Sunday 23 June 2024

Kung-Fu Master (Irem, 1984)

Designed by Takashi Nishiyama and developed by Irem Software Engineering, with music by Masato Ishizaki.
Originally published as "Spartan X" for the Japanese arcades by Irem in 1984, and distributed as "Kung-Fu Master" by Data East in North America in 1984 and in Europe in 1985.

Nintendo Famicom / NES version developed by Nintendo:
Designed by Shigeru Miyamoto
Programming by Toshihiko Nakago
Music by Koji Kondo
Published as "Spartan X" in Japan, and "Kung Fu" elsewhere in 1985 by Nintendo.

Apple II version:
Programming by Clayton Jung and Mike Farr
Art by Erin M. and Donna Steiner Buttlaire
Published as "Kung-Fu Master" in North America by Data East in 1985.

Commodore 64 version adapted by Berkeley Softworks.
Programming by Chris Hawley
Published as "Kung-Fu Master" in North America by Data East in 1985, and in Europe by U.S. Gold in 1986.

MSX version developed and published as "Seiken Acho" by IREM/ASCII Corporation in 1985.

Amstrad CPC version by Choice Software.
Programming by James Edward Cosby
Loading screen by C. Thornton
Published as "Kung-Fu Master" in Europe by U.S. Gold in 1986.

Sinclair ZX Spectrum version:
Written by David J. Anderson (for Ocean Software)
Loading screen by F. David Thorpe
Published as "Kung-Fu Master" in Europe by U.S. Gold in 1986.

Atari 2600 version programmed by Dan Kitchen. Published as "Kung-Fu Master" by Activision in Europe and North America in 1987, and by HES in Australia in 1987.

Atari 7800 version developed and published as "Kung-Fu Master" in North America by Absolute Entertainment in 1989.



Seeing as Kung-Fu Master was released on practically every major 8-bit home computer and the NES, there should be no question that this arcade classic is one of the biggest games of its time. This beat'em-up grandaddy was loosely based on an old Jackie Chan movie, titled Spartan X (hence the original Japanese title), although it has been said, that inspiration was also heavily drawn from the Bruce Lee film Game of Death. Released in November 1984, Kung-Fu Master has the distinction of being the first side-scrolling martial arts action game, prototyping later beat'em-ups as much in the way of structure and narrative, as in gameplay mechanics. So, celebrating the game's 40th anniversary this year, I thought it would be proper to write and sync up this comparison to that. Be warned, though - it's a long one, so you might want to grab a cup of coffee before you read any further.

At the time of starting to write this comparison, the original arcade version was voted 3.70 out of 5.00 at the Arcade Museum website by four voters. Probably the most commonly known home conversion, which was made for the 8-bit Nintendo, has been given a B- at, and at MobyGames, 37 player ratings have an average score of 3.2 out of 5.0, and 16 critic reviews have an average score of 62%. Since we're already at MobyGames, let's continue for a while, since the next three versions had no ratings elsewhere: the Atari 2600 version was voted by nine players for a 3.1 score, with 58% critics rating; the Atari 7800 version was voted by four players for a 2.6 score, with 51% critics rating; and the Apple II version was voted by three players for a 3.7 score, with 48% critics rating. Moving on, the rating for the C64 version at Lemon64 at the moment is 7.49 from 156 votes. The MSX version has 2.5 stars out of 5 from 17 votes at Generation-MSX. At CPC-Power, the Amstrad version's score is 15.55/20.00, while the review at CPC Game Reviews has a peculiarly high 9/10. The much maligned Spectrum version has a lowly score of 3.7 from 14 votes at Spectrum Computing, though the original archived World of Spectrum website had a more promising 5.90 from 48 votes before the site was archived. Who knows, though - it definitely looks like an interesting bunch.



Even though 1984 was easily one of the biggest years for spawning massively influential games on home computers and consoles, there aren't too many games that can claim to be more influential than Irem's genre-starting Kung-Fu Master. Perhaps Duck Hunt, Boulder Dash and King's Quest could claim to be just about as influential, and Tetris and Elite more so, but that's about it. Feel free to disagree, but that's just from the top of my head.

Of course, from today's perspective, there's much about Kung-Fu Master that could have been done differently with a bit of time spent on it, but you do have to remember, there was nothing like it on the market at that point. This was, as I mentioned earlier, the first of its kind - a side-scrolling brawler, before the genre was even properly established with games like Renegade, Shinobi and Double Dragon, all of them released more than two years after Kung-Fu Master. Compared to those three, Kung-Fu Master is sorely lacking in depth, the number of fighting moves and background graphics, because the entire game takes place in one five-storey building that you fight your way through from the bottom to the top, and all the floors look exactly the same.

What was rather unusual at the time was, that you could walk your character to either direction at will, and the walking direction switched for every stage to emphasize that fact. Also unusual was the more fluid energy meter, which was introduced here to take the place of hit points from earlier martial arts games. Even more unusual was to have an end-level boss that you actually needed to properly battle against with you increasingly insufficient skill set, after having gone through a throng of other enemies that could easily damage you, if you were not careful. So, while Kung-Fu Master only has five levels to get through, the lack of any energy refilling items to collect makes it a surprisingly harsh game to beat, and definitely requires a lot of experimentation or otherwise acquired knowledge on the best strategies to win the five end-level bosses.

As for the plot, it's not exactly something new or groundbreaking: Silvia, the girlfriend of our protagonist named Thomas, has been kidnapped by someone called X, and has taken her to the Devil's Temple. Naturally, your job is to go and rescue her from the clutches of this X person.

Because of its prototypish appearance and style of gameplay, Kung-Fu Master has a unique feel to it in every imaginable way, and for that reason, it still holds its own surprisingly well in a genre that has been, after all these years, been oversaturated with too many games that have had nothing of true value to offer since 1989's River City Ransom. Or maybe it's just nostalgia talking here.



For a change, the majority of releases that Kung-Fu Master had on all the platforms were cartridges or alike. Even the C64 version was released as a cartridge, albeit only in Australia by HES, so the only versions that had no cartridge or were at the very least a disk-only release (like the Apple II), are Amstrad CPC and Sinclair ZX Spectrum. If you are for some reason still interested in seeing the loading times, here you go:

C64 v1: 4 minutes, sharp
C64 v2: 3 minutes 53 seconds

CPC uk: 4 minutes 38 seconds
CPC sp: 4 minutes 30 seconds

SPE original: 3 minutes 27 seconds
SPE americana/dro soft: 4 minutes 36 seconds

Close enough, I suppose, but what we're all really more interested about is the loading screen, right? Here they are, all three plus the APPLE II loading screen.

Loading screens where available, left to right:
Amstrad CPC, Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 (disk), Apple II.

Let's start with the game title, which uses the classic wonton font in the cover art. The only loading screen to use the correct font is F. David Thorpe's fantastic SPECTRUM loading screen, which is a good pixelation of a part of the European cover art from the U.S. Gold release. The AMSTRAD loader gets rather close, but is more like a hand-painted, slightly messy version of it; however, the picture around the title logo is straight out of the American Data East cover art, which is odd, since the CPC version wasn't released in that region. The European C64 version doesn't have a loading screen, but in the American Data East disk version, you get a nice grey loading screen with a large redesigned title logo surrounded by two red-and-white frames, and our hero is standing on top of the title logo in his well-known stance. The said disk version was actually a flippy, which had the APPLE II version on the other side, and while both versions were clearly converted by Berkeley Softworks, they decided to have a very different looking loading screen for the APPLE II version, which, to be fair, is fairly eastern-looking, but has none of the characteristics associated with the game's different cover arts, and the title font is the least easternly styled you see on these four loaders.



