James Matson takes time out from his deadly white belt Pilates training to go toe-to-toe with one of the forefathers of the fighting game genre
Every so often, playing a retro game is about more than just fun, thrills or a cheap ticket to nostalgia central. Sometimes, it’s about watching evolution unfold before your very eyes (if you have appropriately epic soundtrack music, about now would be the time to play it)
Don’t follow? Well let’s stack modern games against those made through the 80s and 90s. For the most part, modern games are tweaks or revisions on well established themes. Granted, every once in a while you get a burning spark, some flash point of creative brilliance that spawns an entirely new genre of video gaming, but for the most part modern video games follow well worn paths, occasionally throwing in a new coat of paint and a couple of unexpected twists. When you’re playing retro games however, you’re in the company of true pioneers. Now there were plenty of copy cat turd games in the 1980s too, but odds are if you’re playing through the original catalogue of anything from the Nintendo Entertainment System to the Commodore 64, you could be playing the progenitor of an entire digital species.
Imagine/Konami’s Yie Ar Kung Fu is one such game.
Released in 1985 for a variety of platforms including Arcade, NES, Spectrum and our review platform of choice – the C64 – Yie Ar Kung Fu introduced many concepts to gamers that while familiar today, were virtually unknown in the mid eighties. Cast as a Kung Fu fighter, the player must master a variety of low, mid and high punches and kicks as they face off against a variety of opponents in one-on-one matches. Each CPU fighter has his own unique fighting style, special moves and in some cases weapons.
In the C64 version, your first match is against the tubby and slow moving Buchu who can fly from one end of the screen to the other to launch attacks on you. Defeat him, and things get harder as you face the shuriken throwing (and aptly named) ‘Star’ before working your way through three more unique fighters. When you combine the variety of player and CPU moves, health bars, unique fighters and fighitng style, it’s easy to see how Yie Ar Kung Fu is considered by some to be the forefather to gaming greats like the Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat series. The C64 version is a seemingly solid port, with faithfully recreated backgrounds and fighter sprites as well as a rockin’ title track and some addictive gameplay for anyone with a penchant for fighting games. The controls aren’t as refined as a modern fighter, and it’ll take you a little while to work out how to time and produce knee crushing kicks or fisty cuffs as required, but persistence pays off. As a game in its own right, Yie Ar Kung Fu is a great josystick thrasher (and fiendishly difficult in later fights) but garners a whole new level of respect when you realise it was the essence of the modern fighting game 6 years before Street Fighter 2 hit the arcades.