Sunday 1 October 2023

TWO-FER #25: Yie Ar Kung-Fu (Konami, 1984/1985)

Originally developed and released for the arcades by Konami Industry Co. Ltd. in 1984.

Acorn Electron & BBC Micro version written by Peter Johnson. Published by Imagine Software in 1985.

Amstrad CPC version written by Keith Wilson and Brian Beuken, with graphics by Brian Beuken. Published by Imagine Software in 1985.

Commodore 64 version:
Programming by David Collier
Graphics by Stephen Wahid
Music by Martin Galway
Published by Imagine Software in 1985.

Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48k version written by Brian Beuken, with loading screen by F. David Thorpe. Published by Imagine Software in 1985.

Sinclair ZX Spectrum 128k version written by Brian Beuken, Jonathan Smith, Mike Weeb, Paul Owens, Ian Martin, Tony Pomfret and Colin Gresty, with music by Martin Galway and loading screen by F. David Thorpe. (No further details are known.) Originally published as "Yie Ar Kung-Fu +2" in the "Stars On The 128" compilation by Imagine/Ocean Software in 1986.

Commodore 16/+4 version: no credits known, apart from being produced by David Ward; published by Imagine Software in 1986.

Game Boy Advance version released on the Konami Collector's Series: Arcade Advanced (US) / Arcade Classics (EU) compilation cartridge in 2002.

Unofficial conversion for the Atari 320XE written by Krzysztof Gora, with music by Michal Szpilowski and graphics by Daniel Kozminski and Krzysztof Gora. Released into public domain in 2006.

Also, official digital downloads of more or less the emulated arcade version were released for Xbox 360 in 2007, Windows in 2010, and Sony PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch in 2019. These versions will not be included in this comparison.

Completely re-designed for the MSX and Nintendo Famicom and published by Konami in 1985.

Game Boy version of the 1985 re-designed Yie Ar Kung-Fu released on Konami GB Collection Vol.3 compilation cartridge in 1997; the European version was released as Vol.4 in 2000.

The MSX version was ported to the ColecoVision by Opcode Games in 2005.

Unofficial conversion for the Sega Genesis/Megadrive based on the Famicom/MSX version written by Evgeny (with music engine by Shiru) in 2008.



This October, we're going to have a bit of a weird sub-theme. Since 2021, October has been the month of games released by Ocean Software, at least in some regions, or some of the versions of the games in question at any given time. We still continue with Ocean to some extent, but this time, we're taking on a couple of Konami arcade games Ocean released under the acquired Imagine label. So that's basically three different publishers responsible for these two chosen games.

First, I decided to try to make a comparison of Yie Ar Kung-Fu, another classic one-on-one arena style beat'em-up, for the simple reason of finally getting a game in FRGCB's library of comparisons that will go under the letter Y. I have tried to avoid writing about this game for a long time, because Hardcore Gaming 101 made their own comparison of Yie Ar Kung-Fu in 2011, but I suppose it's been long enough now. Luckily, I do kind of like this game for nostalgic reasons, so it was only a matter of time, when I would get around to doing this one. However, I always felt like Yie Ar Kung-Fu is more known for its Nintendo and MSX versions than the versions based on the original arcade game, so this needed to be made into something of a two-for-one comparison instead of just a regular one. So, hold on to your belts, this one's going to be a stupidly long one.

Whatever each of the versions are like, their ratings when I started writing this comparison were of as wide a range as practically anything above mediocre. The original arcade game had a 3.50 out of 5.00 from 7 votes at the Arcade Museum, and the arcade game's direct ports are as follows: CPC-Power's score is 16/20, CPC Game Reviews score is 7/10, Spectrum Computing rating is a clean 7.0 from 13 votes, the original archived World of Spectrum rating was 8.21 from 65 votes, Plus/4 World's rating is 4.7/10 from 12 votes; and there are two ratings for the C64 version at Lemon64 - 7.48 from 181 votes for the European release, and 7.65 from 31 votes for the American release. As you might have guessed, the Acorn versions still have no ratings to be found. From the two wildly differing versions for the MSX and Famicom, the MSX version has a rating a 3.5 stars out of 5 from 52 votes at Generation-MSX, but I couldn't find a rating from a Famicom/NES-specific website, so alternative scores are 3/5 stars for both MSX and Famicom/NES versions at MobyGames, the former from 10 ratings, and the latter from 15 ratings. Phew! The Atari version doesn't seem to have an entry on a website with ratings, and there's still the Game Boy versions in the Konami compilation cartridges, but since they're compilations, they're a bit difficult to qualify.



The title of Yie Ar Kung-Fu is one that has always been something of a mystery to me and some of my friends. Some say the title is derived from the shout "hi-yah!" you often hear kung-fu fighters shout. Others say it's supposed to be "You Are Kung-Fu", but is written in a phonetically faux-Chinese style. While doing research for this comparison, I found another explanation - according to Generation MSX website's page on the game, the title is a pun on Chinese numbers 1 to 4: Yī Èr Sān Sì. I suppose it's as good a theory as any.

Imagine cover art.
What the game really is, is a single-screen head-to-head fighting game with more or less 10 opponents (depending on your chosen version) and some of the fighting moves leaning more towards visual effects from Chinese fantasy movies than just realistic moves. You play as Oolong, whose specialities are a flying kick and massively long and high jumps, but you can also do a few different punches and kicks. There is a two-player mode in the game, as well, but it is turn-based, and the player character doesn't change.

Although Yie Ar Kung-Fu was released to the arcades not long after Karate Champ, it still pioneered in a few important things that would come to be common elements in later arena fighting games. For one, this was the first time you were to face a vast amount of clearly different opponents with wildly differing fighting styles. Another thing that was introduced in Yie Ar Kung-Fu was the health meter - specifically a real-time health meter, instead of the hit point -based ones used by every other arena fighting game, apart from Yie Ar Kung-Fu's sequels, until the first Street Fighter game got released in 1987.

Despite having by large fairly positive reviews and ratings all over the retrogaming websites, Yie Ar Kung-Fu still manages to divide gamers, but I blame Konami's MSX and Famicom versions on that. Either way, though, it is considered a classic for all the right reasons, and anyone who enjoys the Tekkens, Mortal Kombats, Street Fighters and the Smash Bros. games today, should have an obligation to educate themselves with playing the game that started the arena fighting genre properly.