Since this time, we thankfully have a properly good original to start with, and at least a few very good home conversions that I know of, this shouldn't be too much of a chore. One thing I'm not too sure about is how the actual ARCADE version plays, since my only possible point of comparison can be found through emulation.

To elaborate on that, your given controls are a joystick, which can be used to practically all eight directions: left and right to walk left and right, up to jump, diagonal ups to jump into a direction, down to crouch and diagonal downs to change directions while crouching. The two fire buttons make you punch and kick, and both can be used while standing, crouching or jumping. The thing I'm not too sure about is the diagonal ups, because at least when playing Kung-Fu Master on MAME, the game rarely allows you to jump into any direction. It's possible, since I have seen it happen, but it happens too rarely, and I suspect it's either an emulation related thing or a bad ROM set dump.

At least I can talk about the gameplay details regardless of that small hiccup. First of all, the ARCADE version features dip switches for difficulty level (easy/hard), energy drain speed (slow/fast), and number of lives (3/5), as well as some other things that need not be taken into consideration here. None of the home conversions have the option for energy drain speed, nor do they have the option for the number of lives, so the only thing left to consider with regards to the dip switches is the difficulty level. So, let's see about the controls and difficulty options in other versions first.

Miyamoto's FAMICOM/NES conversion was released first, in June 1985 as Spartan X in Japan, but it doesn't actually have any other differences than the title. This version boots into a title screen with game options menu, which gives you four menu items to select your game to start: one or two players with an easy or hard difficulty level (Game A or Game B). As this version is obviously played using the gamepad, the two fire buttons are used properly for punches and kicks, which leaves jumping for the D-pad, which many people seem to consider blasphemy when it comes to proper Nintendo gaming. Well, considering this is not a platformer, it should be too much of a problem. The real difference is, that the game speed is slightly slower than in the original, and doing any fight moves has a slight recovery time, which necessitates some consideration upon timing your attacks. Also, immediately after having delivered a kick or a punch, you cannot jump diagonally, which I suspect is how the ARCADE version should play, but doesn't seem to work properly on MAME for whatever reason. An odd feature in Miyamoto's NINTENDO version is, that the game can often throw some regular enemies at you after having beaten the end-level boss.

Next, we have a dual release of the APPLE II and COMMODORE 64 versions, which were originally released as a flippy disk version, both versions on different sides of the same floppy disk. Both versions boot up to a demo mode, and you access the options menu by pressing either F7 in the C64 version, or Space bar in the APPLE II version. The options menu is operated by the prompted keys displayed on the screen. In the APPLE version, you can choose to play as a single-player game or two-player game with joystick or keyboard (T up, F left, H right, B down, and bottom row has punches and kicks in every other key) possible to be chosen for both players; and select "computer skill level" from 1 to 5, which basically means selecting your starting floor. In the C64 version, you get the same options, but you can only play with joystick, so to go around the problem with punches and kicks, the C64 version allows you to switch between the two actions by pressing Space bar during play. Both versions can jump very neatly into both diagonals at any given time, which is certainly an upgrade. Other in-game keys are displayed in the options menu for Quit, Sound toggle and Pause, which are different for both versions. But that is where the similarities end.

The APPLE II version has a juttery and uneven scrolling, which gets increasingly worse by the number of enemies on the screen. Walking into your intended direction is agonizingly slow and collision detection is barely working most of the time. The rate of enemies appearing even in the first floor is unfair compared to how well the game plays otherwise, and the animation quality doesn't really give you much of hints as to how the knife-throwers and boss enemies attack. The main problem I have generally with all APPLE II games is, that the keyboard controls rarely work as intended, because when you press a key and let it go, the intended action continues on afterwards until you choose to press another key. At least, this is what happens with emulation - I cannot say whether it's true for the real thing. The only way to get around this problem is to use joystick controls, where available, which, thankfully, is possible here. Still, even with joystick control, the APPLE II version can hardly be considered particularly playable.

Conversely, the COMMODORE 64 version has the balance of the original jotted down almost perfectly, at least when it feels like it wants to. The C64 version scrolls almost exactly the same speed as the original, with barely any juttering at all, although being an American-developed game, there are some minor timing issues in the PAL release. What the C64 version does differently from all the others so far is, that it takes down the number of animation frames in such a way as to make the game more fluent to play, but not too unnatural to look at. However, there are some issues with the difficulty curve, as the first level sometimes has barely any enemies, and the second level can continue in the same vein, instead of letting you get used to the enemies on a more regular basis. But that's all a matter of chance, and on a good day, the C64 version can give you a good challenge.

Irem's own collaborative effort with ASCII to get the game for the MSX computers didn't turn out too well, I'm afraid. The game boots up to the title screen, which features the only available option to play the game with one or two players. You can play the game with a joystick or cursor keys, but your only possible attack is kick. Jumping diagonally is possible, but very unreliable, and performing any kinds of moves makes Thomas recover for a surprisingly long while, making it impossible to deal with enemy packs that have more than two in them, without taking damage yourself. The MSX version has a lot in common with the APPLE II version, as this version too has agonizingly slow walking, as well as somewhat juttery and strange scrolling - perhaps even stranger here, since some of the enemies can slide into the opposite direction while you're walking towards them. The knife-throwers in particular have been made extremely difficult to deal with due to this problem. This is easily one of the least playable versions in the bunch.

The SPECTRUM version continues on the same line with MSX and APPLE II with having extremely slow walking and bad collision detection. Jumping diagonally is thankfully present, which is probably the only good thing to say about this version's gameplay. Well, not exactly, because the title screen looks good enough with its menu options, which not only gives you the same options as the C64 and APPLE versions, but also definable keyboard controls along with four joystick choices. The scrolling cannot be called juttery, since it's not constant - the game push-scrolls about a quarter-width of the screen when you reach a certain spot. Fighting your enemies is also extremely awkward, as your fight moves take a surprisingly long time to reach the hit mark after pressing the fire button, and you still have a notable recovery time after one movement. At least the enemies are just about as slow as you are, but it doesn't really help, since the collision detection is laughably bad, and the knife-throwers and bosses are impossible to predict.

At least the AMSTRAD version managed to turn out rather well. Singularly, the game boots up to the high score table, which itself is an uncommon feature among all the versions of Kung-Fu Master, only to be found in the SPECTRUM version otherwise. Pressing Space bar sends you to a prompt to choose your controls between keyboard and joystick, with further optional separate keys for punches and kicks, which I think is very neat and considerate. The keys are unredefinable, but they are I-J-K-L for moving, and Q and A for fighting. Again, diagonal jumping is perfectly good and just about as immediate as on the C64, and while the game doesn't run quite as smooth as the C64 version, it's not too far from it, and it is quite fast, at least in the beginning. The only real problem with the CPC version is the difficulty balance. The first level often doesn't necessarily feature any knife-throwers, and the end-level boss fight can be laughably easy, but the difficulty ramps up considerably for the subsequent levels. Also, the collision detection is a bit off, although it can be also in your favour. But at least it's comparatively playable.

