The real Karate Kid. Sega style!
When it comes to sitting around and reminising about the good old days of classic games consoles and the games on them it's always tempting to instantly go to the big names, the famous games. Whilst completely understandable and something we all do there's also those times when we calm our mind, open up the heart and let the memories of the games that connected to the realities of gaming when young shine through.
As an adult, Megatron's_Fury can easily put his hand into his robot pockets and whack out some energon cubes to pay for a brand new game, because funds are more easily available. Ask a younger version of himself to do the same thing when it's hard enough to just afford the magazines that talk about the things he loved and it's a different story entirely.
Always time for some 8-Bit Wang!
Growing up in the UK in the 1980’s was awesome, not only were the TV shows and cartoons out of this world but films and music changed and evolved on what felt like a daily basis. For me the 1980’s will forever be the best decade based on just how much changed from the start of it until the end of it. Videogames may have had the biggest technological or sales penetration leaps in the 1990’s and the 00’s but my favourite decade had much more choice and ultimately, for me anyway, choice beats everything.
The problem of course is that when you are a kid that seemingly endless choice often get’s a swift kick in the plums from the reality of available funds to gain access to them. Whilst it has often been said that kids get the best toys, it’s adults that get the most opportunity to play with them. Who cares if Castle Greyskull from He-Man looks amazing when it’s going to take you a year to save up your pocket money to get it eh? Considering the average cost of games in the 1980’s on cartridge based systems and factoring in the average teenagers income it’s no wonder that people in that decade had vastly smaller collections compared to kids of the same age now. Buying a game meant research, meant taking time to see it in games magazines or watch people play it at your local games shop (remember them folks?)
The justification of spending those large amounts of money also positively enforced the will to complete it, not just once mind, several times. This may only apply to people of my age from my part of the world but getting a game on a system such as the Sega Master System in the 1980’s felt like it was Christmas. You researched it, you wanted it, you saved for it… by the hairs on Odin’s beard you were going to love it. A new game purchase was special! Every. Single. Time!
Whilst information is easy to find on just about anything now, back then games magazines were your primary source of information and a first point of call regarding deciding whether or not to go without sweets, comics, new music or cinema visits. The main problem was that those also cost money and there were so many to choose from. Kids these days genuinely don’t even know they are born! Another issue, especially for console fans in the UK was that during the first few years of the Master System there were very few publications that dedicated proper space to the system. If the game you wanted was a big hitter from Sega themselves like Out Run or Space Harrier, After Burner etc then you were ok but for the game in question today, sometimes a young and enthusiastic fan of videogames had to do the unthinkable… take a chance!
Kung Fu Kid was a game who’s screenshots had appeared on numerous posters included in game boxes and had been spotted several times in magazines like C&VG but it was far from well known. My instant love affair with it began after playing a friends NES and enjoying Kung Fu more than all the other games he had at the time. My other system during this period was the ZX Spectrum so of course seeing full colour graphics of a higher detail blew my mind. With only two other games in my possession for the Master System it was time for a new cartridge to sit in the slot, one look at Kung Fu Kid’s screenshots and I was sold. A 13 year old thus began his saving quest.
Released in the UK in 1987 as well as other European territories, North America and Japan, Kung Fu Kid is technically the follow-up to the 1985 Sega Mark III game called Dragon Wang. Whilst this second game doesn’t mention him by name on the box cover the manual does. Dragon Wang was actually an ok game for the Mark III but this new game on Sega’s newer console was a real step up in both graphics and sound terms.
The story, which by the way is told in classic minimal terms, is that of a powerful warlord called Madanda who has awoken after a long slumber and now threatens the world. You play the role of the hero, Wang, who must travel through 7 stages, dispatching Madanda’s goons and thugs in order to stop his evil plan and save everyone. Because of your exceptional skills and training only you can defeat this menace with your lightning fast kicks. You have to wonder if a lot of classic action hero film writers played a lot of early 8-Bit videogames, my money is on yes.
