Sunday, 17 January 2021

The Way of the Exploding Fist (Melbourne House, 1985)

Originally designed by Gregg Barnett and written for the Commodore 64 by Beam Software:
Programming by Gregg Barnett and David Johnston, Graphics by Greg Holland, Music by Neil Brennan. Published by Melbourne House in 1985. Also published as "Kung-Fu: the Way of the Exploding Fist" in North America by Spinnaker Software (UXB).

Conversion for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum: Programming by Gregg Barnett, William Tang and Stephen Taylor, Graphics by Stephen Taylor and Greg Holland. Published by Melbourne House in 1985.

Converted for the Amstrad CPC by Gregg Barnett, Cameron Duffy and Dam, and published by Melbourne House in 1985. An upgraded version called "The Way of the Exploding Fist +" was released for the Amstrad CPC in 1986.

Converted for the Acorn BBC Micro and Electron by Michael Simpson, and published by Melbourne House in 1985.

Converted for the Commodore 16 by Richard Costello, and published by Melbourne House in 1986.

Unofficial (?) Sharp MZ-800 port written by Michal Kreidl, and published by MikrSoft in 1987.

Unofficial Commodore Plus/4 port "The Way of the Exploding Fist +4" written by Thomas Sasvari in 1993.

Unofficial port of the C16 version for the Atari 400/800 written by Fandal and Miker in 2017.

NES version was originally developed by Beam Software, with the last prototype being from 1990. The prototype was modified to be finishable, and the final release was made in 2019 by Piko Interactive. The Piko version has also been released for the Evercade handheld console in 2021.

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INTRODUCTION & GAME STATUS


If you have been following this blog for longer, you might remember I did a comparison of the much more adventure-oriented sequel to Exploding Fist for the Reset64 magazine many years ago. My excuse for putting off writing about the original game must be the lack of confidence in giving this classic game the high quality comparison it deserves, but since this comparison was also requested many moons ago, I have since started to make video accompaniments, which enables me to finally take the plunge and just get on with it. And while it's not particularly seasonal, I figured this would be a good way to begin 2021 with properly, so... Happy New Year!

When Exploding Fist was still a current game, it won the award of Best Sports Game in the Game Of The Year Awards in 1985, and took the second place in the Game Of The Year category. That's the sort of classic we're dealing with here. Reflecting on that, the original C64 version has a fine score of 8.4 from 265 votes at Lemon64, ranking it at #75 in the top 100 list (based on 50 votes). The Amstrad version also has a rather good score, with 16.62 out of 20.00 at CPC-Power, and a reviewer at CPC Game Reviews has given it an 8 out of ten. The upgraded Fist+ version has a score of 17.00 out of 20.00 at CPC-Power. From Wayback Machine's July 2018 snapshot of the original World of Spectrum archive, I found out the score back then was 8.30 from 319 votes, placing it on a shared spot #90 in the Top 100 at the time with four other games (Operation Wolf, Elite, Stop the Express and Arkanoid). The other Commodore version, the 16k one, doesn't celebrate quite as phenomenal status as the original, and has currently only a score of 6.7 from 7 votes at Plus/4 World, but then it is a 16k version. The 16k version's unofficial big brother for the Plus/4 has a more respectable 8 out of 10 from 15 votes, but since it's not either an official port, nor is it even modeled straight after the original Exploding Fist, it shall have to be dealt with separately.

As you might expect, there are no scores or ratings for the Acorn versions to be found anywhere, and neither can you find any reviews for the possibly unofficial Sharp port. If the Sharp port actually is a licenced, official port, do let me know, because having been written in Czechoslovakia and published by some other company than Melbourne House does feel a bit unofficial, which is why I assume so. The provenly unofficial port for the Atari 8-bit computers from 2017 does have a rating at Atarimania, but since it was based on the C16 version instead of the original, the score is unavoidably low, with only 3.2 out of 10 from 12 votes. Since the finished NES version is only available through purchase from Piko Interactive as a physical NES cartridge and on Evercade, I have decided to skip that for now, and give a section for the original leaked prototype at the end of this article. If I ever find myself purchasing the NES cartridge or the said Piko cart for my Evercade, an update shall be made accordingly.