The ATARI 2600 version was one of the last games to be ever commercially released for the console in its original run, and the attention to detail really shows. The game boots up into options screen, although you can see the starting area of the game, too, as was common for old A2600 games. Your options are to be altered with the switches on the console, and you have options for one or two players - obviously on alternating turns, as it is in all versions; two difficulty options and the very Atari-specific colour/black-and-white modes. The general game speed is notably faster than the original, but your enemies appear at a more random rate - the knife-throwers in particular might or might not quite easily appear more or less than they should, and when they do, too often it is impossible to kill them, since most of the time, they run away straight after throwing a knife. Thomas does not know how to jump diagonally at all in this version, and with only one fire button at use, punches and kicks were programmed to be delivered randomly. As if that weren't enough, your enemies walk faster coming from behind you than they do when they come at you from the front, and the same thing goes for flying knives and other projectiles.

The last of the officially released versions was for the ATARI 7800 in 1989, so it should have had the potential of being fairly polished. Unfortunately, it plays fairly similarly to the A2600 version. This version boots into a credits screen, which you can exit by pressing either the Reset or the Select key, both of which will take you to the game options. You can choose to play either in a one-player mode or two-player mode in one of two possible difficulty levels. The rate of enemies coming in is somewhat less randomized than in the A2600 version, but no less difficult to deal with, since you cannot jump diagonally, and only kicks are available. A change, which I'm not entirely convinced, whether it's an upgrade or downgrade, is your need to keep the direction pushed while kicking your enemies, because if you do not, the kicks will only stay active for a fraction of a second, if that. Also, the knife-throwers and end-level bosses act similarly to the A2600 version, so most of the upgrades from the A2600 version are either purely cosmetic or questionable.

Before we get into the level-specific differences, it should perhaps be pointed out, that in the original ARCADE version, there are seven columns which divide each floor into some sort of sections, that are marked with some Japanese character. At the fourth column, you will have reached the half-way point, which often marks as something important in gameplay. In the first floor, though, it doesn't. The C64 version doesn't have these marks, and neither do the SPECTRUM, AMSTRAD, ATARI 2600 and ATARI 7800 versions. The markings do exist in the other versions in various levels of visibility, but none of the original conversions have them featured within columns. Perhaps the oddest method of showing you the current section is in the APPLE II version, which has two small slots with number indicators on both sides of the screen, which change at not particularly visible intervals. Of course, this little detail doesn't exactly affect the gameplay, but it is nice to keep track of how much further you have to go, if at all possible.


The first floor is an introductory level of sorts, where you are only required to deal with two types of enemies before taking on the end-level boss enemy. Most of the first floor enemies are just zombie-like men with light-blue and purple clothes, who upon contact will grab and hold you in place, while draining your energy, and the more enemies are grouped up, the faster your energy will drain. The best way to deal with these is to kick or punch them before they make contact, but if they do manage to grab you, quickly wiggle the joystick left and right to throw them off. The only other type of enemy here is a knife-thrower, who will walk onto the screen, then stop some distance away from you, and throw a knife at you from two possible altitudes. You can either duck to dodge the knives, or jump over them, and while they are re-energizing themselves, you have to hit them twice to kill them. Boss enemy number one is a guard wielding a police baton, and you have to watch his movements carefully to anticipate his movements. It only takes a few hits from his baton to kill you, and you need to deliver a lot more hits to put him down, but it's easy enough, once you figure out his pattern of attack and retreat.

With the FAMICOM/NES version having been made with Miyamoto in charge, it might come as not much of a shock, that it is paced very similarly to the original, even if Thomas' movement feels just a tiny bit stiffer. The enemy behaviour and their appearances have been made as close to the original as humanly possible, so fans of the original ARCADE version should feel right at home. Mind you, while the NINTENDO version certainly feels close enough, it is nowhere near as difficult as the ARCADE original in easy mode. You would have to play the B mode, which is a bit harder, and even that doesn't come close to the difficulty of the original easy mode. Still, it's the closest one around, particularly with the gameplay similarities.

Even with the APPLE version's slowness and odd scrolling, the first level is manageable. The enemy layout is fairly balanced, with a knife-thrower coming on at the turn of each distance mark, and the end-level boss can be challenging enough, until you notice he can be beaten rather easily if you start hitting him right when he makes his entrance. It is important to note, that the screen stops scrolling when you reach the boss fight area, and the boss enemy makes his appearance after a few seconds. It might also be worth noting, that unlike in all the other versions that keep you tracked of your location within the level/floor, the APPLE version only goes up to number 5 before the boss fight area is reached, so even with the slowness, the length of the level is bearable.

The C64 and AMSTRAD versions have the first level play surprisingly similarly. The number of enemies you come across on the first floor can often be less than a handful, although the number is rather random, and it is also possible to go through the entire floor without coming across any knife-throwers. Also, the end-level boss is not as strong as in the original, and he rarely hits you with his baton while crouching, so he can be beaten fairly easily just by low-kicking him repeatedly. The only difference worth noting between these two versions is, that the AMSTRAD version starts off straight into the game without Thomas taking any pause while you get ready.

First of the two biggest offenders here is the MSX version, in which the scrolling technique makes it practically impossible to get past the second distance marker in the first level. By the time you reach the second marker, you will have likely killed about 20 or more regular enemies and at least one or two knife-throwers, but after crossing that line, the game throws a few more regular ones in addition to knife-throwers from your both sides. The scrolling technique makes the knife-throwers slide backwards while you're snailing towards them, and by the time you reach one of them, they will have both thrown their knives at you, usually resulting in your death, and if not, they will have run away to get more time to throw another knife at you. At least the collision detection is acceptable, so it's not a complete waste of effort. In fact, it is possible to beat the first floor by taking note of the subtleties in the knife-throwers' movements and trying your best to beat the regular enemies with well-timed kicks. The end-level boss is easy enough, and plays much like it's supposed to.

The SPECTRUM version is the second offender, and it's just too slow, too long and too badly programmed for any sane person to even bother enough attempts to reach the first end-level boss. So of course, I played it enough to reach the boss fight, which is surprisingly easy, as you can win him quite easily by crouch-kicking, provided that you haven't lost the majority of your energy prior to fighting the end-level boss. The collision detection is laughably bad, your controls often jam while trying to fight, the push-scrolling affects the collision fields and your visual cues, and the knife-throwers throw knives at you only about 1/4 of the time, but when they do, they throw them in either an ascending or descending arc that rarely hits you. Of course, added to this, the more enemies appear on the screen, the less responsive the controls become. If at all possible, it's even worse than the MSX version, at least in general terms.

After that, the ATARI 2600 version is surprisingly good and fresh with its somewhat simplified take. The enemy patterns and behaviours are adequately logical, but the first boss has been made too simple and easy by having no baton to beat you with, so you can easily take him down by crouch-kicking a few times.

The ATARI 7800 version plays similarly to the A2600 version, but the collision detection is somewhat inconsistent, and the boss enemy (now with baton) hits you every time he hits even though he doesn't do crouching or any particular movements. It is possible to beat him, though, but very much a matter of chance.


Floor number two features vases and exploding balls and other such items dropping from the ceiling, and all of these items contain something else, which are set free upon reaching the floor. The things within the dropping items are large fire-breathing dragons, and small and very quick worms, neither of which you cannot kill. The exploding balls merely explode after juttering in mid-air for a couple of seconds, and send off projectiles in a few directions. The best way to deal with these is to try and break the items before they explode or reach the floor. After you reach the half-way point of this floor, the game will bring back the zombie-like men, along with a few smaller men that do as much at this point. The second end-level boss throws two very damaging boomerangs in a slightly delayed sequence, and you just need to find your way in to hit the man between the boomerang throws.

