Gaming Is Missing The True Spirit Of Kung-Fu Movies
As an 80’s child I have the fondest memories of Saturday morning cartoons and Saturday afternoon kung-fu movies. The hilarity and mesmerizing nature of the kung-fu sound effects and the oddity of the voice acting always pulled me in. For years, I would watch the likes of Bruce Lee and tons of others in tons of horrible special effect ridden fight fests. Whether it was a Shaw Brothers special or simply a poorly made Kung Fu Theatre production, my family and I would soak in each and every dubbed over line and wacky sound effect. It was no secret that as video games also became a hobby that I would be drawn to any game that was inspired by them.
Often I would wander into an arcade and see the likes of Yie Ar Kung Fu and get lost in the ‘I’m a kung fu master’ fantasy for just a moment. Of course, that moment was often less than a minute as this game was pretty hard unless you spent a lot of time mastering the timing and learning the times to and not to attack each foe. Still, the adventures of Oolong versus a bunch of other fighters wielding weapons didn’t quite scratch that Kung Fu Master itch for very long. I would find games like Kung Fu Master and the original Street Fighter and want more.
As time would move on, various fighting games would emerge that would put you in shoes of a martial arts master of one particular style. Games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat would recreate the whole Enter The Dragon or Bloodsport style arena combat niche well, but even those games felt like a far cry from the energies that movies like The Five Deadly Venoms and many of the 1960s kung fu movies conjured. Don’t get me wrong. I played the crap out of those games and loved the spirit of dueling masters. Still, a part of me wanted that feeling of either mastering a kung-fu style or creating my own style in a full fledged story adventure.
To that end, I looked long and hard for games that better represented that wuxia (or Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon style) combat that I loved coupled with a real adventure. Beat ‘em up games were probably the closest to that end back in the day. Double Dragon and all of the clones became arcade favorites for me as hordes of foes fell to my skilled flurry of punches and kicks. Even Tekken 3 kind of had a departure from the arena with their Tekken Force mode that was a beat em up style adventure. I would play through games like Final Fight, Streets of Rage, Bad Dudes, and more only to find the limited combos and purely offensive combat to be quite hollow. In a way, the flurry of these games in the 80s and 90s probably only pushed me and many other gamers moreso towards the Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter clones. At least there you had the strategy of figuring out how to defeat your opponent and what defense you needed to turn the tide in any match. Again, these games still felt as if they only represented a portion of the Enter The Dragon style kung fu movies. Let us not forget the many scenes where Bruce Lee took on many people at the same time by kicking and tossing them aside with ease. There are so many more (bad and good for that matter) movies of that ilk that fully captivated my martial arts imagination.
For myself, in martial arts movies, I came across Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan late in the game. It wasn’t until high school (early nineties) until I became aware of all of their movies and how amazing the stunt work was. Of course, these movies were an upgrade to the old Shaw Brothers and older styled kung fu movies, but the energy of them was still the same. Their influence on kung fu movie culture even translated into video games as characters like Lei Wulong and certainly some others that I can’t find at the moment. As we all know, Bruce Lee inspired tons of video games characters in almost all of the more popular games (Marshal Law in Tekken, Fei Long in Street Fighter, Liu Kang in Mortal Kombat).
As I watched characters like Lei Wulong go from stance to stance in Tekken, my desire for a more comprehensive kung fu game really spiked. Somewhere in there I fell across Jade Empire and fell in love. For once, there was a role playing game that incorporated the true nature of a kung fu movie. You would adventure about, learning multiple styles and moves in an attempt to best one who had killed your master! As I played through the adventure I couldn’t help but praise it (even despite the creatures you had to fight at times) and want for more. Years later and we have yet to see a sequel which is disheartening. You would think a game where you could craft your own fighting style (to a degree) would be popular and yet I felt as if Jade Empire was only a moderate success. As most gamers do, I still wanted more…
Today, it seems as if the void for a kung fu adventure game continues as the field of 1v1 fighting games continues to grow and yet the field of kung fu RPGs is almost non-existent. Back in 2003 or so, I did stumble across a little know MMORPG by Snail games called Age of Wushu. It was formatted as a way to create your own Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon hero of either straight fisticuffs or weapon based styles complete with schools and clans and the like. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to partake in the adventures given the ancient nature of my PC back then. Of course, trying to jump in now is ok, but playing 10-15 year old games often makes me crave updated versions even moreso. While there is an Age of Wushu 2 on the way, it could be a bit of time before it is playable this year.
Turning my sights on console games and the void is even bigger. The only light at the end of the tunnel that comes anywhere close to my love of kung fu movies is the indie game Absolver. Crafted by Sloclap, this online melee RPG looks to have a healthy attack, defend, and counter structure to the combat that could have some beautifully skillful exchanges much akin to the amazing and gritty fights found in For Honor with sword fighting. While it isn’t a direct love letter to wuxia, at least crafting your own style is a mechanic that is in the forefront of the gameplay.
Eventually, I hope that Bioware returns to Jade Empire and that developers find a way to bring those old kung fu movies and their mesmerizing adventures to the game-o-sphere somehow. Wuxia seems to be ripe with settings and adventures that would change up the landscape of gaming a bit. I definitely believe a departure from 1v1 PvP fighting games would be welcome as well. In this age of user creativity in gaming you would think that the kung fu setting would be the next logical theme of games to grow from.
Lord knows the movies are timeless. It only makes sense that well made games would be the same. So for the fan in me, here are lists of 5 great kung fu films and games!
- Master Of The Flying Guillotine
- Eagles Claw
- Enter The Dragon
- Mystery Of Chessboxing
- Five Deadly Venoms
- Kings of Kung Fu
- T’ai Fu: Wrath of the Tiger
- Pit Fighter
- Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style
- Bloody Roar