Being one of those games, where loading times can vary wildly, even amongst those not released on cartridges, we might as well take a look at the cassette versions' loading times again.

AMSTRAD CPC - original: A) 4 min 46 sec + B) 4 min 58 sec
AMSTRAD CPC - Erbe Software: 3 minutes 54 seconds
COMMODORE 16: 2 min 45 sec (part 1: 1 min 21 sec)
COMMODORE 64 - standalone: 4 min 37 sec
COMMODORE 64 - compilations: 5 min 36 sec
ZX SPECTRUM - original / Hit Squad: 3 min 22 sec
ZX SPECTRUM - Erbe Software: 2 min 56 sec
ZX SPECTRUM - Stars on the 128: 5 min 47 sec

All right, so that actually includes versions for seven different platforms - in case it wasn't clear enough yet, the 128k Spectrum version is completely different to the 48k version; and also, the two Acorn versions, while equal of length, need their own specific versions to be loaded in. Perhaps also worth noting is, the standalone C64 versions require all peripherals unconnected from the computer, otherwise the loading will either crash or not finish properly. This is a form of copy protection, but this was taken off from the compilation re-releases, and the loader was replaced with a slower one. Uniquely, and certainly a bit sadly, the C16 version requires a bit of more loading after beating the fourth opponent.

On another note, the ATARI XE/XL version requires a 320XE machine to work - in other words, 320kb or RAM. Also, it only works properly on a PAL Atari, as it seems to crash after starting a game, right after the first Get Ready screen.

Loading screens.
Top row: Acorn BBC Micro, Acorn Electron, ZX Spectrum 48k, ZX Spectrum 128k, Atari 320XE.
Bottom row: Commodore 64 original + re-release, Commodore 16, Amstrad CPC.

From all the available loading screens, only the 128k SPECTRUM version attempts to replicate the cover art, and with rather good results, but then it's an F.D. Thorpe loading screen, so you can't really expect anything worse. The 48k screen is rather simplistic in comparison, with no graphics apart from the game title, and the Imagine and Konami logos, all of which are well made. In all their relative simplicity, the ACORN loading screens are rather well pixelated, as well, and at least you get Oolong doing a flying kick instead of no Oolong at all - and the BBC MICRO version has a bit more colour to it. From the two COMMODORE versions, the C16 has no real loading screen (though rarely there is such a thing on the C16), and there are two variants of the same loading screen on the C64. Both screens show Oolong in the exact same kick pose, with the game title under him, and a loose shuriken and a nunchuk coming at him. The only differences are the Imagine logo having been changed to Konami logo in some of the compilation re-releases, as well as Steve Wahid's name shown in the bottom right corner. The AMSTRAD loading screen shows a nice countryside background, on which the oddly angular-looking game title is superimposed. Finally, the unofficial ATARI 320XE version has only a rendition of the title logo as its loading screen.



Having grown up with only the C64 version, when I first got to play the arcade version through some form of emulation, I thought the C64 version was surprisingly close to the original, at least when compared to the Nintendo and MSX versions. Now, though, I'm not that sure anymore. But for the majority of this comparison, we shall be keeping strictly to the ARCADE original and its immediate ports, and do a separate chapter on the Nintendo and MSX versions.

Oolong's kung-fu moves according to the
Imagine home conversions' game manual.
(Sorry for the bad quality.)
First off, you have to remember, that the ARCADE version uses two fire buttons: one for kicks and one for punches. This, by design, is impossible to do with any credibility on any 8-bit home computer, unless you design the game to use keyboard controls only. Which, of course, generally wasn't the thing to do in those days. Since joysticks would have to be accommodated as a general rule, some compromises were necessary. Most of the home conversions go with the traditional compressed method, where there are only so many moves that the joystick can hold with the single button pressed down or de-pressed, at best resulting in no more than ten fight moves, because you do have to be able to move freely. The COMMODORE 16 version is so barebones, that it only features five fight moves, and what makes it more distracting, is that pulling the joystick up while pressing the fire button turns on the Pause mode, which can be turned down by pulling down with fire. The ACORN versions don't fare any better, as I could only pull off four moves on those (only kicks), and neither version supports joystick controls, so it's the usual keyboard controls you probably know by now concerning the ACORN computers - Z, X, ;, : and Enter, or something like that. What the two SPECTRUM versions have done is include a toggler button (Space bar) for switching between punches and kicks, which actually becomes an important part of the game's strategy. So, the only home conversion of the arcade game that is able to pull off the controls as closely as possible as intended, is the GAMEBOY ADVANCE version.

Secondly, any good one-on-one fighting game has to be completely controllable, with as little as possible for you to have to rely on either luck or that the controls are so fluid and the opponent AI bad enough that you can just more or less wing through entire game with just a couple of moves. And of course, collision detection in these sorts of games is one thing that needs to be perfect. Let's face it, though: these games didn't really start to appear until the 3D fighters like Tekken came out. But the original arcade version of Yie Ar Kung-Fu was, for a 1984 game, surprisingly well-balanced and programmed to get most of these aspects right.

Now, what I did like about the C64 version when I grew up, was the beautifully fast and fluid game speed and control style, which could put many fighting games to shame for many years to come. However, I have lately realized, that while the speed and fluidity work perfectly well with a joystick equipped with an auto-fire mechanism, the C64 version doesn't play nearly as well without auto-fire, once you actually need to think how to deal with all the opponents in the normal way. Using a Quick Shot II Turbo joystick with auto-fire and focusing on jump kicks and leg sweeps would get you easily to at least round 7 or 8, but without auto-fire, you really need to think your moves properly and be careful with how you execute them. The controls are just too fluid for their own good, often doing something completely different than what you were intending to, because the response time is a bit weird - not delayed, just overly enthusiastic. It doesn't exactly help, that the collision detection can be a bit unreliable. (That said, I have completed the C64 version without auto-fire as well as with it.)

