistent success is the low kick, and thinking to do otherwise results in a sound drubbing. A bald thug with a club, a boomerang-tossing hunchback whose head you can knock off repeatedly (it grows back), a seemingly invulnerable warrior on level five... all shall succumb to button-mashing and your foot. Well, except the invulnerable one of course.

The straightforward gameplay of running along and kicking down regular enemy after regular enemy is the main fun of this game. And that 'fun' is short-lived, quickly tedious and embarrassingly presented with downright offputting graphics of men grappling each other and cartwheeling midgets. Everything else is poorly designed. The unkillable wildlife, lousy boss encounters, stupid wonky graphics and awful scrolling combine to make this a far worse entry in the Apple II's gaming history than I ever remembered it to be.

Good for a laugh, and absolutely nothing else.

...Oh wait! They reproduced the start-of-level tune from the arcade version perfectly! Isn't that great?

-- Kung Fu Master -- 3/10 --

Rating: 3/10

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Community review by bloomer (February 06, 2004)

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