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DESCRIPTION & REVIEW


Fighting games had a rough start in the arcades, particularly those more complex than just boxing games. The earliest example of an arcade game based on martial arts didn't come until 1984, with Data East's Karate Champ, developed by none other than Technos Japan, later responsible for the Renegade and Double Dragon series. Karate Champ itself is interesting enough to warrant a comparison of its own at some point, but this offers a point of reference to what came afterwards. Its most immediate competitor was Konami's arcade classic, Yie Ar Kung-Fu, which had a more entertaining manner of presenting martial arts in a game, opposed to clean and technical.

Melbourne House's the Way of the Exploding Fist became more of a direct competitor to Karate Champ, because it focused on the technical side of simulating one-on-one karate fighting. The convenient part of it was, that Exploding Fist was only developed for home computers, which would only get you invest your money once in the game, and let you become a master of martial joystick arts in your living room instead of wasting coins in an arcade machine. Perhaps even more conveniently, neither Karate Champ or Yie Ar Kung-Fu got their home conversions until months after Exploding Fist.

In terms of gameplay, Exploding Fist also borrowed from Karate Champ the manner of how the game would proceed: instead of the more usual energy bars we have seen in fighting games since Yie Ar Kung-Fu, the classic "shobu nihon kumite" scoring system is utilised here, in which a victory is represented by two full yin-yang symbols, which might take two to four successful hit deliveries, depending on your technique. Also following the form of Karate Champ - at least the later Player vs. Player edition of it - beating opponents gets you to new locations... at least, where more than one location is available.

Cover art from the
North American version.

At the time of its development, Exploding Fist was built like nothing before for the home computers. The player movement animations alone on the C64 reportedly featured over 600 sprite images, which I doubt is correct, but with 18 different moves to be made, and the player being impressive enough to require multiple sprites, the number cannot be far off. I remember reading from somewhere many years ago, that the moves in Exploding Fist are all modeled after demonstrations of a real-life martial arts expert, but I can't remember where I read it from, and who the expert was. But there's a good chance it was Jeoffrey Thompson, a British World Karate Champion, who endorsed the game with a quote on the cover, but who apparently wasn't famous enough to have his name featured in the game title.

To me, all that makes the Way of the Exploding Fist all the more special. It doesn't need a famous name to tell you it's good, although it might have helped the sales. It didn't need arcade hardware to prove how good a game can be despite the platform - rather, it only further proved how effective home computers are with games, while North America was still trying to recover from the Video Game Crash of 1983. Exploding Fist deserves its classic status, and should be required material for any retrogaming scholar's studies.

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LOADING


Seeing as Exploding Fist was originally, and aside from the belated NES version, only released on platforms that had a tape drive as their primary method of loading games, this section could be considered useful consumer advice. At least, if this had been made 35 years ago. Because Exploding Fist has been re-released by so many companies with their own loader schemes, we'll rip this section apart in several parts, making this the biggest Loading section this blog has ever seen! (insert megalomaniacal laughter and a cat here)

Commodore 64 loading screen variations.



C64, Melbourne House: 4 minutes 59 seconds
C64, Jackson Soft: 5 minutes 9 seconds
C64, Micropool: 4 minutes 6 seconds
C64, Ricochet: 3 minutes 14 seconds


The original Melbourne House tape loader uses Pavload, which is immensely useful compared to most other tape loading schemes, because it allows you to rewind and replay, if a bit of loading has produced an error, and it informs you as shown in the Pavload instructions screen. The original loader is also good enough to show you the in-game keys, in case you have lost your tape cover leaflet. Oddly enough, the C64 version doesn't have the man from the cover art doing a karate punch on a wooden plank with Chinese writing on it, but instead the focus is on the game title and the soothing background from what we shall know as the first location. Ricochet being one of Mastertronic's re-release labels, a much faster loading scheme including the Space Invaders clone "Invade-a-Load!" as a loader game, was used for that particular re-release.

Loading screen from the
ZX Spectrum versions.

ZX SPECTRUM, Melbourne/Dro Soft:
4 minutes 58 seconds
ZX SPECTRUM, Erbe Software:
5 minutes 12 seconds
ZX SPECTRUM, Ricochet:
4 minutes 38 seconds


Although the fastest Spectrum loader comes from the same Mastertronic budget re-release label, it doesn't reach the speed of the C64 re-release. Interestingly, though, the original Melbourne House release is almost exactly as slow as the C64 version. None of the Spectrum loaders feature anything additional material apart from the loading picture itself.

