“What nonsense is this? Everyone knows Kung Fu on the NES is a conversion of the arcade game Kung Fu Master, which is an original game programmed by some of the finest minds at Irem! This isn’t fit for a Revenge of the License column! In fact I’m going right now to the comments, where I will call the author of this travesty a slew of derogatory names, cast aspersions upon his sexual prowess, intimate at his intimacy with certain farm animals, and demand he turn in his gamer card!”
Well hold on there, hypothetical Internet Tough Guy strawman argument, because you’re about to get schooled in the ways of Kung Fu, and you’re going to discover my ‘Licensed Revenge’ style is far superior to your ‘Anonymous Commenter’ style in every conceivable way. And because nothing screams Kung Fu like wacky subtitles, we’ve captioned the pictures with some of our real life favorites! So even if you hate video games, “This is not Taiwan. This is Hong Kong! How can you go around hitting people on the head all the time?” (Night Caller)
Everybody who grew up with an NES remembers Kung Fu (or Spartan X if you lived in Japan). As one of the earliest examples of the side-scrolling beat ’em up, later improved upon by the likes of Double Dragon and Final Fight, Kung Fu is the story of the singularly-named Thomas, who is on a quest to rescue his girlfriend, the singularly-named Sylvia. The damsel in distress has been abducted most ruthlessly by the mysteriously-named Mister X who is angry that his professorial cousin in the States is getting all the attention. The one-lettered one spirits Sylvia to the fifth floor of his Tower of Terror (a staple of all evil martial arts overlords) where his army of midgets, knife tossers, and lavender-clad men who violently (but lovingly) hug interlopers to death patrol the halls.
Providing order to the otherwise chaotic mess of underlings who exist only to backflip, stab, and passionately grapple everyone they come into contact with are the floor bosses, Mister X’s generals. These badasses use everything from big sticks, big muscles, big boomerangs, and even big fireballs to maintain order. Thomas must face them all before mixing it up with X.
But this isn’t a licensed title, right? I mean, it’s just a generic side-scrolling fighter with the lamest, most cliched plot in all of 8-bit gaming. What could they have licensed it from? As it turns out, the ‘guy goes through tons of mooks to rescue the woman’ is a pretty common plot of many kung fu films. This time around, Irem grabbed the rights from a popular Jackie Chan film of the day, “Kwai Tsan Tseh”. In the west, we know this film as “Wheels on Meals” because martial arts film titles make no sense unless they include some sort of pun.
Need proof? Chan plays “Thomas”, a skilled kung fu fighter who toils ceaselessly as a humble food service worker in Barcelona with no desire to inflict harm upon others. That is, until the day a gang of thugs grabs “Sylvia”, a beautiful pickpocket, and decides to teach her a lesson. Teaming up with his cousin “David” and their bumbling but well-meaning detective friend “Moby”, the trio launch an all-out attack on the bad guys’ fortress.
If it seems like the programmers of Kung Fu left out a few important plot elements, please remember this arcade game came out in 1984. One year prior to this we’d been introduced to a pair of Italian plumbers out to clean up the sewers; two years earlier we’d worked out how to ram flying ostriches into one another for fun. The fact this game had any story at all is a freaking miracle. Going generic also meant Irem could release it in other territories without paying additional licensing fees or even mentioning the film connection at all.
Know what that means, hypothetical Internet Tough Guy strawman argument? It means Irem, Data East, and Nintendo laughed all the way to the bank with our hard-earned quarters. Looks like their Kung Fu style beasts on both my ‘Licensed Revenge’ style and your ‘Anonymous Commenter’ style. We’ll get you yet, Kung Fu! “Wait for death in 18 years!” (Holy Flame of the Martial World)