In essence, what Yie Ar Kung-Fu really needs is some solid grounding of the controls, which happens by giving Oolong a tiny bit of time to settle after each completed maneouvre. The 128k SPECTRUM version manages to pull this off just about perfectly, while the 48k version is a bit too stiff and inanimate to be comfortable. Still, it isn't nearly as bad as the AMSTRAD version, which often gets stuck on your fight moves, and the slow and clunky animation doesn't help to ascertain what is going on at any given time. The two ACORN versions are quick enough, but they also lack almost all possible finesse in the controls - the best way really to deal with these versions is just to find a move you are the most comfortable with to use constantly and at a quick rate, and plough on. The COMMODORE 16 version has such a bad collision detection that it hurts, and your opponents act a bit weirdly, so the only tried and true method of beating the game is to constantly use lunge-punch from enough distance. This is the first time we need to mention the unofficial ATARI 320XE conversion, which tries to emulate the C64 version to its creators' best abilities, but some of the moves (such as jumping) feel a bit wonky. Again, the GAMEBOY ADVANCE version gets its controllability, collision detection and AI as close to the arcade original as possible - although I have to say, the arcade version feels a bit easier.

Lastly, we need to have a clear idea of how all the enemies should act and how difficult they are supposed to be to defeat. In the ARCADE version, there are ten normal opponents and one special number between the fourth and the fifth opponents. We are not going to go through them one by one, but rather in a general overview sort of way, but before that, let's get all eleven opponents introduced.

A large man, who is able to fly, but is cumbersome in his fighting moves. Easy to beat.
A slender woman, who doesn't move very quickly, but throws shuriken. Fairly easy to beat.
A nunchuk-wielding man in a yellow suit, who is able to hit you more easily than the previous opponents, with a possibility of consecutive hits, but his tendency to whip his nunchuks around makes him an easy target, particularly with jump kicks.
An elderly man wiedling a large pole, who moves constantly and surprisingly rapidly, and is able to make many consecutive hits. Usually helps to keep your distance and use punches, upon where he retreats. Medium difficulty opponent.
A series of unimportant fighters that act as one-hit targets, coming from both sides of the screen, until you fill the quota. Very easy to beat.
A large and slowish, but aggressive man wielding an extremely extendable chain as a weapon, which makes him a difficult target to hit. Medium difficulty opponent.
A fighter with a club and a shield. Very difficult to hit, very easy to get hit by him. Usually single low kicks and retreats are the way to go. Medium plus difficulty opponent.
8. FAN
A similarly designed female character as Star, only this one throws randomly flying fans into the air, so it's a bit more difficult to get hits delivered. Fairly easy to beat.
A fast sword-wielding man, who is very difficult to hit and can deliver hits with ease. Hard opponent.
Basically, a fast and unpredictably moving version of Pole, but is not good in close combat. Drive him up to a corner, use punches, and he should be easy enough to beat. Medium plus/hard minus.
Almost like a mirror image of Oolong. Prioritises kicks, so punches should be better against him. Still, almost impossible to beat.

All eleven opponents will be shown in a full character comparison in the Graphics section.

It has to be stated, that most home conversions of Yie Ar Kung-Fu do not feature all eleven opponents. From all the conversions released in the 80's, only the 128k SPECTRUM version features all the opponents. Feedle is the most common one to be dropped, although rather oddly, the two ACORN versions have Feedle appear twice in the run - on the fifth spot and as the final opponent before the game loops, but then they dropped out Club and Tonfun. In addition to Feedle missing from most versions, the 48k SPECTRUM version is also missing Chain, the AMSTRAD version adds Fan to the missing opponents list, and the COMMODORE 16 version loses Tonfun and Blues; the C64 version, and its eventual ATARI port, have otherwise everyone on board. Of course, the GAMEBOY ADVANCE version takes another feather in its cap by having the complete set of fighters.

Worst things first: the ACORN and COMMODORE 16 versions, perhaps relatably to their amount of fighting moves, don't really give you any reason to develop different strategies. The C16 version can apparently be run through simply by using the lunge-punch move for each opponent, and if things get too sweaty, you can jump around for a bit. I saw this method being used on a playthrough video on YouTube, but I haven't been able to replicate this successfully. The ACORN versions feel like those button-bashing fighting games, where anything goes and you're not entirely sure why you are winning or losing, but cannot be bothered to wonder. Thankfully, they are both also very quick, although the ELECTRON version has a bigger tendency to get stuck in some move or another, similarly to the AMSTRAD version, but less often, and for smaller periods of time.

Speaking of the AMSTRAD version: the bad framerate, the slow movement and your tendency to get easily stuck in any fight moves already makes it comparatively unplayable. What's more, while there is some clear evidence to the opponents having some sort of behavioural patterns, the controllability problems make the version almost impossible to develop any strategies. Another problem is, while you are performing any evasive or defensive moves, your opponents are able to deliver successful hits on your way out from the move, but if you were to attempt the same on the opponent, it works less often. Too bad, because the effort of getting all the other aspects of gameplay right are plain to see, but in the end, it's just too trying too hard and failing in essentials while at it.

Quite understandably, the 48k SPECTRUM version is the next version up the scale, as the movements are clunky and relatively cheaply animated, so it's a bit difficult to anticipate your opponents. At least, now you can see some clear opponent behaviour patterns, so you can plan your strategies fairly well for the most part. For example, Nuncha doesn't know how to deal with punches, and for Club, low kicks are the most effective. The 48k SPECTRUM version shares a memory saving factor with the C16, the AMSTRAD and the two ACORN versions, that you get no gallery of opponents, so if you don't know the order, every opponent will come as a surprise. But that's easily overcome by a bit of practice.

As I said, the C64 version is easy enough to beat with an auto-fire equipped joystick, such as Quick Shot II Turbo or similar ones. The first three opponents can be beat by jumping around and doing jump-kick, and some of the others can be beaten with alternating between jumping and sweep kicks; even Blues can be beaten using this method with care. But when you have a proper, no-nonsense joystick like a TAC-2 or something else with no auto-fire, keeping up with some of the opponents can be much more difficult. Whichever method you happen to use, though, Pole is the most difficult opponent, because once he locks onto you, getting out of his grasp is next to impossible - so you need to find a way to lock him in, before he does it, and without auto-fire, it's more difficult than with it. Having said that, all the opponents in the C64 version do have their own behavioural patterns, by which you can develop strategies. The difficulty progression is otherwise fairly natural, and having super smooth animations and no fight move freezes, it's easier to anticipate the opponent. The real problem is, with no breathing time between delivered hits, it's difficult to plan ahead or even react to the current situation properly.