Loading screen from the
Amstrad CPC versions.

AMSTRAD CPC, Melbourne House org.:
4 minutes 9 seconds
AMSTRAD CPC, Melbourne House alt.:
4 minutes 47 seconds
AMSTRAD CPC, Dro (?): 5 minutes, sharp
AMSTRAD CPC, Ricochet: 5 minutes 10 seconds
AMSTRAD CPC, Erbe/Serie Leyenda:
4 minutes 34 seconds


Again, the fastest CPC loader isn't quite as fast as the fastest on the C64, but this time, the winner is curiously the original Melbourne House loader, and the Ricochet loader is over a minute slower.  Visually, there are no differences between the loaders. The assumed Dro Soft loader is marked with a question mark, because that's the only version that wasn't indicated as such from the tape images I found online. Also, I found no original media image files for the Fist+ upgrade, so I'm not entirely sure if it's an official release or not, but it is documented to having been released in 1986 by Melbourne House, so I'll include it in the comparison regardless of my reservations.

Commodore 16 loading screen variations.


C16, Melbourne House: 2 minutes 27 seconds
C16, Beau-Jolly (Five Star Games III): 1 minute 28 seconds
C16, Ricochet: 2 minutes 16 seconds
C16, Ricochet alt.: 1 minute 35 seconds


The Commodore 16 versions' loaders don't really have much to look at, apart from flashing raster bars, the familiar Novaload initialising screen and some garbled PETSCII graphics. However, even at its slowest, the C16 Fist loads properly quick, and the fastest available officially released version can be found on a Beau-Jolly compilation.

Acorn BBC Micro and Electron
loading screen variations
BBC MICRO, v1: 6 minutes 49 seconds
BBC MICRO, v2:
7 minutes 25 seconds

ELECTRON:
7 minutes 25 seconds

While clearly the slowest bunch of the lot, the two Acorn machines offer a relatively wide variety of loading screens for our viewing pleasure. The faster BBC Micro version even has two loading screens, featuring a rendition of the more familiar loading screen we've seen since the C64 version, but there are two other loading screens to go with the BBC and Electron, as well as an instructions screen on the Electron.

Finally, we have a bunch of unofficial releases and a possibly unofficial one. The Sharp MZ-800 version apparently was distributed on a cassette tape, but as I don't have the access to a proper MZ-800 tape, nor have I found tools to turn the .mzf-files into audio, nor does my only working MZ-800 emulator play the .mzf-files in realtime, I cannot provide any information regarding the loading of it. Which doesn't necessarily matter, since it's most likely an unofficial port anyway. The two more certainly unofficial releases don't seem to have much more than an internet presence, so the likelyhood of any physical format being available is bound to be a bootleg in any case.

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PLAYABILITY


All versions of Exploding Fist (not counting the NES version) start the same way, and that is a demo mode showing you the game being played by two pre-programmed computer opponents against each other. A successfully delivered hit gives a point to the fighter who delivered the hit, and the two fighters respawn at their starting spots, bow and head for another hit to find a way on their opponent. While you're marvelling their achievements, you can select the game options from designated keys that you should know by now from either the loading sequence or the cover leaflet, if you happen to own the original copies of the game. If not, I shall give you the information here just in case.

In the C64 version, you can toggle the in-game sound effects by pressing the INS/DEL key during the demo, but the four function keys are the main focus. F1 starts a new game, F3 toggles between one and two player modes, F5 restarts demo mode and F7 toggles between keyboard and joystick controls. The C16/+4 version is forced to be played with joysticks, and the only options you have are starting the game with either a single player mode with F1 or a two player mode with F2. Since the unofficial ATARI 8-bit version is practically a carbon copy of the C16/+4 version, the only notable differences are the keys used for the game options, which are the OPTION and START keys. In the SPECTRUM and SHARP versions, pressing '0' (zero) gives you control options, and '1' and '2' will start a game in either one or two player mode. You get no reset key in either version, but instead you need to press both G and H simultaneously to abort game. The ACORN versions have the options under five function keys: F0 restarts the demo mode, F1 and F2 select controllers for each player, F3 selects the game mode and F4 toggles music. The AMSTRAD version has the keys a bit more spread out: TAB toggles between keyboard and joystick controls, CAPS SHIFT toggles one and two player modes, @ will restart the demo mode, and SHIFT or your designated fire button starts the game.

