Friday, 11 June 2010

Arcade - Vigilante


I couldn’t do a review of Kung Fu Master without immediately going onto its bigger, harder, tougher brother.

Whilst the Kung Fu Master was certainly a tough cookie, with deadly speed and accuracy, the nameless Vigilante of this game is a street-smart, muscle-bound hero who looks more than a little rough around the edges compared to the clean-cut & honourable Thomas.
 Basically, what we have here is Kung Fu Master brought into the 90s. The graphics are better, the sounds are much better, the game is… well… erm…

OK, look, there’s no reason to be cruel or kind about this, but brutally honest. It’s the bleedin’ same. Save for the updated visuals, enemies requiring more hits and the addition of a pair of flails (or nunchuckas, whichever you prefer) which you can pick up and use(as far as I can make out you get a little bit more range and approximately 50% more power with them), this is so close to being Kung Fu Master it’s not even funny.

But then again, why should it be? KFM was a great game with a winning formula… in the 80s. Bringing the theme up to date doesn’t change the core game. Your enemies fall from the pavement as if knocked off a ledge, just like KFM. The bulk of enemies just come up to you and “grip” you to drain your energy, just like KFM. And the challenge is… actually, it’s not as hard. Picking up the flails makes life much easier, especially the bosses (if you manage to hold onto them that long).

Other subtle differences are present, for example, when you lose a life you carry on from where you were rather than returning to the start of the level. You can continue from the level you’re on when you lose all your lives. Flying kicks bounce you off enemies rather than driving through them.

Vigilante isn’t a bad game, by any stretch of the imagination. But unfortunately the updated visuals don’t separate this game from it’s older brother. Truth be told, if you play them both, you’ll play Kung Fu Master more. Well, I did.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Arcade - Kung Fu Master

Kung Fu Master

“A Kung Fu Master, Thomas, and his girlfriend, Silvia…”

In terms of introductions, it’s hardly riveting stuff. It is, however, cheese at its cheesey best. Plonking you straight into the role of Thomas, the eponymous hero of the piece, you start off on the first floor of a pagoda, and must work your way up the narrow ledges to rescue Silvia.

The idea could well have been based on a concept Bruce Lee wanted to work in his movies, that his mission would take place in a pagoda over a series of levels, working his way up to the big boss at the top.

So, what is there to stop you reaching the top? Bloody all sorts. The most easily overcome obstacle is the first wave of human attackers. They’ll run at you, from both sides, raising their fist, but all they’ll do is grab hold of you in a choke hold, steadily draining your energy bar. The obvious thing to do is smack them off the ledge whichever way you like. As a Kung-Fu “Master”, your moveset is a little limited; you can punch and kick (albeit very quickly), and you can perform these whilst standing, crouching or jumping with varying effectiveness. Whilst kicks have a longer reach, each blow only scores you half as many points as a punch, with the exception of the jumping kick. There is a slight variation in height with each move, which is pretty sophisticated stuff for the early eighties.

Some of the baddies are a little bit more violent, and will fling knives at you, and being slightly tougher, will require two hits to knock them off. To finish off, you’ll face a twig-waving bad guy at the end who will take several hits to defeat. In fact, he even gets an energy bar! Defeat him, climb the stairs and take on the next level.

As a ten-year old, this first level was hard enough to provide ample challenge, but now, at the age of 30, it seems a pushover. Probably the first thing that raised the challenge was that you went the WRONG WAY. Side-scrolling beat ‘em ups almost ALWAYS follow the rule that you scroll from left to right, but here you went the opposite way first, changing direction on each level. A subtle change, but a clever one.

Anyway, as you progress you’ll face various other types of foe, including balls (or eggs, I’m not sure which) that release dragons or explode, baddies that are half the size of normal baddies (are they children? That would be a questionable decision to include them if they are!), deadly butterflies (or something), and even more difficult bosses at the end of each level.

Reach the end of level 5, and Silvia is rescued… only to be kidnapped again. Off you go again, then…

Which clinches the fact, this is a score-attack game, so use your punches to maximise it! The graphics are clear, very 80s style, and very colourful. The difficulty curve is good (for a 30 year old), with sudden rises for the bosses (especially levels 4 and 5), and the sound effects are awesome (with Bruce Lee-type vocal noises for the flying kicks and solid crunches for the successfully landed blows). The music is a bit basic, but does the job. This is the 80s, after all.

Probably the most iconic part of the game is the introduction, which depicts you holding the ransom letter while a short musical ditty prepares you for the game. The short, sharp introduction to games is a thing of the past as most games these days deliver a training mission to get you used to the controls.
There’s not a lot of depth to the game, but who needs depth when you’ve got fun! There are bucketloads of it here, even over 20 years on. The difficulty level is fairly tough on newbies, and your first couple of attempts will probably end in miserable failure, but with practice you’ll soon be reaching the higher levels of the game, and even looping the game back to the beginning.

A valuable piece of history, especially as the first arcade side-scrolling beat-em ‘up.