Compared to its C64 point of origin, the ATARI 320XE version has many things just plain wrong. Even as you go against Buchu, the game can randomly give you a super harsh difficulty level, with more hits per second for Buchu than Pole was ever to give you in the C64 version, which was harsh enough. Sometimes, the AI gets mad, and sometimes, it's as mild as vanilla. I haven't been able to get past Pole in the ATARI version, so I can't really tell much of what to expect, but if I were to compare the gameplay to some previous version, I would say you would get a mixture of the C64 version in its smooth moves and animations and number of fight moves, coupled with the ACORN randomness of fighting methods. It just doesn't work very well, I'm sorry to say.

From all the original home conversions, the 128k SPECTRUM version plays the most like the original, concerning practically every aspect of the game. All the opponents act pretty much exactly like their ARCADE counterparts - at least as far as I can tell; and you get a small breathing time between delivered hits and practically between any move you make, but the animations are very smooth and the game speed, while slightly lower than the C64, is very enjoyable. There really is nothing I can complain about in this version, apart from the same punch/kick toggler that's also in the 48k version.

Still, the GAMEBOY ADVANCE version takes things one step further, by getting the opponent AI even better, the breathing periods a little bit smaller, and more importantly, having that second fire button to keep both kicks and punches readily available. The only peculiar thing about the GBA version is, that you get a scrolling screen due to an inability to get the full playing area on screen - but having that screen zoomed in so that it required a bit of scrolling only makes the GBA version better than if it had had a more zoomed out look. After all, you do need to be able to see properly what is happening on the relatively tiny screen.

As for other differences that aren't quite as important, but do affect the fullness and the authenticity of the Yie Ar Kung-Fu experience, I can only think of a couple: for one, an arcade conversion should have a proper high score table, which has been reduced to a single high score on the 48k SPECTRUM and COMMODORE 16 versions. The second thing, which was already touched upon elsewhere, concerns loading, because for one, having the game split in two halves affects the C16 version's already meagre replay value; and two, having the game use only a single background image (a different one for each side of the tape) in the AMSTRAD version feels cheaper than it needs to be, and the only way to get the backgrounds appear as intended is to play the disk version, which can be inconvenient, if you don't have a disk drive.

So, with all of the above needing to be taken into consideration, I thought it best to make this handy little checklist thing, and base the scores for this section mostly on it.

6. ATARI 320XE



Konami's early 1980's games were surprisingly cartoony, with lots of heavy outlines on characters, and somewhat cheap, but nice looking backgrounds to make them less of a focus than the action. Yie Ar Kung-Fu definitely feels a part of this era, but it also has some surprises up its sleeve.

Title screens/sequences and menus.
Top row: Arcade, Amstrad CPC, Spectrum 48k, Spectrum 128k. Bottom left: Gameboy Advance.
Middle row: C16, C64, Acorn BBC Micro + Electron. Bottom right: Atari 320XE.
If, like me, you were accustomed to the C64 version before seeing any other one, the relative unceremoniousness of the ARCADE original's title screen might have come as a surprise. But as it indeed is, there is only the title logo in the otherwise black title screen, if you don't count the obligatory copyrights at the bottom.

Because the loading screen was included as the first screen in the title sequence in the C64 and 128k SPECTRUM versions, I decided not to use them in the above collage to save some space. However, the unofficial ATARI XE version uses a different loading screen, which is why I have included it here, but basically, the design of the title sequence is largely the same as on the C64. The only version to somehow follow the ARCADE original is the GAMEBOY ADVANCE version, which still adds some more graphics with Oolong jump-kicking a gong cymbal hanging from the letter U. The 48k SPECTRUM has no graphical title screen, but rather just a control options menu, and the C16 version doesn't even have a menu - just a boring title card with the same font and colours as the C64 options screen. The two ACORN versions don't even get to the title screen - which is simultaneously the high scores table - until after you have reached Game Over for the first time. At least it's a different take on it, and there are some obvious differences in colour in the BBC MICRO and ELECTRON versions, but I really cannot say it gives anything new to the table.

The complete fighters comparison list.
Since we cannot actually see the full cast of characters in their originally intended gallery screens in all versions, we have to view the lot in a grid. Then again, it is a bit more convenient to check the differences this way, although the full picture is a bit large, so apologies to anyone with a dodgy internet connection. Unfortunately, I haven't found a way to take better quality screenshots on MAME, so the arcade snaps are a bit fuzzy due to the upscaling.

But no matter - all the fighter graphics in the GAMEBOY ADVANCE version are basically the same as in the original, as you can see. There really is no way to tell the difference between the two versions, unless you were looking at the actual gameplay screenshots, which we will be getting to shortly. Now, I'm not particularly nihilistic about the way all the fighters appear in all the versions, as long as they do their trademark stuff similarly to the original ARCADE version - Buchu should fly back and forth, Star should throw stars (one at a time), Nuncha should whirl his nunchuks every now and then, and so forth; and the GBA version does it all. Except for one thing: Feedle actually fights you back instead of just walking across the screen.

Otherwise, the fighter graphics can be more or less divided into three basic camps: the hi-res monochrome (= the two SPECTRUM versions), the large and blocky ones (AMSTRAD and ACORN), and the something in between (C64, C16 and ATARI). The 128k SPECTRUM version has more characters than the 48k version, so that's already somewhat better there, but it also has a lot more and smoother animations for the characters. In neither SPECTRUM version do you get the challengers gallery screens, but the 128k version has Oolong do a dance after winning a fight, which is something you don't see in any other 8-bit version. The C64 version was the graphical basis for both the C16 version and the ATARI XE version, but in the C16 version, there are barely any animations, and the details often go missing when overlapped, and in the ATARI version, some of the animations are a bit wrong, like Oolong's jumping. The good thing about the AMSTRAD's larger and blockier graphics is, that the colours and details are closer to the original (Oolong especially looks the closest to the original from all the 8-bits), but the animations are a bit choppy. The two ACORN versions are faster, but have less animation frames and details; and the ELECTRON version can handle less colours simultaneously on screen than the BBC MICRO, which explains the uniform colouring.

Screenshots from the Arcade version.