When the basic mechanics and rules of gameplay are examined across all the platforms, there seem to be no really offending differences, apart from the C16/+4 version, and subsequently, the ATARI 8-BIT version as well, which I will get into after explaining the usual controls.

In a regular setting, you would have 17 movements all in all - 8 with the fire button pushed down and 9 with the fire button released. Again, two of them are obviously walking forwards and backwards (from which backwards also blocks when necessary), and two are somersaults, so you still get 13 fight moves. One of the released-button moves is trickier than the rest - for performing the low punch, you must first pull the joystick down, and then move it to the right-bottom corner. If you only pull the joystick straight diagonally down-right, you'll get a jab instead. Also, you can change your facing direction by performing a roundhouse kick (fire button and direction opposite from your facing) half-way and releasing. Because of this elaborate fighting system, you need nine keys on the keyboard (eight directions + fire) just to perform all the moves, so a joystick is definitely recommended.

For the C16/+4 and ATARI versions, you get 16 movements, of which two are for walking back and forth and two are for blocking high and low, which replace the two somersault moves from the original version. You also get no flying kick, so it doesn't matter whether you press the fire button when jumping or not - you just jump. Counting these out, you are left with 11 fight moves.


Now that we have dealt with the bigger issues, let's move on to the less meaningful ones. For one, the flying kick in the SPECTRUM version, and by relation, the SHARP version, moves you forward notably less than the original does. Of course, that does not necessarily make the two versions any better or worse for it, just something you get used to. Another notable but less interesting difference is the game speed and fluency. Taking the C64 original as a point of reference, the game speed is similar to it in the BBC MICRO and C16/+4 versions. Oddly enough, the ELECTRON runs a bit slower and choppier than the BBC MICRO version does, and the ATARI 8-bit version runs slightly faster than the C16 version does. From the usual competitors, the SPECTRUM version plays just slightly slower then the C64 version, but you wouldn't really notice, if you hadn't played the other one just prior to it; and the AMSTRAD version runs just slightly faster then the C64 version.

One of the reasons why the Way of the Exploding Fist was always such a fun game to return to, was to see if you could get to witness all the sceneries in the game. The original C64 version is the only one to feature as many as four different locations, at least in a single load. There is a Fist+ for the AMSTRAD, which features four locations, but they're all loaded in separately, but otherwise it doesn't really differ from the original single location CPC version. Having only one location, though, might contribute to it being slightly faster than the C64 version, though. The C16/+4, and thereby the unofficial ATARI version, both only have one location, as does the original ACORN versions. However, the BBC MICRO had a v2 release later on with two locations. The SPECTRUM and SHARP versions have three locations. Although this difference practically only concerns graphics, it also affects the longevity of each version, which really is a part of this section.

As if that weren't enough, the C64 version also features an exclusive gameplay feature. After every fourth fight (which takes place in front of the Buddha statue), you get a bonus round, in which a buffalo comes running at you from the right side of the screen. You can either somersault over it or punch it with a low punch, but it's not a necessary feat to master to move on to the next opponent.

Now, we obviously have a clear winner for this section, but scoring the rest of them requires some heavy thinking. The AMSTRAD version is definitely one of the most playable ones, as it's just a bit faster than the original, but it suffers from a lack of graphical content to give incentive to play for very long. The SPECTRUM and SHARP versions, on the other hand, have more graphical content, but have slight issues in gameplay. From the ACORN versions, the second BBC MICRO release is fairly close to the original, if a bit choppy, and the ELECTRON version is slower and choppier, and is as interesting as the original AMSTRAD version. The unofficial ATARI version has a small advantage of speed over the original C16/+4 version it was ported from, but they might as well share the bottom of the barrel. Clearly, I'm going to have to use some creative thinking here.


