This impressive-looking fighting game – also known as China Warrior in North America and (informally) “Drunken Master” by some – was the first game ever released for the PC Engine. It was developed by Hudson Soft and first published in 1987 by NEC.
You play a martial artist called Wang, who embarks on a mission to bring down the forces of The Dark Emperor, and that equates to a very simple beat ’em up, with huge sprites, but unfortunately with little substance in terms of gameplay.
The aim of the game is to make your way through four different auto-scrolling stages (each with three sub-levels), throwing punches and kicks at enemies (and objects), and trying not to get knocked out. You have a health bar at the top of the screen which depletes with every hit you take, but it can be refilled by punching or kicking power-up bonuses. At the end of each sub-level is a boss fight, which at least adds some variety to the gameplay. There’s also a bonus screen where you hit a large vase with some nunchucks at the end of each full stage. The sequence of events is the same each time you play, so the game basically boils down to remembering the patterns and timing your moves appropriately.
While The Kung Fu‘s large characters do look exceptional and move smoothly around the screen, the gameplay is surprisingly underwhelming as there are only a few moves that the main character can do (he can do a standing punch, a standing kick to the waist, do two different jump kicks, and a duck punch). Enemies mostly consist of monks (different colours mean they require more hits to defeat), snakes, and insects. There are also other hazards, like rocks, sticks and knives; rolling hazards (boulders), and flames that move across the screen in formation.
The game plays a bit like the classic arcade game Kung-Fu Master, but with continuous scrolling and less satisfying gameplay. It does have a few nice touches, like the main character becoming more bloodied as he gets more damaged.
It has been commented that The Kung Fu is more of a “tech demo” – showing the power and potential of the PC Engine – than a “proper game”. Which is shame, really, as it could’ve been something special with a bit more thought put into it.