“On the Next Level” kicks it with Kung Fu Master!!

Martial arts. One of the oldest fighting styles known to man. The Chinese martial art, known as Kung Fu, was introduced by the Yellow Emperor Haungdai during the Xia Dynasty more than 4000 years ago. Over time, Kung Fu has become one of the most recognized fighting styles among the Chinese arts. Kung Fu can be found in various pop culture forms including films, television and video games, especially fighting games. But before Liu Kang was flying across the screen kicking people in the face, one of the first games to depict the spiritual martial art graced the arcade scene and furthered it influence. Join me, Devildriver1313, as I take you “On the Next Level” with Kung Fu Master.

Originally released under the name “Spartan X”, Kung Fu Master is a side scrolling beat ‘em up distributed by Data East and developed by Irem with Nintendo. The game, in Japan, was intended to coincide with the Jackie Chan film “Wheels on Meals; however, the game has no bearing on the plot of the film outside the names of the protagonist and his girlfriend. This allowed Irem to export the game without the license by simply changing the title. The player assumes the role of Thomas, the titular Kung Fu Master who must fight has way through the Devil’s Tower to rescue his girlfriend Sylvia from the crime boss Mister X. However, Mister X has not made this easy. The Devil’s Tower is filled with the crime boss’ minions. Grippers, would grab Thomas and drain his energy until they are shaken off. Knife Throwers, throw knives two different heights and must be hit twice. Tom Toms are short fighters who can either grab Thomas or somersault to strike his head when he is crouching. These enemies can be defeated using punches and kicks; however, the former does more damage at the cost of range. Thomas can perform these moves while jumping. On even-numbered floors, falling balls and pots, snakes, poisonous moths, fire-breathing dragons, and exploding confetti balls are more obstacles that Thomas must contend with. The tower has five floors, each with a boss character called a “son of the devil” that Thomas must defeat in order to move to the next floor. Once all floors have been cleared, the game resets and offers a more challenging version of the Devil’s Tower, although the enemy sets and obstacles remain in place.

Kung Fu Master was originally based on the 1972 Bruce Lee film “Game of Death”, with the five-level Devil’s Temple reflecting that movie’s setting of a five-level pagoda with a martial arts master in each level. The title change made it easier to tie to Jackie Chan’s “Spartan X” film. Kung Fu Master hit the arcades in Japan in December 1984. It was ported to the NES in October 18, 1985 under the title “Kung Fu”. The game was also one of the first titles ready at the launch of Nintendo’s classic 8-bit system. The arcade version of Kung Fu Master was rereleased for the Playstation and Sega Saturn in 1996, as well as cell phones. Kung Fu Master can be seen as the forerunner for future titles of the beat ‘em up genre. Games such as Double Dragon, Final Fight, Streets of Rage and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have drawn influence from Data East’s martial arts title. Creator Takashi Nishiyama later designed the original 1987 Street Fighter at Capcom before leaving to run SNK’s videogame development division, creating the Neo Geo arcade system board and its games like Fatal Fury: King of Fighters, Art of Fighting, The King of Fighters ’94, and Samurai Shodown there, as well as several of their successors, thus solidifying Kung Fu Master’s legacy.

Kung Fu NES gameplay video

Kung Fu Master arcade gameplay