Today’s post sees a new challenger entering the SMS beat-em-up arena, which so far consists of the dreadful My Hero and the decent yet generic Black Belt. As the title might suggest this cart, a follow-up to an early 1980s Japanese computer title, is in the vein of Kung Fu Master, only with a heavy Oriental flavor. While Kung Fu Kid seems like it has a lot of potential and looks like a decent title at first, some serious shortcomings keep it from ascending to greatness.
The storyline is about what you’d expect; a Chinese countryside is under siege by an ancient evil named Mandana who’s come back from the dead or something and as usual you’re the young martial artist (in this case the unfortunately named Wang) who’s called upon take care of it. This seven-stage game is much like other beat-em-ups, where you have to fight your way across the landscape to the end of the level within a given time limit. Your foes include a slate of Oriental stereotypes such as bare-chested thugs, hopping Chinese vampires, tiny dolls that shoot their arms, creeping zombies and others as well as deadly frogs and caterpillars. Your main weapon is your lightning fast kicks as well as your freakish jumping ability, plus you can do a wall-jump to reach certain ledges. Wang is also armed with a talisman which enables him to collect some card-like projectiles that you can chuck at the baddies, some of which can only be beaten by the cards. Certain stages also have secret items to aid you if you can find them in the right spots, including health refills and potions to power-you up. At the end a boss naturally awaits to challenge you and defeating him will advance you to the next stage, while Mandana himself awaits you at the top of his temple for the final showdown. The controls are pretty responsive and easy to use once you get the hang of it, though they do use the reverse NES standard layout of jumping and attacking. Your jumps can seem a little floaty since you soar so high, though you can control yourself in mid-air which is a positive.
But while the game seems easy to pick up and play, the gameplay as a whole is quite lacking due to more than a few issues. The main problem is the stages are a little too straight forward with little variety in the action other than kicking things, even with a few platforming challenges thrown in the mix in some stages. BTW the kick is the only attack Wang has, so don’t go looking for any exciting kung fu moves and such. There’s also no mid-level checkpoints or anything; losing a life forces you to start the entire stage over, even during a boss fight. However you don’t even have to fight the minor enemies at all; you’ll find that you can simply jump over them and out run them, avoiding them entirely, which is far easier than taking them on. The boss battles themselves aren’t very exciting either; the bosses all have easy-to-spot patterns and once you learn them you can beat them almost without breaking a sweat. A huge example is the fifth boss (the giant frog) can be beaten within seconds with a few low kicks. The only real difficult part of the game is Stage 6 which just consists of a series of boss battles, and dying will make you fight them all over again. Overall it won’t take much to get to the simple ending, which just gives you a quick THE END before going back to the title screen.
Once again the best part of a Master System cartridge is the graphics, starting with the cool flames on the title screen. The stages all look nice and set up a decent atmosphere for the action while some levels even feature some beautiful background illustrations, such as the awesome dragon in the fifth stage. The sprites aren’t earth-shattering but are decent for the most part with some nice details and okay animation, including the bosses which really look good. The music is merely okay with some Eastern-like dittys for background tunes, and the sound effects are just there.
So I wouldn’t classify Kung Fu Kid as a bad game; the graphics are nice and it can be enjoyable at times. But the repetitive and unexciting gameplay along with the lack of any real challenge level make it seem so blah and simplistic, especially when compared to later Sega brawlers such as Double Dragon. You might enjoy it in short bursts but you probably won’t be playing it for too long. The student hasn’t quite become the master just yet.