Now we get into the action screens. The in-game screen layout is rather nice and simple, yet appropriately accommodating: the top one-fourth is taken by the info panel, which includes scores, the number of lives in small Oolong-face-icons, and red energy meters for both fighters. The rest of the screen is the fighting arena, which is no more than a single screen wide, and has very little of background animation - just the waterfall in the background for the first five levels is animated. The latter half of the game takes place in front of a temple, which is just as iconic in its own right as the waterfall screen, but there is no movement. The fighters take just about one-fifth of the fighting screen's height, and maybe one-tenth of the width, so they have plenty of room to move around in the relatively confined space. One trademark feature for Yie Ar Kung-Fu is the small arrow under Oolong, showing the direction you are pointing your joystick towards.

Screenshots from the Acorn BBC Micro version + 2 screens from the Electron version (right end).
Considering the colour limitations of the ACORN computers, the background graphics are surprisingly
well made, overall, when you compare the designs to the original screens. The animated waterfall
effect in the two ACORN versions is a bit all over the place, but certainly gives more life to the
screen, and the ELECTRON version's temple is displayed during dusk, with a nice sunset in the back, and an additional puff of smoke coming out of the volcano. Sure, the ground level is featureless,
so as to avoid any background clashing.

The info panel is slightly less graphical, with the Oolong-icons for displaying the number of lives now being switched to an unimaginative number. With the fighters being slightly wider than in the original, they have a bit less moving space. Also, the arrow under Oolong only shows up when you control him. The choppy and preliminary style of animation and the blocky overall graphics make the two ACORN versions some of the least visually pleasing versions in the lot, but it could be a lot worse, too.

Screenshots from the Amstrad CPC versions (cassette version above, disk version below).

The AMSTRAD version has much larger, or more zoomed in graphics than any other version, from what I can deduce here - even the Oolong-icons in the info panel are larger than elsewhere. The size of the fighters within the arena screen are big enough to only fit four of them on top of each other, just barely. Oolong has no arrow showing under him, so you get less feeling of being in control of him. The backgrounds are a bit sloppily designed - the waterfall area's mountains and watery bits are strangely angular and 1930's silent horror movie cut-outs styled, and there is no animation to be seen in the background; and the temple background is eeriely similarly coloured as the waterfall area in the tape version, while the disk version uses a more correct colouring. Not the best stylistic representation of the game, but still, could be worse. The choppy animation doesn't really help the case, either.

Screenshots from the Commodore 64 version.
In the C64 version, the action screen is not that much higher than the AMSTRAD version's, but it is notably wider, thanks to the fighters not being made of double-width pixels, as they are on the CPC. The background graphics have been a bit redesigned from the original, and leave something to be desired when it comes to details, despite the waterfall being very visibly animated; however, one could argue, that the CPC version's background graphics have better details - as in, closer to the original. The very fast and smooth animations really save a lot in this version, and the small arrow under Oolong is a nice touch to have. The slightly redesigned info panel has a nice look to it with the new font and all; although the small Oolong-icons are too small to make out that they're supposed to be Oolong-icons, and not just random slabs with some white, pink and black mixed into a weird rectangular shape.

Screenshots from the Commodore 16 version.

Of course, the C16 version is a wide-shot approximation of the C64 version's graphics. You do get the same font, and almost the same info panel graphics, and the fighter graphics are similar enough to their C64 counterparts, except you get barely any animations, and Oolong has no arrow underneath of him. The background graphics have barely any real detail in them, and the action screen has been split horizontally in half, leaving the bottom half completely without any textures, because that is the entire area that is reserved for the fighter animations to appear in. At least the waterfall has some animation in it, even if it looks somewhat cheaper. It's really dodgy, and it just about manages to resemble the C64 version in the bare essentials.

Screenshots from the Atari 320XE version.
In some ways, the unofficial ATARI XE version manages to upgrade upon its C64 source. The graphics are largely similar overall, except the bottom area is completely textureless, the waterfall area's colours are very different, and the new font is thematically incorrect, being retro-futuristic instead of martial arts movie-styled. What has been done better - if you consider it better, that is - is the third background picture, which expands the first area's scenario, but has no waterfall, and has a pinkish-purplish sort of overall colour theme in it, as if the fights in this area took place during dusk. Also, the waterfall in the first area has been animated a bit differently here: instead of randomly switching textures, the ATARI version has a smoothly scrolling textured water loop, which makes it feel a bit papery, to be honest, but also fits this version's other graphical aspects nicely.

Screenshots from the Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48k version.

Perhaps the 48k SPECTRUM version looks a bit harsh to the uninitiated eyes, but actually, the designs of the backgrounds are surprisingly close to the original. Sure, there are some details missing, as there always are, but the main designs are very similar, and the colours are as close as you basically can get on the Spectrum. Perhaps obviously, the only thing that is animated in addition to the fighters, is the flashing Player highlighter. As for the rest of the info panel, most of its text content uses the basic system font, apart from the not very Oolong-looking lives icons, and the "punch/kick" selection display between the hi score display and energy meter. The action screen is just about as big as you get in the AMSTRAD version, if you measure it by the size of the fighters. The animations are a bit on the sluggish side, and use frames sparingly, but they do their job.

Screenshots from the Sinclair ZX Spectrum 128k version.
Compared to the 48k version, the 128k SPECTRUM remake has much smoother and quicker fighter animations, and the background graphics have been vastly redesigned to use more colours, shades and details, but there is still no animation in the waterfall. Well, I suppose you can't get everything. The font is very different here - much more stylized than the basic system font in the 48k version, but it's also less legible, mostly due to the font style taking all the space in a 8x8-pixel character block, thus connecting all the vertically adjacent text to each other. The Oolong-icons look more like Oolong-icons in this version than in the 48k version - even better than in any of the C64/C16/ATARI versions, even if the colours are a bit wrong. There's a nice upgrade on the single visual element that is unavailable in all the other versions: the "kick/punch" selection display, which now alternates between a picture of a foot and a picture of a fist. So, the 128k version is truly an essential upgrade to the 48k version.

Screenshots from the Gameboy Advance version.

Now, the GAMEBOY ADVANCE version cannot help being an interesting take on the original, since it makes the game, by necessity, have a scrolling screen. The info panel is superimposed on the top third of the screen, and instead of a completely black slab to separate itself from the action graphics, there is a rectangular see-through shroud onto which all the info has been entered. Most of the arena graphics are on display, though; there's only about 15-20% of the arena left outside of the GBA's screen, most of it being vertical area. Apart from that, the GBA version looks pretty much exactly like the original.