1. COMMODORE 64
2. AMSTRAD / BBC MICRO / SHARP / ZX SPECTRUM
3. ACORN ELECTRON
4. C16/+4 / ATARI

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GRAPHICS


For such a graphically advanced game in 1985, Exploding Fist doesn't have all that much to see in it. Basically, 90% of the visual focus is on the fighter animations, of which there are so many frames I wouldn't be able to count them, much less compare with any reliable method, mostly due to most of the emulators I'm using being unable to catch animations frame-by-frame, but also due to my being a bit lazy about it, and not wanting to unnecessarily overtax the readers with hundreds of megabytes of JPG's to load upon opening this comparison entry. So, what you will have to contend with is a brief text-only comparison of the animations, and more focus on the locations.

Screenshots from the demo mode and control options.
Top row, left to right: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Sinclair ZX Spectrum.
Bottom row: Acorn BBC Micro/Electron, Commodore 16 (and Atari 400/800), Sharp MZ-800.



It has to be mentioned, that Exploding Fist was an oddity in its time for having no actual title screen with clearly separated options screen. To be fair, though, having an original physical media version of the game with a loading screen that stays on for a couple of minutes, a title screen is not exactly required. Some of the options are shown in the demo screen, like the number of players and the chosen control options, but the presence of music can only be heard if it's there or not. The demo screen also clearly indicates of it being the Demo screen in most versions; only the ACORN, C16 and ATARI versions don't bother with such frivolities. If the SHARP version is an unofficial port, as I suspect it to be, the SPECTRUM version is the only official version that has a separate options screen. But the SHARP version is the only one that has the game title and credits shown in the demo screen.

Locations from the Commodore 64 version.



The background graphics in the original C64 Way of the Exploding Fist are decidedly oriental - more particularly Japanese. You get an obligatory view of Fuji-san and some other mountains in three of the game's four screens, a Buddha statue, cherry trees, a Torii, a Pagoda, a miniature garden, and one screen is taken from inside of a training facility. Your sensei in his long black mustache and grey robe is sitting further behind in the first two screens, judging away your bouts, and comes slightly closer in the latter two levels.

I wouldn't necessarily agree with all the colour choices here: the sky is turqoise instead of light blue, whereas the watery bits could be darker blue, and the ground is a bit unmovingly yellow in all screens, probably for good, technically restrictive reasons - I suppose from the C64's palette, yellow fits the least worst simultaneously with white, red, pink and black. Also, I'm not sure purple is a very natural colour for a mountain, but it goes together with the turqoise sky. Taken into consideration the C64's restrictions, the colour scheme couldn't have been much better, though, at least in this context. With an 8-bit machine, you have to give some artistic freedoms, anyway.

A good amount of room has been left for the info panel at the top, which is mostly just basic text in a font that's annoyingly close to the C64 system font, and all text is in dark blue, which fits nicely together with turqoise. The yin/yang-symbols are the only actual graphics in the info panel.

Locations from the original Amstrad CPC release (top left screen)
and the 1986 Exploding Fist+ version (all the other screenshots).



Now, as I mentioned earlier, the original AMSTRAD version only has one screen to play in, and that is the top-left one. This location is not featured in the C64 version, so we're a bit off the map, but not that wide off the mark. It's just a large temple, though, with two lion statues and your sensei sitting between them. The info panel is as similar to the original as you might expect, and the colour scheme differs in any important manner only by having the second player wear a blue robe instead of red.

The other four screens are featured in the "Exploding Fist+" CPC game, and there's a couple of similar locations to the original C64 Fist - the level 1 screen (Torii) is pretty much as it was in the original, and level 4 (Buddha) is similar enough, if a bit rearranged. The big temple building is a completely new background, as is the rather out-of-place Egyptian background. After all, this is not International Karate.

Although the animations are pretty much spot on, it took a while for me to notice there's something odd about the CPC screens. The thing is, the lower half of the screen is always the same, with a section of a lighter shade yellow, which contains the two lion statues, and a section of a darker yellow, which contains the two fighters, and the fighters never collide with any of the more complex background graphics, unlike on the C64. As if that would have been impossible to pull off on the Amstrad. Then again, this clear separation must have made the modifications for new background graphics considerably easier, and the lack of collision with background graphics has made it possible to make the game slightly faster then the original. Still, too bad you can only load one background at a time.

Locations from the Sinclair ZX Spectrum (top row) and Sharp MZ-800 (bottom row) versions.