Again, the NINTENDO version works exactly as it is supposed to, and the C64 version is not exactly far behind from that. Only the rate of appearance of regular enemies is more randomized and usually lower than on the NINTENDO, so there is a notable difference in difficulty, at least. For the AMSTRAD version, which felt rather close to the C64 version in the first level, the difficulty level has ramped up notably for this one, although the boss enemy is easier to kill than the knife-throwers. The amount of regular enemies and small guys is gradually increasing and solidifying here, but the real difficulty comes in the instantly killing explosive balls, which cannot be disabled by hitting them. Instead, the dragons can be killed, which normally cannot.

The APPLE version turns up the difficulty level considerably here, with the falling objects segment already being rather brutal. The snakes coming out of the broken vases are quicker than in the other versions, and everything in this section drains half of your energy instantly, and with the collision detection being more than just a bit iffy, it's safer to dodge and jump over everything as much as possible. It's not an impossible level to beat, but with the snakes and balls being bigger than the average, and the scrolling technique quite awkward, it is extremely difficult until you reach the half-way point. The end-level boss is very simple, though, and doesn't inflict quite as much damage on you with his boomerangs as in other versions.

Much as I cursed the necessity, my journey with the SPECTRUM version was made possible to continue early on thanks to the level selector feature. From my experience, the dropping items in the second floor have a tendency to fall behind you, and the snakes more often than not move to the left, so the first half of the level is very easy. After that, the regular enemies continue their usual assault, with the added challenge of the smaller guys, which do nothing more than necessitate your attacks with crouch-kicks. I actually managed to not only reach, but kill the end-level boss here the first time I tried it, which moves just about as slowly as yourself, and always seems to throw his boomerangs from the higher position. It's still not too comfortable, but somehow, it seems as if the game's collision detection works better to this direction than the other way.

Only once have I managed to beat the first floor in the MSX version, and I had to use save states to get this far. The same scrolling problems continue here, and the falling objects cause you plenty enough of grief and damage, since you cannot escape the objects by just walking, as they follow you around due to the bad scrolling technique. All the falling objects, as well as the snakes released by the broken vases, take away half of your life upon colliding. The falling objects section continues on until the fourth marker, after which you have only one marker to go before reaching the end-level boss. As far as I know, no small guys appear in this version, at least on this floor, but I have only bothered to get to the end of the level once, due to the first 4/5 of the level being infuriatingly difficult to navigate. So, my journey with the MSX version ends here.

The two ATARI versions make a bigger separation from each other here with a couple of things. In the A2600 version, you can kill the dragons, but not the exploding balls, while in the A7800 version, it's the other way around. In both versions, the exploding balls only release one fiery projectile randomly into one of three directions. In the A2600, the boomerang-throwing end-level boss is much faster than in the A7800 version, but neither of them are exactly easy to read, so you just have to be quick about killing him, and keep a certain distance.


The original ARCADE version shows a brief cutscene at this point, before taking you to floor number three. This time, it's basically the same as the first floor, but with the smaller men now included, some of whom are now able to perform somersaults over you and hit you in the head. For me, the best way to deal with these has been to attempt a pre-emptive strike by jump-kicking them, but it's not a fool-proof technique. The third end-level boss is a giant that can kill you with a single punch or a kick, but you can just as easily detect his attack-and-retreat patterns as with the first boss. What has been properly taken into consideration in all versions that I could play this level on, is that the number and rate of appearance of regular enemies and knife-throwers is much higher in this level. The ATARI versions in particular have the probability factor of knife-throwers appearing much higher than elsewhere - I have even managed to play one round of this level in the A7800 version, where no regular zombie enemy appeared, but a few smaller guys and about a dozen knife-throwers before I managed to reach the boss enemy. Since this level doesn't have anything other worthy of notice, the end-level boss is where all the important differences are. Unfortunately, this level in the SPECTRUM version is as infuriating to play as the first level, and so far I have never reached the end-level boss.

Even more unfortunately, the AMSTRAD version becomes too difficult for me to reach the end-level boss here, so this is where my journey with that version ends. What causes this to happen is, the level always starts with two or three small guys attacking you, which slows the game down so much the game nearly stops responding to your controls, so it's impossible to beat them all, and the simultaneously appearing knife-throwing guy is practically impossible to hit. Uniquely in the AMSTRAD version, all your enemies can move back and forth around you within the screen once they spawn, which makes quite a considerable difference.

For the most part, the differences in the end-level boss are strictly visual. What ultimately makes this battle a different sort of experience is how much he moves. In the NINTENDO and C64 versions, the very big person moves around sluggishly and kicks and punches you randomly. In the two ATARI versions and the APPLE II version, the boss enemy doesn't move at all, just kicks and punches you when you're near, although the A2600 version is considerably less intimidating, because it's the same boss enemy you get on the first floor. For most versions, it is next to impossible to predict his movements and attacks, but again, the NINTENDO version gets this bit the closest to the original.


Now, things start getting really tricky. The fourth floor brings in wasps that spawn from holes in the wall, and fly around in a random manner. Although it's definitely possible, it's really difficult to kill them, and not any less difficult to attempt to dodge them indefinitely. Just like in floor number two, the half-way point brings back the human enemies, and the end-level boss this time is a dark magician who can throw fireballs and other magical nightmares at you - even clone himself if you're not quick enough. Apparently, the best way to beat the magician is with a series of crouch-punches, since low kicks will not reach him. Unfortunately, this is where my experience with the ARCADE original ends, because the wasp section is the furthest I have gotten. I would like to say, though, that it is not that difficult, you just need to have a bit of luck and a good eye to use your dodging skills. How to deal with the magician is unknown to me as of yet.

However, the NINTENDO version has a much easier wasp section, as the wasps have been made to appear from places you can easily dodge or jump over them, and they also move in more logical patterns than in the original or elsewhere. Getting to the magician afterwards takes practically no time at all, but I can say that the intended strategy applies, even though it's almost impossible to predict his (or her?) attacks.

Even easier is the C64 version, in which the wasps (which look like bees here) appear less frequently and act more sedately. The magician is not quite as aggressive as he/she is in the NINTENDO version, but the difference is, the magician will go into double mode as soon as the battle begins. The same fighting strategy basically applies, but is more troublesome to win.

The APPLE II version is brutally difficult with the wasps, as it can spawn up to five wasps simultaneously on the screen, and they are considerably bigger than the average, so this is the first floor in this version that I have not managed to beat. At least you have the chance to start the game from any of the five floors.

In the ATARI 2600 version, the oddly red bees move in a single-line group that is very difficult to hit, but easy enough to dodge. The boss enemy doesn't look much like the magician in other versions, rather more like the boss enemy from floors 1 and 3, but this time he throws a weird yellow line at you, which I suspect is either a magical laser beam, a lasso or who knows what.

In the ATARI 7800 version, the more traditionally coloured bees are scarce and move either in packs of two or solitary, and they are easy to dodge, but hard to hit because of their peculiar collision detection area. The boss enemy is somewhat different to the other versions, and feels practically impossible to kill, since in the original version, you were supposed to use punches to kill him/her, and here, punching is random and occurs rarely, so inflicting damage on the magician is extremely uncommon.