Game Over screens and high score tables, where available.
Top row: Arcade, Commodore 64, Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48k + 128k, Amstrad CPC.
Bottom left: Gameboy Advance. Bottom right: Atari 320XE.
Most of the versions of Yie Ar Kung-Fu do their Game Over screens just by punching in the Game Over text over the last screen you were in. The SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions add another line saying "Player 1" or "Player 2", depending on how many players participated. The C64 version shows the Game Over message on a simple black screen, with the player number displayed on the same line. Of course, it can only be considered natural, that the unofficial ATARI XE version has its very own Game Over screen, complete with a unique font and a picture of a setting sun behind the Torii.

The high score tables are pretty interesting in their own way - not because there's anything particularly graphical about them, but rather because of the variations of names included in the lists. The ARCADE original, the 128k SPECTRUM, the AMSTRAD CPC and I'm guessing even the GAMEBOY ADVANCE versions show us the development teams, although you can't see their full names in any of them except for the 128k SPECTRUM version. The C64 and ATARI versions show the cast of opponents in a descending order. The ATARI list uses the most colour, as well as most (two) different fonts on the screen.

Opponents gallery screens, where available.
Left to right: Arcade, Gameboy Advance, Commodore 64, Atari 320XE.
Finally, we should have a look at the opponents gallery screens, because they were a distinct part of the original ARCADE experience. The gallery is divided into two pages, the first one featuring the first five opponents, of which the first three are revealed from the beginning. The rest of the moving opponent pictures are revealed one by one as you make progress, and defeating an opponent will leave him/her as a character laying down defeated, just as they appear at the end of each fight. The real reason for the inclusion of this gallery thing here is, that they also have the unrevealed character tablets, which are only showing a question mark - a graphical element unseen outside of these screens. These screens are completely missing from the two SPECTRUM versions, the two ACORN versions, the C16 version and the AMSTRAD CPC version, so from the rest of the conversions, that only leaves the C64, GBA and ATARI versions to have the galleries included. Naturally, the GBA version has slightly squeezed version of the gallery screens, but otherwise, they're similar to the original. The C64 and ATARI versions don't have the first three characters revealed simultaneously, the number of gallery items is decreased by one, and the info panel is also visible above all the other stuff on the screen.

All that, and the transitional swipe effects and all the small visual gimmicks that you don't even notice after a while, are what make up for a real mess when giving scores for this lot. I am slightly leaning towards giving the GBA version the advantage here, for two reasons: it has a new and improved title  screen, and it is actually a part of a Konami compilation cartridge, featuring four other games, and still it feels as perfect an arcade conversion as possible. But if we focus on the actual game, it's not a 100% pure conversion of the original, thus making it feel equal, yet not the same. As for the rest of the conversions, the unofficial ATARI version looks a bit unnecessarily funky, but has some exclusive content that doesn't quite fit with the original intent; the C64 version has its own problems but is brilliantly quick and smooth; the 128k SPECTRUM version has everything it needs, but it's still lacking in amount of content; the 48k SPECTRUM version is not only missing a couple of opponents, but the animations and backgrounds are less refined; the AMSTRAD version is superbly blocky, the backgrounds are a bit weird-looking, it's choppily animated and also missing some content, and requires two separate loads from the cassette or a segmentally loading disk version to access both backgrounds; the ACORN versions have faster action, but worse animation, detailing and colouring; and the C16 version is barely a bad joke in two parts.

5. AMSTRAD CPC (tape)



In classic arcade style, Yie Ar Kung-Fu in its original form does not feature any title music, to accommodate the presence of a dozen or more machines in a proper arcade hall and minimize the amount of unnecessary noise. The first thing you will hear upon inserting a coin is a voice sample saying "hai!", but the game soundtrack starts off properly with the gallery screen's Get Ready jingle, which lasts all of two bars of 4/4, if you choose to count it that way - ending with a gong noise, upon where the screen shows only "Stage #" for a second. There are three more small jingles, which are played when you win a round, when you lose a round, and when the Game is Over. Additionally, there are three longer tunes, of which two are played during the fights, and one is played in the high score entry screen. The first in-game tune lasts for about 14 seconds before it loops, and is a fairly harmless but memorable tune with an interesting trick in the middle and a clear separate hook in the last 4 seconds. The second in-game tune starts off when you're down to your last three energy blocks, and it's basically a two-bar loop of a bass line and a high squealy irrhythmic thing wailing over it as if having a panic attack. The high score tune is a loop of seven seconds with a similar non-chalant style to the main in-game tune. All the music in Yie Ar Kung-Fu is very strictly eastern in style, using pretty much the same eastern pentatonic scales and harmonies throughout the entire soundtrack, yet all the tunes are easily distinguishable from each other. It only shows how much effort Miki Higashino put into creating the soundtrack, that it fit the game's overall theme perfectly.

As for the sound effects, most of them are voice or other recorded samples, most notable of them being "Perfect!" when you defeat an opponent without losing any energy yourself, and "Xie xie!" when you are rewarded an extra life - that's "Thanks!" in some Chinese dialect, and the rest of them being quick fighting grunts and yells, as well as punches and kicks. And of course, there's also the famous gong effect just before the fight begins, and the bonus counter dinging sound.

At this point, I would be amazed, if there was a single version that could reach the same level of quality as the original, but if there's one version that might be able to pull it off, it's the GAMEBOY ADVANCE version. Unfortunately, the voice samples are mumbly and loud, making them practically inaudible, and the sound effects are a bit cruder than their original counterparts. The music isn't quite perfect, either, although it's pretty close overall; the one unfortunate hiccup happens in the jingle that plays when you win a fight, where two or three notes from the middle of the jingle are completely skipped. Still, it's the closest you can get to the arcade experience in a home conversion.

Then again, doing the entire soundtrack, effects and all, in a completely synthesized manner, can be equally entertaining, if not quite as technically impressive. The COMMODORE 64 soundtrack does exactly that. You get all the original music in glorious SID format, and an additional rendition of Jean-Michel Jarre's Magnetic Fields Part 4 in the title sequence, which is epic enough in its own right, and something of a Martin Galway calling card to include something like this in a game. And of course, there are two optional tape loaders with two optional loading tunes, if you want to count them as part of the experience. The sound effects aren't quite as numerous as in the ARCADE version, but a couple of different main sounds for punches and kicks and one jumping swoosh are good enough for the in-game sounds, combined with the occasional tingly sound of gaining an extra life. The bonus counting sound effect is a weird, kind of inverted-sounding ding-noise for each half of energy block counted, and the gong sound marking the start of a fight is replaced with a nice twinkly transitional E major chord before the C minor in-game theme starts off, which fits amazingly well.

