Kung Fu Heroes review –

Developer: Micro Academy   Publisher: Culture Brain   Release: 04/89   Genre: Action

Kung Fu was one of my favorite NES games in its early months. The smooth flow of enemies and pattern based bosses taught me valuable skills that I carry with me to this day. I always found it strange that a sequel was never released considering every other Nintendo game of note had one. Little did I know that the true follow-up, Spartan X2, would stay in Japan. I thought Kung Fu Heroes was that game, being a dumb nine year old at the time. Kung Fu Heroes was an unfortunate rental; I won’t necessarily say it is outright bad but it is very repetitive and does not hold up over a long period of time. There are better brawlers on the system.

Kung Fu Heroes is a bit of an oddity in the NES library. It started life as an arcade game titled Chinese Hero in 1984. The Famicom home port was released in 1986, around the same time the NES was hitting US shores. But the localized version would not see release until 1989. This was an old game even by 1989 standards and it showed. The NES version is a relatively good port but this was not a spectacular game to begin with. It did however begin the Super Chinese series, of which the subsequent Ninja Bros. games are much better than this.

Kung Fu Heroes is a top down beat em up rather than side scrolling like Double Dragon. Jacky and Lee can punch and flip kick enemies as well as destroy blocks around the playing field. Some blocks have items while others can be sent careening into enemies. The flip kick, in addition to smashing enemies, can be used to collect enemies and navigate the environment. Normally you can only move in the four cardinal directions but flipping allows freer movement as well as temporary invulnerability. In addition you can perform a miracle kick and use a sword with the requisite items. The controls require some button combinations but are otherwise sound thankfully.

The goal in each level is to defeat twelve enemies to unlock the exit to move on. Each stage is a small arena with breakable blocks, pits, and usually at least two teleporters. Blocks house a large number of power-ups, from extra lives, invincibility, and to the ability to chuck fireballs. One of the most important is the punch power-up which increases your strength permanently. Later enemies require a minimum level to defeat, making your life harder if you haven’t hit that point. In addition to all these are warp zones to skip levels and the ten treasures, which have varying effects throughout the game. All of these items make it worth it to destroy as much of the environment as possible to make your life easier.

Kung Fu Heroes has solid controls and a decent amount of variety in its enemies. However it suffers from heavy repetition. The small arenas don’t allow for much movement and are very pedestrian in their design. While there is a decent amount of enemies the game tends to rely on the same two or three for the majority of its duration. At eight main stages with four sub-levels each the repetitive combat gets old fast. Not even the occasional “boss” stage can do much to relieve the growing boredom as you fight the same bad guys with the same limited move set again and again. The pieces are there but their assembly does not add up to a compelling adventure.

Surprisingly Kung Fu Heroes puts up a fight despite the abundance of items. Because of the perspective it is easy to misjudge enemy placement and walk into a hit. Speaking of hits, the hit detection is inconsistent and will also lead to cheap deaths. If you do not find punch power-ups early it is near impossible to complete certain levels as the enemies will be immune to your attacks. The same applies to the boss enemies but at least you can avoid them until they leave. In a way the game is more frustrating than difficult due to these problems. They won’t get on your nerves initially but as you progress it becomes more aggravating.

In Closing

Kung Fu Heroes is a solid port from the arcade but as a game is not very compelling. It tries its best but its repetitive gameplay becomes grating over its long duration. A shorter, more varied title would have been far better. I can respect its attempt at doing something different in the genre but not enough to recommend it.

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