You would thing that after all these years, villains would finally realize that kidnapping the girl never leads to anything but a truckload of trouble. But luckily for gamers, these sinister scoundrels have proven to be slow-learners, and a seemingly endless supply of damsel in distress games has continuously dotted the arcade landscape. Borrowing on a premise from the Bruce Lee film, Game of Death, Kung Fu Master placed our hero in a multi-leveled palace, with each floor upping the adversarial ante.
Released in 1984 by Data East, the Kung Fu Master storyline began with resident martial arts aficionado Thomas taking a leisurely stroll with his lady friend Silvia. Their pleasant outing takes a turn for the worst when a gang of “several unknown guys” converges on the couple, kidnapping Silvia in the process. When malevolent martial arts master Mr. X takes responsibility for the assault, Thomas shows up at the door of his lair, the danger-filled Devil’s Temple.
Entering the five-level structure, Thomas had to successfully battle his way past groups of purple-shirted pursuers. The first level was filled with Grippers, who lowered his life bar each time they grabbed him, as well as Knife Throwers, who did exactly what you might expect. And with each new level, new deadly challenges awaited. Small dwarfs known as Tom Toms (which had a pesky habit of jumping on the hero’s head,) fire-breathing dragons, poisonous moths, snakes and other aggressors made Tom’s journey a daunting one. Complicating matters, each level had its own boss that needed to be eliminated before you could ascend to the next floor. The first two floor bosses attacked with a sticks and boomerangs, while the third was a foreboding giant, the fourth a practitioner of black magic, and finally, level five, humble abode to Mr. X. Take him out of commission and you started the whole thing over, with the difficulty level raised, of course. If that weren’t enough pressure, there was also a time level for each floor that the player dare not exceed.
Players were armed with simple controls for this side scrolling adventure – two buttons, one for punching, the other for kicking, plus a joystick to move around and crouch. Punches were twice as powerful as kicks, but with their limited range, they were also more dangerous. You would need a careful combination of both to get the lady back into your arms.
Players lined up at arcades for a chance to master this challenging and popular game, and it is indeed one of the founding fathers of the fighting genre, paving the way for such future titles as Double Dragon, Final Fight and Street Fighter. Of course, none of these might have emerged, had the villains ever considered leaving the poor girls alone in the first place. Luckily for fighting game fans, however, the bad guys never seemed to figure that out.
If you dropped your share of quarters into Kung Fu Master back in the 80s, we welcome your thoughts in our comments section as we tip our hats to this innovative and influential fighting game responsible for plenty of future arcade battles.