The next one down the line could be either the 128k SPECTRUM version or the unofficial ATARI XE version, depending on what's your sound priority. Like the C64 version, both the ATARI and 128k SPECTRUM versions feature a completely unique and new tune for the title screen, which in the 128k SPECTRUM's case is an uptempo 12-bar rock'n'roll tune that doesn't really fit the overall theme that well, and in the ATARI version, you actually get two new tracks: one eastern-style thing for the scrolling text intro sequence and one discoish kind of a thing for the actual title sequence. So far, merely by quantity of music, the ATARI version is in the lead. However, all the in-game music sounds more correct in the 128k SPECTRUM version, while the ATARI version has them all more or less approximated, possibly to fit the ATARI's soundchip better, but leaving some of the carefully constructed original harmonies screwed up. The ATARI version has no sound effects whatsoever, while the 128k SPECTRUM version has a few, though most of them are almost unnoticeable. The only sound effect that is produced by the AY-chip is the bonus counter ticking, and the ones that are played through the single-channel beeper are just barely notable ticking noises when Oolong jumps or Chain swings his chain around, and that's it. Still, I would say the 128k SPECTRUM gets the higher spot thanks to its better balance and correctly translated music.

Similarly to the previous two, the AMSTRAD CPC and 48k SPECTRUM versions share many things regarding sound design between each other. Firstly, there is no title music in either version. Secondly, all the in-game sound effects are similarly designed with barely notable changes in pitch of the same noise. All the points of interest are in music, or lack thereof. The AMSTRAD version features a slightly simplified rendition of the basic in-game theme, but no panic music. The 48k SPECTRUM version has neither. Both versions do have three different jingles for the Get Ready screen, and for the occasions where you have won a match and lost a match. The Get Ready jingle is similar to the original, but the other two have something odd about them: the Match Won jingle is correct in the AMSTRAD version, and Match Lost is the hook part of the main in-game theme, while the 48k SPECTRUM version has them mixed up. Neither version also features any kind of a high score tune. Of course, all the 48k SPECTRUM sounds are sort of warbly single-channel beeping, while the CPC sounds are produced by an actual sound chip, so there's no question about which version wins here.

Now for the final three. The COMMODORE 16 version's sounds are easy enough to describe: there are exactly two sound effects - a crash and a thump, each representing damage being dealt to either of the two fighters. No music at all.

The two ACORN versions do a slightly better job, but feature no music, either. There are three or four different white noise -type sound effects for fighting; a chromatic two-note trill when you win a match, followed by a high-pitched sweep and bonus counting, and playing a perfect round adds a high tingle in the trill; and a low gong sound plays when you enter a name on the high score table. Losing a match doesn't play any sound. Basically, both the BBC MICRO and ELECTRON versions have the same sound effects, only the ELECTRON version doesn't use a noise channel, so all the white noise -type effects from the BBC MICRO version have been turned into seemingly randomly generated blurpy sounds, which remind me of those ugly, early DOS beeper sounds.

5. ATARI 320XE



It's been a massive ordeal to get this comparison done, but it was well worth it, and not nearly as frustrating as I imagined it would be. I was pleasantly surprised to find out about the complete rewrite for the 128k Spectrum, and how well it actually plays. In fact, for that reason alone, I prefer it over the C64 version. Otherwise, there were no great surprises here, although perhaps I expected the unofficial Atari version to do a bit better, but that's about it. Here are the unapologetically mathematical overall results, as usual:

1. ARCADE: Playability 9, Graphics 8, Sounds 10 = TOTAL 27
2. GAMEBOY ADVANCE: Playability 8, Graphics 8, Sounds 9 = TOTAL 25
3. COMMODORE 64: Playability 6, Graphics 7, Sounds 8 = TOTAL 21
4. SINCLAIR ZX SPECTRUM 128k: Playability 7, Graphics 6, Sounds 7 = TOTAL 20
5. ATARI 320XE: Playability 4, Graphics 7, Sounds 6 = TOTAL 17
6. SINCLAIR ZX SPECTRUM 48k: Playability 5, Graphics 5, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 14
7. AMSTRAD CPC (disk): Playability 2, Graphics 5, Sounds 5 = TOTAL 12
8. AMSTRAD CPC (tape): Playability 2, Graphics 4, Sounds 5 = TOTAL 11
9. ACORN BBC MICRO: Playability 3, Graphics 3, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 9
10. ACORN ELECTRON: Playability 3, Graphics 2, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 7
11. COMMODORE 16: Playability 1, Graphics 1, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 3

Yes, I suppose that list might look a bit odd, but that's how it goes here at FRGCB. Although playability is (nearly) always the priority, you need to have all the pieces of the puzzle correct to complete the whole picture, particularly with arcade conversions.

Because I knew this comparison would take a few weeks to finish just by doing a regular text comparison, I decided to link our friends' video comparisons on YouTube. Here's one by Gaming History Source:

And here's another one by RetroSutra:

Unfortunately, neither version has any footage of the 128k SPECTRUM version, which I admit, can be easily overlooked. Just look it up on YouTube, there's plenty of videos of it around. Now, we still have some unfinished business...



I shall try to be quick with this one, as there are three (or four, depending on how you count them) versions of the 1985 re-designed Yie Ar Kung-Fu around. The two most prominent versions are, as you probably have gathered by now, for Nintendo Famicom and MSX, but a version of this was also released for the original Game Boy in a Konami compilation, and more lately, a Sega Megadrive (or Genesis) version was released in 2008.

Both the Famicom and MSX versions feel like they tried to make a completely new concept out of what us normal gamers think of collision detection being. Ever since playing either of these versions since the late 80's, I have never really managed to grasp the idea of how to actually deliver a punch or a kick into your opponent in a regular fighting manner. Obviously, the player would need to be at the optimal distance to deliver a hit, but I have never been able to find the optimal distances for each move. The one trick that seems to help the most in the FAMICOM version, is to bounce off the walls and confuse the opponent, and then deliver your punch or kick. This wall bouncing method wasn't even possible in the original game, nor do the walls bounce you back in the MSX version, either, so the only way to have a chance to win is to confuse your opponents by jumping over them back and forth constantly, and try to deliver a punch or a kick every now and then.