The SPECTRUM version surprises again with its unorthodox design choices. Instead of following the rules of half-way points, as it did in the second floor, you get randomly appearing bees and people coming at you simultaneously from the beginning of the level. I haven't bothered to try completing the level, as I have usually died not long after getting the screen to scroll for the first time.

At this point, both of the ATARI versions have joined the ranks of the MSX and AMSTRAD versions, as I haven't managed to beat this part of the game in these versions yet, nor do I expect ever to do so, and none of them have a level selector.


The final level, floor number five, is generally considered to be impossible. Basically, it's like the third floor, only with much more enemies coming at you from both sides. I have never gotten to fight the final boss, Mr. X here in the ARCADE version, but it has been said that while he's very quick, he's also the most vulnerable to the specific attacks he himself is about to use. Again, patterns should be observed and taken advantage of.

Oddly enough, the NINTENDO version is ridiculously easy, at least if you're playing in mode A. The number of enemies is reasonably high, I admit, but nothing too drastic. When you're facing Mr. X, he's not much different from the first boss enemy, only has no weapons of any sort. Sure, he can put up a fair fight, but I beat him the first time I completed this version while doing this comparison, and it didn't take me more than a few seconds. Mr. X in the easier difficulty setting was easier to beat than practically any other boss enemy. Mode B in the NINTENDO version is, from my experience at least, slightly tougher than the Easy mode in the ARCADE version, and I have yet to beat the third floor, so I cannot say, how much more difficult Mr. X is there.

In the C64 version, Mr. X is a bit rougher to reach, and Mr. X himself is nigh on impossible to beat because of the unfair way the collision detection works with him, and because he keeps on jumping in spot when you start attacking him in any manner, taking no damage while jumping. So the way to beat him is with time and patience and a good variety of moves.

The APPLE version is surprisingly lenient with the final floor, but Mr. X himself can be rough enough, but not impossible. Funnily enough, it was this level that taught me how to properly deal with the knife-throwers in this version: keep a distance until he has thrown a knife, dodge it, and move on to kick the knife-thrower to his demise. Of course, when a large enough number of other enemies appear on the screen simultaneously, it is a bit more difficult to deal with anything.

As you might have guessed, the SPECTRUM version still suffers from the same problems as most of the game has done thus far, and I have to admit I gave up on trying after two attempts at this level. It offers nothing new to the table until the boss fight, and it is just not worth it.


The way I see it, Kung-Fu Master should be challenging enough to give you a fair fight, but not so much that it's impossible to play. Bad collision detection programming and timing issues are things that have immense effects on the product, and I could have easily just announced the order of things after the second floor section. Because of the needlessly detailed manner of doing things here at FRGCB, the conclusion can only be reached after every reachable stone has been turned. The two worst offenders are obviously the MSX and SPECTRUM versions, but each of them have their own pros and cons that balance themselves out against each other, so I have had to give them a tied spot. So, here are the results for Playability:

4. ATARI 2600
5. ATARI 7800



Thankfully, Kung-Fu Master is not a game that can boast of having a large variety of graphical content. Otherwise, this comparison would not come out until next year. To keep this as short as possible, only the first three levels (or floors) will be inspected, but we shall have to start this section from the place where we always start - the title screens.

Title screens where available. Left: Arcade JP (top) and EU/US (bottom).
2nd from left: Nintendo Famicom (top) and NES (bottom). 3rd from left top: MSX.
3rd from left bottom: Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Right top: Atari 7800. Right bottom: Amstrad CPC.
Actually, the ARCADE original boots up to an opening cutscene, where the plot is revealed, and if you are hasty enough to insert a coin as soon as possible, you will miss the title screen entirely. More on that shortly. Since the opening sequence has no background graphics other than a solid light blue background, the title screen has it too. Apart from the title logo, which is largely of similar design between the Japanese and off-Japanese versions, the only difference is the inclusion of a movie tie-in copyright above the game developer's copyright. When you decide to insert a coin, the screen goes black with a bunch of white text on it, which is not exactly interesting enough to include here.

It appears as if the American C64 loading screen has the closest equivalent to the look of the original title screen, game logo and all, which is only fair, since the C64 version doesn't have a title screen, nor do the AMSTRAD, APPLE and ATARI 2600 versions. The AMSTRAD version does have a high scores table as a doubling scrolling credits sequence, though, which is pretty neat and unique in a way.

None of the home conversions that actually do feature a title screen actually use the same game logo design as the original, but each version has its own design, more or less. For the two NINTENDO versions, the Japanese one has a very ASCII-based title logo with harsh colours and no decorations, and the non-Japanese version is missing "Master" from the faux-3D (but still ASCII-based) title logo, has some Greek decorative lines, and has a couple of dragons (the exact ones we see later in the second floor) on both sides of the options menu, and the colouring looks more 70's funky style. The MSX version has a simplistic sign at the top with yellow Japanese letters and red background, and the only given option is chosen with Thomas pointing his other leg at the chosen item. Both the ATARI 7800 and ZX SPECTRUM versions have the title logo written in the good old wonton font in two lines, slapped onto a rectangular sign with rounded corners. The SPECTRUM version of the logo has more colour and better pixelation, as well as a trademark marking instead of (R), although I'm not exactly sure if either of them is wrong.

Arcade opening sequence with regional differences.
Top row: Japanese version. Bottom row: EU/US version.

The opening sequence only exists in the ARCADE version, for which we have two versions. The Japanese version says "kanfu", while the non-Japanese version says "Kung-Fu". Along with the narrative text, the sequence shows Thomas and Silvia spending time together for a few seconds, before a gang of Mr. X's henchmen arrives on the scene to fight you and kidnap Silvia. The letter from Mr. X is shown when you start the game.

Options screens where available, left to right:
Apple II, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Sinclair ZX Spectrum.
For the NINTENDO, ATARI and MSX versions, the screens the game boots up to, whether they are title screens or just static game screens, also act as the options menu. The APPLE, C64, SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions have their own separate options menu screens, which are accessed by pressing some key or another.

The APPLE and C64 options menus use the basic system font, the former in single colour and no upper and lower case usage, and the latter in multiple colours and with upper and lower case letters. No graphics as such, though, except for the cursor, if you count that. As the AMSTRAD version boots up to the high score table, it is only logical to continue with the same screen layout to the two possible options, if you choose to play with a keyboard or joystick, and if you choose keyboard, whether you want to choose separate keys for punching and kicking or not. The bordering graphics are to be seen throughout the entire game at any given time. The SPECTRUM version shuffles the top panel layout somewhat from the title screen, now including more text panels in different colours, but otherwise it's the same thing as before.

Screenshots from the first floor, top to bottom:
Arcade, Nintendo FC/NES, Commodore 64.

Comparing the ARCADE version's screenshots side by side to some of the closest home conversions' screens reveals quite a few surprisingly obvious differences, although in terms of gameplay, they matter very little. While the ARCADE screen size is more like 3:4 than 4:3, the relative size of screens - particularly the action areas of the screens - is pretty much the same in the NINTENDO and C64 versions. The C64 screen feels quite flat by comparison, as it is wider, but then, the graphics are a bit wider. The NINTENDO screen mode is closer to the original, but the screen portioning makes the action part of the screen have a further away look, with smaller people, but at least they're far better defined than on the C64.