Here we have the ZX SPECTRUM version, and its direct descendant on the SHARP MZ-800. They both feature three of the original's four screens (with the second one missing), which, taken everything into consideration, are both very nice in their own ways. While the SPECTRUM version certainly has more colour, some of the colour clash is a bit too clashy, but it hardly matters when you're mostly looking at your monochrome fighters in their black and greyish robes. The SHARP version makes up for the lack of colour with clarity, but having only three colours on the screen is a bit disheartening to look at. Unlike the AMSTRAD version(s), these two actually collide with the background graphics when doing flying kicks and somersaults, so in a way, the SPE/MZ-800 versions are technically more risk-taking than the CPC version. Besides, you get all three level screens on the same load, and in 48k, so it has to count for something. The MZ-800 version is, unfortunately, notably slower than the SPECTRUM version, which itself is just slightly slower than the original, but not annoyingly so.

Locations from the Acorn BBC Micro and Electron versions.
Both ACORN versions have similar graphics to each other, only there's a BBC MICRO version, which features one level more to the original Acorn releases. The ELECTRON version and the first BBC MICRO version both feature only the Buddha screen, while the second BBC version also has the indoors screen.

It's all a bit less colourful than the SPECTRUM version is, and certainly blockier than any version up to this point. The animations are clearly jerkier than in the original, and the BBC MICRO version plays at a similar speed to the SPECTRUM version; the ELECTRON version feels closer to the speed of the MZ-800 version, and is even jerkier in its animations.

The only location from the Commodore 16 (left) and Atari 400/800 (right) versions.



Unfortunately, there's still something worse. Similarly to the CPC, the C16/+4 version and the ATARI version based on it, feature only a single screen for background graphics, and that is the Buddha screen. The details are minimal, the fighters are monochrome and smaller than in any other version, they lack finesse in animations and... well, I cannot honestly say anything in particular that would make either of them look better in any way than any other version. Apart from the fact that both C16/+4 and ATARI versions have more colour than the MZ-800 version.

Comparing these two versions, however, is a feat of its own. On close inspection, the ATARI version has one more colour than the C16/+4 version, although in all honesty, I find it remarkably odd that the Buddha statue would have a purple robe, when in all other versions, it has only had the colour of the material it has supposedly been carved from - stone, gold or some unknown cyan material.

The Commodore 64 -exclusive bull bonus screen.
If the C64 version hadn't beaten the others yet, the additional bull-fighting sequence certainly gives it a long edge over the other versions, since it's the only version that has it. The bull-fighting sequence is triggered after every fourth level, and the idea is to either jump over, or punch the running bull in its forehead to make it pass out. Punching him brings is funnier, and obviously triggers an animation that wouldn't get played if you just jumped over it.

For further point-making on the fighting animations, I can only guide you toward the end of this article, where you can find an embedded YouTube link to a video accompaniment to this comparison, featuring footage from all versions of Exploding Fist - including the prototype NES version. As for the scores for this section, there's really only one way to go here.

1. COMMODORE 64
2. ZX SPECTRUM
3. AMSTRAD CPC
4. ACORN BBC MICRO
5. ACORN ELECTRON / SHARP MZ-800
6. C16/+4 / ATARI 8-BIT

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SOUNDS


Prior to Exploding Fist, oriental fighting games didn't have particularly oriental soundtracks. For this game, the designers decided upon getting that part of the equation right, which helps with the immersion a bit more than in games like Karate Champ and Kung-Fu Master. The soundtrack in Exploding Fist is based on the Chinese piece "Dance of the Yao Tribe" or "...Yao People" - the translation seems to vary - by Liu Tieshan and Mao Yuan, written in 1952.


The soundtrack consists of three clearly different pieces of music, of which the demo mode features the most obvious excerpt from "...Yao People", and is considered by most fans as the centerpiece in the soundtrack. The in-game tune is a slower, more atmospheric piece that has nothing to do with the Yao people, apart from perhaps being an inspiration for Neil Brennan to write it. It's not exactly what you would expect a fighting game to have, if you have grown up with the techno-laden fighters like Tekken and Toshinden, but since this is a more thoughtful and strategic one-on-one fighting game, the ambient music suits Exploding Fist very well. There's also a third tune, a short jingle which plays when your Game is Over, which is perhaps a bit too stereotypical, but because of its shortness and placement, it's acceptable.

