In this episode of NEStalgia, we're earning our stripes through 5 floors of really random action. Can we save Sylvia and defeat DR. X?
Is It Still Fun?
In Kung Fu, you play as Thomas, a man well versed in kicks and punches, on his way up a 5 story building to rescue Sylvia from Mr. X and his many minions. It’s never quite explained what Thomas’ relationship with Sylvia is, and she isn’t even shown until after the second floor, but hey it’s still a semblance of a story!
There’s a modest but still surprising amount of variety in Thomas’ moveset, with high and low kicks as well as jump kicks thrown in for good measure. While the hitboxes are a little smaller than one might intuit initially, the player can get the hang of them after they try and fail to play through the first level a few times. There’s also a good amount of variety in the enemies and obstacles you fight through over the course of the game. Knife throwers and grippers (I prefer the term “snuggler”, but I digress) dominate the first floor, while snakes and hallucinatory fire breathing dragons make up the bulk of the second. Each floor concludes with a one-on-one fight with a unique boss. One carries a stick, one has the ability to lose and regrow his head. I’d say that’s all fun stuff.
Is It Still Playable?
Kung Fu is the first brawler we’ve gotten our hands on, and while it’s just a skeleton of what the genre would become, it’s still very recognizable. It is, however, pretty hard. Every moment a conga line of snugglers hold you in their warm embrace is another sliver of health lost. Every time you step on a snake is a crisis you may not be able to recover from. And don’t get me started on the moths. This, compounded with the scarcity of lives (you can only get new ones by accumulating a score of 50,000) makes it a difficult game to get far in. Since the game only has 5 stages, this difficulty is the only reason the game has any longevity. The difficulty never feels cheap though, and an experienced player can make short work of what was originally an insurmountable obstacle.
Is It Still Important?
I believe it was important to have a pure action title like this in the NES launch line up. It offers a visceral experience that something like, say, Clu Clu Land could never deliver. It also established some control conventions that would be used in future brawlers and fighting games. However, even with all the style that Kung Fu had, it would fall into obscurity. Future games have done what Kung Fu does, and they did it better.
Kung Fu is a fun action game with some unique stylistic touches and quirky bits. It’s definitely a game to check out if you’re up for a challenge, but only if you’re into the genre.