Gameplay is very much cut from the same cloth as the games that clearly inspired it such as Kung Fu and of course the previous entry in the Wang series (stop sniggering). Walking from left to right you travel through very nicely detailed and varied locations and fight a fairy decent, if small in variety, amount of enemies. What nicely stands Kung Fu Kid apart from all of it’s similar themed games of the time was that our hero can wall jump, in fact Kung Fu Kid is one of the earliest examples of the feature being used in such a game. Jumping is indeed a major component of the core gameplay because later levels bring in basic platform elements meaning that not only do you have to constantly be aware of the enemies coming at you but that you also have to jump back off of platforms to get to higher areas to continue etc. By today’s standards that may sound very ordinary but for 1987 and on the Master System… wow!
Another lovely aspect of Kung Fu Kid is that a few of the enemies are level specific giving a much larger impact of moving from one stage to the next. As per the norm for games like this and for games of the 8-Bit era each level has an end of stage boss battle and on two occasions that boss battle has two enemies to fight at once. For a scrolling beat ‘em up the variety is excellent, for a game from 1987 it’s fantastic! Continuing on with the enemies element the pairing of them to the games theme is superb. Everything is very much centred around either the mystical or outlandish variations of things or creatures you would expect to see if you were to visit places like this in the real life. From giant toads and Wizards to ogres, ghosts and lobsters this game has it all.
As your foes drop to the floor, defeated by your incredible fighting techniques (or when you press a button, whatever sounds cooler) occasionally they will drop what looks like a small white block. This is essentially a special attack situation that is described as magic but in all reality they look like throwing stars, so I’m going with that. Whilst it’s tempting to use this special attack in truth it’s easier to just kick your way through the level. In fact it’s that last sentence which highlights the games only real flaw, it’s way too easy!
Now it’s possible that I may just be saying this because I can complete this game without ever losing a life each and every time I play it but it’s also possible that I can do that because back in 1987 I paid the princely sum of £29.99 for it. Think about that people…, that’s 30 notes when I was 13! When you spend that much wonga on something that is over half a year’s pocket money then you probably will master it. Thanks to walkthrough videos on the internet now this game can be done in 10 minutes but back then repeated play meant I got that good. I’m not kidding when I say I must have completed this game over 100 times.
Absolutely a quirky game in every sense of the word, it’s full of fantastic things and superb gameplay, it’s very fast, super smooth and the control, which may seem a bit floaty at first, is brilliant. The music is great, it really is and is a mixture of chirpy chip tunes with a nice melodic sense of urgency to accompany the action and 99 second time limit on each area. For beginners it may seem a bit harsh that when you die, even on a boss battle you return to the start of the stage, but after a few plays that objection vanishes completely. Kung Fu Kid’s real flaw is that there’s just not enough for a skilled player or someone who takes the time to learn the patterns and gameplay flaws that allow for a quick run through the levels themselves.
All too often, especially on social media which is exhausting in it’s constant search to over evaluate everything of old by new terminology and standards (you really can tell the people who weren’t actually there, sorry if that offends) games like this get lost. One section will just put it in the “clone” category, others will give up before learning how to make it a complete cakewalk to complete citing it as being too hard and others will finish it then base it’s quality on that aspect alone. Doing any of that stuff above means you are missing out though, because at it’s core, Kung Fu Kid is loads of fun. It’s graphically pleasing and best of all it’s a game that wants you to work out it’s secrets. It’s games like this that made the 8-Bit era so awesome. When the only real negative you can give about a game is that there’s not enough and that you want more then that’s actually a bit of a positive.
When you put the pad down, can you say that you had fun? If the answer is yes then you just won twice because not only did you finish a game, which is a lovely feeling and always will be but you are also playing these old games in the right way. The same reason people pick up pads and play any game from 2017 is the same exact reason why kids in 1987, kids like me, did the same thing. The core difference being that in all seriousness we seemed to just have more fun with them and not only did we complete them but we took the time to play again and again and again to master them. Not for XP, not to make a video, not to post a picture of a kill streak on social media but to get every single ounce of value from those massive spends or that 3-5 night rental from blockbuster or your local video/games rental store (remember them?)
Is Kung Fu Kid good? Absolutely! Is it worth £29.99 of today’s money? Nope! The reason being that it doesn’t have to be and never should need to be. Did I obsess over wanting it as a 13 year old? Oh my god yes! Was it worth all those newspapers I delivered for the job I got to help pay for it and pocket money I saved? Come on people… Don’t ask me such a silly question, of course it was! What were my 2 other Master System games if this was my third? Hang-On and Transbot! I was the coolest kid I knew after all - lol