Voice samples were always an event, when such luxuries appeared on any 8-bit game, and somehow, they seemed to be even more effective than in other cases, when you heard them in martial arts games. In the C64 original, all sound effects are samples, although there aren't that many of them. If I have counted correctly, there are three different shouts (mostly pitch variants), one sound effect is for delivering a hit, and one is for when you take a fall. It's not all that much, yet it's enough to make the action more realistic.

The SPECTRUM version only has beeper sounds, as there is no 128k version. Perhaps all for the better, the amount of music has been reduced to only one, which is the Game Over jingle from the C64 version, which is now shortened to half of it, and used for the beginning of each match, instead of its rightful Game Over spot. However, the lack of music has been compensated with a bit more sound effects, all of which are sampled. The samples are not in as high quality as on the C64, but they have more variety, which is a nice alternative. Since the SHARP MZ-800 version is an almost direct port from the SPECTRUM version in all things, the sounds are exactly the same as on the SPECTRUM.

On the AMSTRAD, you get a similar set of sounds as on the SPECTRUM, but they're played by the AY-chip, so the brief level-starting ditty has harmonics, which sort of makes it closer to the C64 original, but only barely. Unfortunately, the sampled sound effects are of a low quality, and there not nearly as many of them here, so I'm ranking the CPC version's sounds below the SPECTRUM version.

For the two ACORN machines, they managed to fit in two different tunes: an abbreviated version of the original "Dance of the Yao People" segment, which plays during both the demonstration and while you're playing; and the Game Over jingle is where it's supposed to be. The sound effects are pretty much what they are on the AMSTRAD, but slightly better defined. The BBC MICRO version has better sound capabilities, so the "Yao People" tune has two simultaneous melodies, and the sound effects sound more like samples, where as the ELECTRON version sounds like you were playing an 80's DOS game with traditional beeper sounds. So, the BBC MICRO version gets seated above the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions, while the ELECTRON version goes below them.

Our last two are not quite as close as you would think, although the ATARI 400/800 version was modeled after the COMMODORE 16 version. The C16 version's sounds are almost directly on par with the ELECTRON version, with the main title theme and Game Over jingle played as if coming from a single-channel beeper, and the sound effects being nothing more than two or three slightly differing smash noises. The ATARI version is a clear upgrade from its C16 original, with the "Yao People" tune now rivaling the C64 rendition, and featuring two completely original jingles for winning a match and the inevitable Game Over. The sound effects are also just about as varied and interesting as in the C64 and SPECTRUM versions, but completely differently programmed, since they're not voice samples. It's a rather odd balance to the otherwise faithful port of a sub-par version of the game.

1. COMMODORE 64
2. ATARI 8-BIT
3. ACORN BBC MICRO
4. SINCLAIR ZX SPECTRUM / SHARP MZ-800
5. AMSTRAD CPC
6. ACORN ELECTRON / COMMODORE 16

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THE NES AND PLUS/4 VERSIONS


The NES version is actually called "Exploding Fist", with "The way of the" taken out of the title. Also gone is the traditional form of score counting, replaced with a style of bouting pretty much exactly like in International Karate by System 3. There's even a three-player mode in the NES Exploding Fist, which suggests a consequence of IK+ becoming the yardstick, and Melbourne House's own actual Exploding Fist+ (not the CPC+ game), basically a carbon copy of IK+, being the last published game in the series. The single-player mode is played against one computer opponent, and the two-player mode is played by two human opponents against one computer opponent. Supposedly, the three-player mode requires a multi-tap for the third player, but I haven't tested it.

Screenshots from the unfinished NES beta version (1990)




Concerning the fighting moves, the NES version differs a bit from the original, with both action buttons of the NES pad being in use. Although there seems to be as many moves as in the original, they are located a bit illogically due to how unspecific the D-pad on an NES controller can be, so all diagonals are basically the same in any configuration of action, meaning whether you have button A or B pressed down, or neither, while pushing the D-pad into a chosen direction.

There are also more background graphics in NES Exploding Fist than even in the original version, and the third player adds some more colour into the fighting. The originally ever present judge has been taken away from the picture, though, even if his speech bubbles remain. Musically, there's only a hint of orient left in the completely remade theme tune, which is a bit too energetic, if we were playing the original Exploding Fist, but the NES version also plays notably quicker, so the upbeat music fits here. Sound-wise, the effects are okay for what they are, but there are no voice samples.

