Kung Fu Master follows Thomas, an expert in the art of Kung Fu, through five side-scrolling floors filled with the relentless attacks of Mr X's minions. Thomas must prove his might in order to rescue his girlfriend, Sylvia, from the clutches of this evil maniac before it is too late. The game was originally released in Japan as Spartan X, the Japanese title for Jackie Chan's 1984 Hong Kong movie Wheels on Meals.
The game was originally released for arcades in 1984, before being ported to home systems. It had a sequel, Vigilante, released for arcades in 1988. It was the first in the Spartan X series of video games.
The game was highly influential in its time. It created a new genre of video games, the beat 'em up. Its designer Takashi Nishiyama also later went on to create Street Fighter, which itself went on to define the fighting game genre. In the film industry, the game was used to help promote Jackie Chan's film Wheels on Meals in Japan, and the game later inspired a 1988 French film of the same name.
Enemies include the huge number of Mr X's lowest form of help - The men dressed in purple who are bent on grabbing Thomas and causing as much damage as possible (when they do grab Thomas, his only hope becomes the age old kung fu move of waggling). There are also men dressed in blue who are a great shot with the old throwing knife. Other enemies include fire breathing dragons, glowing orbs that propel some sort of bullet, poisonous moths, small snakes and even smaller kung fu dwarves.
Each level of Mr X's dojo features a boss that Thomas must defeat with all his might if he is to proceed up the stairs taking him ever closer to the final boss.
Floor one will have Thomas defeat a ruffian with a bat while floor two will test his might against a foe skilled in the art of boomerang throwing.
Once Thomas has passed floor two, the bosses become more complex and a daunting task is put before him.
Floor three pins Thomas against an angry giant while floor four forces him to battle a Magician of magical proportions.
Once Thomas has reached the end of the fifth and final floor, he will be confronted by Mr X - the Kung Fu master.
The original name of Kung-Fu Master is Spartan X in Japan. It was released in US arcades as Kung-Fu Master and shortened to Kung Fu for the NES version of the game. The Famicom version of the game is known as Spartan X, but Famicom cartridges labelled Kung Fu are known to exist in Japan and are assumed to be something of a rarity. Kung Fu was a launch title for the NES.
On April 28, 2011, Kung-Fu Master was released for the Apple iPad. It featured all five levels and is the same graphically as the arcade version.
Wheels on Meals (Spartan X)
In Japan, the game is named after Spartan X, the Japanese title for the 1984 Hong Kong action movie Wheels on Meals, starring Jackie Chan as Thomas, a Chinese mobile fast food vendor in Barcelona, Spain. The plot of the game, and the climax of the film, involves storming a villain's castle to save Sylvia.
Alongside Jackie Chan, the film Wheels on Meals also starred Sammo Hung and Yuen Baio in supporting roles, US martial arts champion Benny "The Jet" Urquidez as the villain's top henchman, and former Miss Spain, Lola Forner, as love interest (and damsel in distress) Sylvia.
While based on Wheels on Meals, the setting appears to be originally inspired by Bruce Lee's final film, Game of Death, shortly before his death in 1973. Like the film, the game revolves around rescuing a damsel in distress at the top of a Chinese pagoda and fighting bad guys on each floor along the way. It was not long before the game's release that Irem decided to release it as a tie-in to Wheels on Meals, helping to bring more attention to the game in Japan.
The game's environments more closely resembles Chinese architecture (much like Game of Death) rather than the Spanish castle of Wheels on Meals. Sylvia in the game also looks Chinese, whereas Sylvia in Wheels in Meals was Spanish. In addition, the original arcade version gives Thomas a voice more closely resembling Bruce Lee rather than the Jackie Chan character. In the NES port of the game as well as the 1988 arcade sequel Vigilante, the voice more closely resembles Jackie Chan.
The game itself went on to inspire a 1988 live-action French film of the same name. Director Agnès Varda featured the game prominently in the film Kung-Fu Master! It deals with a relationship between a 40 year-old woman and a 14 year-old boy obsessed with the game. The film was retitled Le Petit Amour for U.S. release so it would not be perceived as a martial arts film.