What the NINTENDO version doesn't have, are most of the building interiors. In the original, there are plenty of wood beams, tiled windows, big red columns giving the building some good structural bits, and there is also a light purple colour in the wall paper that goes nicely together with the various shades of blue in the human characters' outfits. What has been left in some manner are some of the floor and ceiling ornaments, as well as the green roof tiling, but even the floor uses horizontally aligned floorboards instead of vertical ones. Also, Thomas has a black t-shirt under his white vest, and the end-level guard has a mint green suit, instead of whites and greys. The info panel is very similar to the original, with some minor differences to the fonts, and new indicators for the difficulty level and game mode.

The C64 version at least has managed to keep the basic wall patterns, vertical floorboards and the columns, although some of the details were lost in translation, and the roof tiling is now brown and kind of too busy-looking. Concerning the human characters, the colour white has been strictly reserved for Thomas, while the knife-throwers and the end-level guard are wearing blue overalls, and the regular zombie-like enemies wear purple and black. The info panel has a more specifically stylized look for the C64, with a white double-framing around it and a completely unique font for all the text.

More screenshots from the first floor, top to bottom:
Atari 2600 PAL + NTSC, Amstrad CPC, Atari 7800.

For this first screenshots comparison set, I decided to include screenshots of both of the ATARI 2600 versions - PAL (at the top) and NTSC (2nd from the top), because there are certain things one could consider advantages in both modes. The info panel looks more naturally classic A2600 style in the NTSC version, with its grey background, but in the action screen, some of the colours don't mix up too well. For instance, it is very difficult to see knives flying in the NTSC version, and in the PAL version you can see the very clearly. Also, the first level boss wears a full black suit in the PAL version, while in the NTSC version, the slightly lighter grey shirt mixes badly with the darker blue background colour. On the plus side, the NTSC version has nicer colours for the floors and the basic zombie-like enemies. Understandably, the A2600 version is quite clearly lacking in detail compared to the A7800 version. Concerning level details, the A7800 version looks better than even the C64 version, but the animations are pretty dire in both ATARI versions. Neither of the ATARI versions have a "Get Ready" stance, as the game starts immediately upon Thomas entering the screen.

The AMSTRAD version has reserved almost 50% of the top half of the screen for the info panel, which has the game title logo displayed very large at the top, and it's completely missing the timer, which some might consider a good thing. The action screen is a surprisingly colourful affair, as there are more ornaments on the walls than even in the original. The human character sprites look exactly like the ones in the C64 version, and the general squashed/wider look is similar, too. What the first level seems to be completely devoid of, are the knife-throwers.

Still more screenshots from the first floor, top to bottom:
Sinclair ZX Spectrum, MSX, Apple II.
Just looking at the screenshots, the SPECTRUM version doesn't actually look too bad, does it? More than the usual amount of colour clash, I grant you, but all the characters are well enough defined and the background graphics are similar enough to the C64 version, apart from the floor patterns, and the colours are a bit off, but with the available palette, it's not too bad. Even the colours worn by Thomas and his enemies are close enough to the original. The title logo is still looking nice, if unnecessary at this point, and the info panel next to it is adequate, and even includes the timer, despite the panel being only half the size from the AMSTRAD version. The real problem is with the slowness of the scrolling and animations, which takes away all the possible enjoyment from the otherwise fairly nice graphics.

The MSX version doesn't actually look too far from the original, either, before the slow scrolling ruins the experience almost completely. Thomas's clothing - and even hair colour - are close to the original, and the floorboards and the roof tiles look very nice. It's the lack of any background that makes it look cheap, even compared to the NINTENDO version, which at least has some colour in it, but then again, compared to the SPECTRUM version, the lack of colour clash is the nicer option with the similar bad and slow scrolling.

It seems as if in the APPLE II version, the majority of the graphical focus was put on the info panel's design and only then on the character animations. Everything else was left as an afterthought, since the only background graphics you get are the red-and-blue roof tiles and the blue-and-white floor. The info panel is quite ornamental, perhaps even surpassing the AMSTRAD version in its thematical styling. Bonus points go to the imaginative solution for including the distance markers in the low corners of the info panel instead of the in-level graphics, as it seems like it must have been impossible to do it the traditional way. With the limitation of four colours, the characters and projectiles have been drawn and coloured rather nicely, but the scrolling is a bit dodgy and the animation is a bit choppy.

Exits and entrances where available, left to right:
Arcade, Nintendo FC/NES, Commodore 64, MSX, Amstrad CPC.

A nice little visual gimmick that, for me, has always felt like an integral part of Kung-Fu Master, is the staircase at the end of each floor. Since I had not played the original version until well into the 2000's, I had no idea the ARCADE version also had an animated trapdoor in the next floor's entrance. The only home conversion, where this trapdoor is in any way indicated, is the MSX version, where is it an unanimated object, indicating that it's nothing more than part of the stairs coming up. The NINTENDO and C64 versions do have the stairs going up, with the C64 version showing the stairs in a more 3D'ish way, but nothing in the floor above. The AMSTRAD version takes an inventive optional route to this by having a lift/elevator at the end and beginning of each floor. Of course, logically, this makes no sense, but who cares about logic in old video games anyway. The two ATARI versions do not feature any sorts of level exits or entrances, nor do the SPECTRUM and APPLE versions.

Screenshots from the second floor, top to bottom:
Arcade, Nintendo FC/NES, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC.
Just to get this comparison out before the end of the month, I will have to refrain myself from proceeding the graphical comparison past the second floor. Besides, most of the essential graphical information will have been included by the end of this level.

There is a thematic colour in the second floor, which is green. Most of the new elements have green in them in the ARCADE original, and have been translated to most home conversions as such. The little guys are wearing green, the worms coming out of the green vases are green, the dragon is green, and the end-level boss enemy is also wearing green.

The NINTENDO version adds red vests to both the little guys and the boomerang man, and all the vases and balls have their own slightly different look or alignment, but there's nothing particularly drastic going on here. Perhaps the changes have been applied to make up for the lack of background patterns, who knows. The C64 version continues with similar modifications to the wardrobe as every character in the first floor had, and the vases and balls look much more two-dimensional; and of course, the AMSTRAD version more or less follows the C64 version. It is worth noting, though, that the AMSTRAD version uses different wall patterns for each floor - the first floor had yellow dragons, and the second floor has some sort of approximated yin/yang-symbols, and the themes continue to differ for each floor.

More screenshots from the second floor, left to right:
Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Apple II, Atari 2600 PAL, Atari 7800, MSX.

In the SPECTRUM version, the vases and balls and things coming out of them have a similarly flat appearance as in the C64 and AMSTRAD versions, but the monochrome presentation makes them look even more amateuresque. The APPLE version has surprisingly good looking falling objects, and the dragon in particular is very nicely drawn, but the boomerang doesn't really look like a boomerang. The two ATARI versions at least have taken into consideration the fact that you are now on the second floor, and some roof tiling is needed between the floors to make it differ visually from the first floor. Otherwise, the A2600 version has the least accurate renditions of your human enemies after the SPECTRUM version, while the A7800 version continues to have the basic appearance close enough to the original, yet horridly animated. The MSX version is equally considerate of the location as the two ATARI versions, but it is missing the small guys from this floor, hence no picture of them; and again, the graphics are surprisingly good when not viewed in action.