There are no more than six fight moves - four kicks (one while jumping) and two punches in this Yie Ar Kung-Fu, but then, you are controlling a man named Lee instead of Oolong, so perhaps he just doesn't know as many moves. All the basic non-fighting moves are there, of course, but the jumping feels considerably slower and sometimes requires some effort for the jumps to initiate. In fact, jumping happens very differently in the two main versions: fire and up on MSX, and any upwards direction without any of the fire buttons to jump either straight up or diagonally; but if you want to perform a jump-kick maneouvre, you need to do the kick while coming down. Recovering from a delivered hit or a taken hit takes a little bit longer for you than in the original arcade game, but your opponents take a little less time. However, the most annoying thing about this re-designed version is, that your opponents can move around in a randomly frantic manner, with speeds that you cannot even hope to reach, and then deliver surprise hits.

Screenshots from the Nintendo Famicom version.
In the order of appearance, the opponents in the re-designed Yie Ar Kung-Fu are as follows:

A large man wielding a stick, but rarely uses it. Unique to this version.
2. TAO
A fire blowing man. Unique to this version.
3/4. CHEN
Similar to Chain from the original. Appears as the 3rd character on Famicom, and 4th on MSX.
Here, you need to deflect flying objects, sort of similarly to Feedle in the original. Appears as the 4th round on Famicom, and 3rd on MSX.
Similar to Star from the original.
6. MU (Famicom) / WU (MSX)
Similar to Buchu from the original.

The entire game takes place in one Chinese-looking room, the colouring of which changes, once you have completed one full round, and move on to a new level. The graphics are fairly similar in both Famicom and MSX versions, with a few little differences in details.

Screenshots from the MSX version.
Although there are certainly some minor gameplay differences that might make all the difference to some people who have gotten used to their own specific style of gameplay, I have to admit, that to me, the real difference comes in music and sounds, since the MSX version was released in two versions: the 1985 original, that uses the computer's own sound chip, and the 1988 re-release in Konami Game Collection Vol. 1, which included enhanced audio support for the SCC cartridge. The original MSX version and the Famicom version sound fairly alike, while the SCC enhancement features new rearranged five-channel music.

The MSX version was, as far as I can tell, ported in all its glory to ColecoVision by Opcode Games in 2005. As has been a fashion of sorts lately, many MSX games have been ported straight to the ColecoVision fairly unaltered, thanks to the machine's similarities. Therefore, additional screenshots are not needed. Video footage of the ColecoVision version can be found in Gaming History Source's video comparison in the above section.

Screenshots from the Nintendo Game Boy + Super Game Boy version
included in the Konami GB Collection Vol.3.

Now, prior to this comparison, I had never even heard about there being a Game Boy version of the game, nor a Sega version, so I had no expectations other than being a similar mess as the source material. Imagine my surprise, when the Game Boy version turned out to be actually better than either of the two originals. Not in graphics or sounds, obviously, since we are still talking about a Game Boy game here, but the gameplay has been finetuned, so that now you can actually deliver some punches and kicks without having to resort to bouncing off the walls all the time, even if it's possible. I even managed to complete a run on my first attempt - that's how much easier the Game Boy version is! Oh, and the Konami GB Collection Vol.3 cartridge is actually Super Game Boy compatible, which gives the games in the collection some more colour. Similarly to the GBA version of the arcade Yie Ar Kung-Fu, the screen scrolls a bit, but it doesn't really distract you from the otherwise superior experience.

Screenshots from the 2008 Sega Megadrive/Genesis version.
And how about the unofficial 2008 Sega version, then? Well, it attempts to mimic the MSX and Famicom versions, but it's less playable, and the most current available version is still quite buggy. It's also a bit slower, the collision detection is even worse, if possible, and on the graphical side, there is a notable attempt to smooth things out a bit in terms of animation and the general lack of finesse, only to accentuate that from the original MSX and Famicom versions. The MD/Genesis version looks more like a Master System game, and sounds like a MD/Genesis game with a silly attempt at trying to get the sound effects similar to the original, but making them sound like plastic ducks instead. All in all, a really confusing and unsuccessful remake.

2. MSX



Well, as a matter of fact, I do have to mention the equally confusing double-sequel. Konami wrote a sequel called Yie Ar Kung-Fu 2: The Emperor Yie-Gah rather quickly after the success of the first game, and released it originally for the MSX computers. This game has been called a beat'em-up rather than a straight arena fighting game, which has some point, since you do need to get past a few screens of various kinds of enemies and obstacles to get to the main fights, but I like to think it of being more like an extended arena fighter.

You play as Lee Young, the son of Lee from the previous MSX/Famicom game, and you need to beat the Chop Suey Gang - consisting of eight new opponents with new abilities. Yie Ar Kung-Fu 2 also has a two-player mode, in which the second player controls the opponents Lan Fang (the first playable female character in a fighting game), Yen Pei or Po Chin. Oddly, this sequel never got made for the Famicom, but it was converted for the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Acorn BBC Micro and Electron, and Thomson MO5 and TO7/70, most of them releases by Imagine Software, confusing young consumers with the backstory having no relation to the original Yie Ar Kung-Fu. Regardless of whichever system you play Yie Ar Kung-Fu 2 on, chances are that it is going to disappoint you. Therefore, I intend to never write a comparison of it. Happily, you still have plenty of choose from in the original game - even if you choose to play one of the redesigned 1985 versions.

And another thing: Konami released a game called Shao-Lin's Road in late 1985, which was marketed in Europe as a follow-up to Yie Ar Kung-Fu, which is a bit stretching the truth, from what I have read. Like in the MSX and Famicom versions of Yie Ar Kung-Fu, you play as a character named Lee, but the gameplay is vastly different and more platform-esque than in either Yie Ar Kung-Fu. Since it was not brought to home computers by Ocean, but The Edge instead, and it was widely considered an abomination, there's a chance I might include this game in a future Abominations April set. Who knows.

But that was only the first serving of Ocean October 2023 - there's more to come, so keep an eye out for another big one later this month! Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it!

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this comparison, well researched as always!