More screenshots from the unfinished NES beta version (1990)
Although it's not precisely an attempt at recreating the Way of the Exploding Fist on the NES, it is still a rather good game, and certainly miles better than the NES port of Karate Champ. But it doesn't belong in the comparison, really.


At least for now, the final piece in the Fist puzzle is the unofficial conversion for the COMMODORE PLUS/4, written by Thomas Sasvari in 1993. The Plus/4 World website features an author's note about the game, which I might as well copy-paste here for the sake of convenience: "This game is not converted but rewritten using original graphics and idea. I have never played the original version and I had no idea about the original movements or even the gameplay. I just wanted to write a karate-game and I have used the best graphic and atmosphere I was able to find..." Regardless of mr. Sasvari's admittedly roundaboutish way of making this game, though, it manages to beat its most immediate competition - the C16 version.

The first difference you will notice is, both players wear the same colours, so it's hard to see at first, which one you're controlling, because player one is actually the one who starts from the right side of the screen instead of his usual left. There aren't nearly as many fighting moves in the PLUS/4 version as in the other versions; I counted only 10 moves + the walking moves. The only important moves missing, though, are the somersaults, but some of the fighting moves are oddly placed in the joystick, such as the flying kick is backwards-up diagonal. On a more positive note, you can switch directions with the crouching punch as well as the roundhouse kick. Yet on another less positive note, the hit detection for all the fighting moves is not exactly perfect. Also worth noting is, that a round doesn't end with two full yin-yangs, nor even three. In fact, a round ends only when the time is out, and the winner is declared with the amount of hit points gathered. Too bad the AI is quite difficult to beat even in novice mode, mostly due to the hit detection problems.

Screenshots from the unofficial Commodore Plus/4 version (1993)

But at least the visuals are pretty close to the original, apart from there being only three locations and the obvious player colouring problem, but that's still two more than on the C16; and the audio is a bit more acceptable than on the C16, featuring a unique in-game tune and inventive use of the 2-channel TED-chip to feature some harmonics. But I'd definitely rather play the PLUS/4 version than (the worse) half of the official versions, because it looks good and it plays fast enough.

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OVERALL + VIDEO

Since writing the comparison of Fist II, it took me almost seven years to get here, so if the somewhat illogically mathematical results are underwhelming, I'm not sure if you should blame the blog's author or the game's versions. But here they are, nonetheless:

1. COMMODORE 64: Playability 4, Graphics 6, Sounds 6 = TOTAL 16
2. SINCLAIR ZX SPECTRUM: Playability 3, Graphics 5, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 11
3. ACORN BBC MICRO: Playability 3, Graphics 3, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 10
4. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 3, Graphics 4, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 9
5. SHARP MZ-800: Playability 3, Graphics 2, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 8
6. ATARI 8-BIT: Playability 1, Graphics 1, Sounds 5 = TOTAL 7
7. ACORN ELECTRON: Playability 2, Graphics 2, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 5
8. COMMODORE 16: Playability 1, Graphics 1, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 3


If you didn't read the entire comparison, the scores might not make all that much sense, and not counting the NES and COMMODORE PLUS/4 versions in the scores might be a bit stretching the limits of what to score and what not to. However, as I said earlier, the NES version is such a different experience, that it cannot honestly be counted as a port of the original game, and the PLUS/4 version was not even designed as an Exploding Fist port, but rather the graphics and the idea - and some of its sounds - were ripped from the C64 game. That said, I'd still put it between CPC and MZ-800 in the above list. If that doesn't convince you, maybe this compiled video will:


There you have it then - the original Exploding Fist finally ripped apart as much as it's possible in this manner, with a video comparison to support the written and unwritten facts. I suppose there's some logic to be found here, as to why Fist II only ever got versions for the C64 and Spectrum, though I'm not sure that logic is all that logical. Still, I hope you've enjoyed this, after my relatively low-energy comparisons of the past year, but with COVID-19 still going on strong, my focuses have been largely on other things than gaming lately. Let us hope, then, for a much better year 2021; stay safe and see you around for more blasts from the past!

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