High score entry screens where available, left to right:
Arcade, Amstrad CPC, Sinclair ZX Spectrum.
For most versions, the game only records the highest achieved score and keeps it displayed in the given slot in the info panel while playing. In addition to the ARCADE original, only the AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions feature an actual high score table, for which the original lets you type in three initials for your entry, the AMSTRAD version gives you eight characters to be typed in a separate screen, and the SPECTRUM version allows ten characters.

Unfortunately for some, the scores given for the Graphics section are not based on the quality of pixelation and animations alone, but in these cases, where the original ARCADE game uses scrolling, it is vastly important that the scrolling is done correctly, so it doesn't affect the way things are impacted to move. Therefore, the scores for this section somewhat mirror the scores given in the Playability section, with some rather obvious adjustments.

4. ATARI 7800
5. MSX
7. ATARI 2600



The soundtrack for Kung-Fu Master, or Spartan X, is probably the only thing that could have even the least bit logically have been connected to the Jackie Chan movie, but no. Instead, Masato Ishizaki's simplistic and infinitely singable soundtrack is one of the most recognizable ones to come out in 1984. As is the norm in arcade games, there is no music in the attract mode and title screen, but once you have inserted a coin (which itself has a sound effect) and started the game, you are greeted with a descending melody repeated thrice before the final two notes are hit, and Thomas walks on the screen to the tune of his own feet. The in-game tune is a simple 12-bar blues structured loop that only uses the prime, minor third and seventh notes in the riff to make it sound somewhat eastern. The level-ending and Game Over jingles are shorter and a bit more odd in their structure and harmonics, but even they are distinctly part of this particular soundtrack.

There aren't actually too many sound effects in this game, since the music takes most of the sonic focus here. However, what you get are absolutely fantastic, most of which are voice samples, most likely taken from old Bruce Lee movies or something and edited to suit the game's frantic pace. In the first floor, the only other sound you hear is your punching and kicking, which makes a slightly splashy hit noise, although you do get your feet tapping noises at the beginning and end of the level. If you get killed, there is a wobbling low-pitch "WAAAH!", which I'm not sure whose line is it. If the boss enemy is the one to kill you, he (or she, whichever boss that is) laughs a long, maniacal laugh before the level restarts. The second floor adds sounds of glass breaking, fire breathing and explosions into the mix from the falling objects, and the boomerangs at the swish around nicely. The third and fifth floors bring nothing new, but the fourth level has those wasps buzzing around, as well as the magician who produces a couple of different sounds for firebolts and other magical things. So, as I said, not exactly what you would call an enormous library of sound effects, but every bit of it is effective and well-placed.

The NINTENDO version is, as you might have expected, the closest one to the original, but even there, some drastic redesigns were made. Of course, depending on whether you're playing one of the NTSC versions of PAL versions, the music and sound effects will play at a different speed and pitch, but that's not particularly important. All the music is there, all of which sound rather close to the ARCADE original - some would even argue it sounds better than in the ARCADE version, because the Ricoh 2A03/2A07 uses much clearer sounds with more variety. Well, the sound effects are less audible, but all the voice sample effects are basically there - just different. As a bonus compared to the original, using your fists produces a different voice sample than using your feet. The other sound effects don't really feel like they even try to sound quite as authentic, but they still do their job very well.

As I mentioned previously, both the C64 and APPLE versions boot up into demo mode. This is completely silent in the APPLE version, which isn't too far from the whole truth, since the only sounds you hear in the game are the two jingles at the beginning of the game and after beating a level - there is not even a Game Over jingle. Also, the music is played on a single-channel beeper, so it's a bit painful to listen to, which makes it a good thing that the sounds are minimal. The game menu screen gives you a key combination to toggle sounds during play, but the only thing it does is make it completely silent or play the two jingles.

Thankfully, Berkeley Softworks didn't spare the workload for the C64, and the soundtrack there is complete as far as I can tell. The demo mode starts with the famous title jingle, but no other sounds are played until you start the game, which starts off with Thomas' feet tapping the floor. Then, the oriental blues theme starts playing, and your smashing sound effects are played over it. Granted, the sound effects aren't exactly impressive here, as there are no voice samples, but it could be a lot worse. The in-game music is a little bit sloppily programmed, as the "snare" rhythm isn't quite even.

If the APPLE version felt barren, the AMSTRAD version is basically the counterpart. No music at all, and some scarce sound effects. No walking taps, no voice samples, just two randomly playing hit noises and some explosions, bonus counting pings and other noises after the first floor. I suppose, though, that it is preferable to have it this way than the APPLE way, especially as the AMSTRAD at least uses a proper sound chip.

Between themselves, the two ATARI versions sound exactly the same, due to both consoles using the same chip to produce sounds. Since the chip can only produce two sounds simultaneously, the jingles that play while the game is not in progress use harmonic lines, and the in-game music is played with one channel and the sound effects with the other. All the melodic sounds are fairly beepy, and the kicks and punches are just basic snippets of hard white noise. Despite the obviously low sound capabilities of the ATARI versions, they are both designed well enough.

Then, from the two so far least impressively performed versions, the SPECTRUM version has a completely different and unique soundtrack, with barely any traces of the original music kept in. The main title theme, which plays in the title screen, is the closest thing we get to the oriental blues thing from the original soundtrack, but the blues structure has been stretched in an uneven manner, and the melody and the bass line don't really mix up harmonically at all. It's a bleary multi-voiced mess, where no such thing should even try to exist, when the gameplay is so bad. There is a similarly strange unharmonic mess that plays when you start the game, but it's needlessly long and offers nothing of value to the soundtrack, considering the quality. The in-game tune is at least somewhat tolerable, since it only uses a single voice, albeit an effected one; however, it is played in a constant quick staccato rhythm that takes the sound effects along with it into the rhythm. There is also another unique tune at the end of a level, which goes on for quite a long while, which you can skip similarly to the Get Ready tune. The sound effects themselves are just barely describable noises behind the musical noise. I suppose the simultaneous music and sound effects is part of the reason why the game plays so slowly, and without an option to turn them off, it's just something you have to deal with. It's just an inch preferable to the APPLE II version, but I do prefer the lack of music in the AMSTRAD version over the bleary unharmonious noise in the SPECTRUM version.

At least, the MSX version features a fairly good rendition of the in-game oriental blues theme, the Game Over tune, as well as some fairly nice, if mostly bleepy, sound effects. Too bad the proper title theme is missing, but then, this is not Spartan X or Kung-Fu Master, but Seiken Acho. Perhaps the title jingle is linked to the original title. Anyway, it's definitely better than the SPECTRUM, APPLE and AMSTRAD versions, and arguably even the ATARI versions, which at least have all the necessary tunes in them. Perhaps I shall just give them a tied spot, and do the same for the ARCADE and NINTENDO versions.

3. MSX / ATARI 2600 / ATARI 7800



As with all games that started in the arcades, we already have a clear winner here, but I do not think we have ever had such a close second. This time, the NINTENDO version managed to get really close, and if you appreciate a game that gives you a properly easy mode which you can complete with reasonable effort, which the original doesn't, it even surpasses the original in that regard. Kung-Fu Master is one of those games that do not need to be precisely arcade-perfect to make it worth playing, but I do think there are certain things that you should get right before you earn the right to slab the official stamp of approval on a game conversion. The APPLE II, MSX and SPECTRUM versions can only barely be called the same game, and both of the two ATARI versions, as well as the AMSTRAD version, are missing some important things in them. So, all in all, I would say only the NINTENDO and C64 versions get it right.

