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UK Mike (miner2049er)

The Bi-Weekly British Backtrack - Bruce Lee

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I’m afraid the political heavyweights will be disappointed by this blog entry.

We’re taking a breather from the normally deep and intense discussion generating material found here and we’re doing a simple game review. That’s a simple review of a game not a review of a simple game, though I suppose that description’s probably fairly true as well. We’re going to look at what is without doubt one of the finest 8bit platformers out there. In fact if you think about it most of the greatest platformers are 8bits aren’t they?

Anyway, we’re looking at the game Bruce Lee.

Bruce Lee the game was designed by Ron J. Fortier, with graphics by Kelly Day and music by John A. Fitzpatrick. Originally it was published for the Apple 2, Atari 8-bit and Commodore 64 by Datasoft Inc in 1984 but it was also published for the ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC by U.S. Gold in the same year. An MSX version followed from Comptiq the year after.

The game is mixture of platformer and beat 'em up in much the same way that Kung Fu Master was, but this was a much more developed game with better level design, better opponents and better gameplay in general, even though Kung Fu Master was a good game, Bruce Lee took the concept and ran with it, turning it into a much better game.

The plot is that you play the central character, Bruce Lee, and you have to work your way into and then around a wizard's tower in search of infinite wealth and the secret of immortality. Like Manic Miner there are twenty screens in total and to complete each one you have to collect all of the lanterns that are hanging there, but unlike Manic Miner there is some freedom of movement among certain screens and you don't have to complete one at a time in a specific order.

Each screen or room is guarded by two enemies; The Ninja, who attacks with a bokken stick and The Green Yamo, a lizard like creature that attacks with punches and kicks. In single player mode these two characters are controlled by the computer, but in two player mode your opponent can either control the Green Yamo in a versus mode or alternately control Bruce in a competitive mode.

The Ninja and the Yamo are not only vulnerable to your attacks but also to the traps and other dangers on the screen like mines, lasers, moving walls and electric shocks but unlike you they have infinite lives so they will always respawn and come after you again. The Ninja can only survive two hits but the Green Yamo takes three hits to kill, and if the second player controlling the Green Yamo is inactive for long enough the computer takes over, so you can't cheat by setting it to two players and leaving the second control idle. The computer will only allow you to do that for so long before taking over and coming after you.

So as you pit your wits against the evil wizard the game begins at the entrance to his fortress, and to open up the next level you have to take the lanterns hanging from the ceiling. When you get all the lanterns (or at least certain lanterns) for that room, the door opens and you will see the exit.

To get around each room you can run and jump, climb vines either up, down or sideways, leap from ledge to ledge or drop down from one floor to another. There are traps as I mentioned such as exploding t'sung-lin which are bushes that explode as you run over them like mines, but you can use those to your advantage. If you run over one and keep running it won't get you but if either of your enemies is following you at just the right distance, then it will be triggered by you and explode just as they run over it, and that will kill them outright, it doesn't count as just a hit, it means instant death, for either them or you if you get hit.

When the game Bruce Lee was released in 1984, designers were just starting to develop the idea of combining genres, and there weren't that many which crossed the boundaries like this, but Ron Fortier was something of a pioneer in the field. He designed Bruce Lee primarily as a platform game but with some elements of a beat 'em up. The actual fighting moves were limited to just a punch or a flying kick and a defensive move of lying flat on the floor, but the overall gameplay more than made up for it.

Graphically the game wasn't great but it was passable and it is easy to see what is going on and what you have to do, and there is no background music once the game starts and moves off the title screen, but that doesn't really detract from it at all because the gameplay itself is so good. The character moves well and is easy to control making the fighting moves feel like second nature.

The game isn't very difficult when you first start and is one you should be able to complete without too much difficulty. On subsequent playthroughs the enemies will regenerate more quickly when you kill them and will actively pursue you, whereas when you first start, once you climb to a different platform level they will both freeze and not chase you.

There aren't too many lanterns to collect and none which are very difficult to get to so it may be one of the easier games you will play. Again that doesn't really detract from it as it is one I will still fire up and play on now for a quick fix.

On its original release, the ZX Spectrum version of the game got good reviews, 91% in CRASH magazine for example, and Sinclair User gave it 4 out of 5 stars.

Your Spectrum magazine pointed out its low learning curve by saying that it only takes a few games to complete all 20 chambers, and in a 1990 retrospective, Your Sinclair also said that it was too easy to complete.

It is described by some as a historically important game, being the first to combine the platform/collection and beat 'em up genres, now I don't know how true that is but it is probably one of the first I played, and one of the games I played the most, along with the similar Kung Fu Master that I mentioned.

Obviously you can try it for yourself through emulation but be aware that the Commodore 64 version is emulated so well that the common game crashes are also emulated. Every so often on the C64 when you moved from one screen to another the game would crash with garbled graphics and you would have to reload it and start again.

I've played other versions and maybe they are prone to crash too but I never had it happen on any other platform.

The C64 is the only one, but if you want to play a modern version then there is a very faithful remake that's been done in Blitz Basic and that doesn't need an instalł, you can run it straight from the executable. The link to that remake will be in the shownotes and it is definitely worth a look as it's one of the best and most faithful remakes I've played, and I'm not really a fan of remakes in general.

So do yourself a favour and try either the remake or the original Bruce Lee.

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