1. ARCADE: Playability 8, Graphics 8, Sounds 6 = TOTAL 22
2. NINTENDO: Playability 7, Graphics 7, Sounds 6 = TOTAL 20
3. COMMODORE 64: Playability 6, Graphics 7, Sounds 5 = TOTAL 18
4. ATARI 7800: Playability 4, Graphics 5, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 13
5. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 3, Graphics 6, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 12
6. ATARI 2600: Playability 5, Graphics 2, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 11
7. MSX: Playability 1, Graphics 4, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 11
8. APPLE II: Playability 2, Graphics 3, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 6
9. SINCLAIR ZX SPECTRUM: Playability 1, Graphics 1, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 4

One of the reasons why I chose this game now was, that it already had not one, but TWO perfectly good comparison videos available on YouTube, one made by Retro Core for their Battle of the Ports series, and another made by Gaming History Source for their Let's Compare series. So, click on either or both of these links here below to watch more carefully, if the blog comparison didn't quite convince you.

Retro Core / Battle of the Ports

Gaming History Source / Let's Compare

As if all of the above weren't enough, that's not quite all, folks.



The most knowledgeable of you lot will probably know of a Nintendo Game Boy version of Kung-Fu Master, which was developed and released by Irem, the original arcade game's developer, in 1990. This is also included in Retro Core's video, but I decided to skip it in the main comparison, because it's not really the same game - rather more a re-imagining of the same idea. According to some sources, it's actually a sequel, which I find hard to believe, considering the title, but it's a fairly good game, and worth trying out.

Nintendo Game Boy: Kung-Fu Master (1990, Irem)

It might also come as a surprise, that Kung-Fu Master actually had a couple of different sequels of sorts. The first one to get released was a game called Trojan from the original developer, Takashi Nishiyama, and it was an arcade release from Capcom in 1986. Meanwhile, Irem had been working on their own sequel, originally titled Super Kung-Fu Master in its prototype form, which later got expanded into an unreleased game called Beyond Kung-Fu: Return of the Master. While that game was cancelled in 1987, it was given a graphical overhaul and released as Vigilante in 1988. For some reason, I never really enjoyed either of these games, but then, I don't think I have ever played either of them in their original arcade format.

Arcade sequels: Trojan (Capcom, 1986) and Vigilante (Irem, 1988)
If you ever thought it a bit odd, that the Sega consoles never got an official port of Kung-Fu Master (or Spartan X), they did try their best to fill that void by releasing no less than three similarly themed games within a few years. The first one to be released was Dragon Wang for the SG-1000 in 1985, while they were simultaneously working on an arcade game called My Hero, which was released later that year, and then released the Master System conversion in early 1986. Dragon Wang has certain visual characteristics that can be compared straight to Kung-Fu Master, but in gameplay, it has more in common with games like Choro Q and City Connection than our main game here. My Hero is, to be frank, the least playable of these games, thanks to a single hitpoint for the hero, and is more comparable to Nintendo's old Ninja-kun games than Kung-Fu Master. One final attempt was made in 1987 with an even more blatant clone called Kung-Fu Kid, which is probably the closest thing you can get to Kung-Fu Master on Sega Master System, but none of these three Sega games really work well enough as Kung-Fu Master clones to take that place in any believable way.

The 8-bit Sega representatives, left to right:
Dragon Wang (1985), Kung-Fu Kid (1987) and My Hero (1985/1986)

As if all that wasn't enough, Amiga owners were treated to a highly evolved tribute game in 2022 with Devil's Temple - Son of the Kung-Fu Master by Geezer Games. The basic idea is the same, but has a lot more content to it, as well as upgraded graphics and music, new features and whatnot. Devil's Temple is available at at a reasonable price of £7.00, which includes playable images of various types, and is playable on all Amigas. Note that there are some enhancements in the AGA version.

Commodore Amiga: Devil's Temple - Son of the Kung-Fu Master (Geezer Games, 2022)
Then we get to the remakes. Firstly, Kung-Fu Master got revisited on a couple of old platforms, as in the past six years, there have been remakes of sorts for the ZX Spectrum and the Amstrad CPC. The Spectrum remake took me a while to find, but in 2018, Uprising Games released their first game for the old computer in the ZX-Dev M.I.A. / Remakes competition called Mister Kung-Fu. This is an absolutely brilliant remake built from scratch that wipes floors with the original Spectrum version. The graphics are a bit too cutesy for my tastes, but the gameplay is almost exactly like the arcade original, with only the difficulty options and a second fire button missing.

Sinclair ZX Spectrum remake: Mister Kung-Fu (Uprising Games, 2018)

The CPC remake isn't quite as extensive, but there was a new modification of the original CPC version released for the CPC+ and GX4000 in 2024 by GGP Group. It features almost completely new graphics by Maitre Joe, full joypad controls and some slight fixes to the original code. Unfortunately, though, it doesn't get rid of most of the problems from the original CPC version, since it's still the same game, and as a disadvantage to regular old CPC 464 owners, the modified version doesn't work on it. Oh well.

Screenshots from the 2024 Amstrad CPC+ / GX4000 modification of Kung-Fu Master by GGP Group.
Finally, we have a couple of PC remakes worth mentioning from the time when PC remakes were popular among hobbyist coders with a retrogaming enthusiasm. Firstly, Boolean Games released their Kung Fu Master titled remake in 2005, which plays and sounds almost arcade-perfect, but the inapproriately cartoony 3D-modeled graphics that aren't animated too well eat a lot of enjoyment from the game.

Screenshots from the Boolean Games' 2005 Windows remake.

The second, and perhaps the more well-regarded one, is Kung Fu II, written by Gary Gasko in 2008 for that year's Retro Remakes competition. I would not exactly call it a remake, since it expands quite a lot on the original Kung-Fu Master structure, while retaining the classic form, if it was re-written for the Sega Megadrive or Super Nintendo. Kung Fu II incorporates special moves from Street Fighter II into the mix, along with new locations and new enemies, and while this is all made with tongue firmly in cheek, Kung Fu II still plays perfectly, and comes across as a love letter to classic beat'em-ups. Highly recommended.

Screenshots from the unofficial Windows sequel "Kung Fu II" by Gary Gasko from 2008.
That's all I have been able to find, though I'm sure there must be some versions hidden in the archives for more obscure machines, such as maybe Thomson MO5 or Videoton TVC or what have you. I haven't had the time to dig into those so far, but if and when I do, I'll be sure to include any findings into the next Updates entry, which shouldn't be coming in too distant future.

I hope that was enough to fill the need for a detailed comparison of Kung-Fu Master, because I, for one, cannot be bothered to dig any deeper - at least, not yet. Thanks for reading; see you in August with something considerably lighter!


  1. The game was only "looseley based" on the Jackie Chan movie in the most lenient definition, what actually happened was that the movie release happened to coincide with the game's release, so Irem saw an opportunity to cash in on that, nabbed the license, then spent a couple minutes renaming the characters in the game to those from the movie. The game itself was 100% made without any kind of intent of basing in on the Spartan X movie (which is why you really have to squint to see any resemblance beyond the character names and general kung fu-ing).

    1. Yeah, that's some good trivia right there, and exactly why I didn't bother to elaborate on the "loosely based" any further. I actually watched the movie Spartan X some years ago, and back then didn't make the connection to the game, because I watched it as Wheels on Meals... xD