STILL DOING THAT THING WITH ALL MY C64 GAMES…BRUCE LEE EDITION.
Anybody up for more of this nonsense?
Replay Value: High
Finally, a game I actually enjoyed playing!
Boy, did I play this game a lot, and I always had a ton of fun with it.
Everyone knew who Bruce Lee was. He was the guy you pretended to be when you wanted to kick your friends. Yet I suspect rather few of us young’uns had actually seen any of his movies. We generally knew of Bruce Lee and were aware that he was supposed to be the best, but this being the 80’s, Chuck Norris was the guy to watch if movies about leg-based violence were your thing. Good ol’ Chuck was right up there with Rambo, Jason, and “Freddy Kru-gah” in the revered legions of characters in movies that kids whose parents didn’t care what they watched gushed about on the playground, while I stood there utterly failing to conceal my seething jealousy and silently praying to God to make my parents stop believing in him so we could get HBO.
Imagine my surprise, then, when my dub-happy Uncle Rick fired up his unfathomably luxuriant dual-VCR setup and was kind enough to tape me my very own copy of “Return of the Dragon” (also known as “Way of the Dragon”, “Revenge of the Dragon”, “Meng long guo jiang”, “Maang Lung goh kong”, and “Brucey and the Hendersons”).
It’s hard to tell with all that back-of-head hair whipping around, but that is, in fact, Bruce Lee kicking Chuck Norris directly in the face. My personal stock in Norris dropped instantly, though in time I learned to appreciate him anew (watching “Lone Wolf McQuade”, which I would heartily recommend without reservation, can’t help but have that effect). I had no idea this excellent film would be climaxing in a drawn-out one-on-one fight scene between Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris, and for my money it’s not even the main reason to see the film. There’s a very compelling if simplistic storyline preceding this brawl wherein Bruce travels to Rome and takes it upon himself to help his hapless cousins defend their nice little restaurant against a bunch of gangsters, mostly led by a fey, nasally-voiced coward wonderfully played by a little guy named Ping-Ao Wei, whom fans of this movie will recognize immediately:
Man, I love that dude.
If I remember correctly, there are only 5 main Bruce Lee movies to choose from, and you can’t go wrong with any of them (I even like the posthumously cobbled “Game of Death”, both in spite and because of its ridiculous attempts to flesh out what little Lee footage they had on hand, even choosing to superimpose Lee’s head onto another actor in one alarming moment), but “Return of the Dragon” will always be my favorite, partly because it was my introduction to an amazing and entertaining talent (and from a sentimental standpoint, it doesn’t hurt that my favorite uncle correctly thought I would enjoy it and was decent enough to provide me with contraband R-rated material), but I also like the fact that it gives Lee the chance to indulge some of the goofier aspects of his personality. He’s playing something of a country bumpkin here, and his initial confusion and barely-concealed discomfort with big city ways result in a good number of genuine chuckles early on in the film. Given his heralded reflexes, though, I suppose it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Bruce Lee was capable of a dead-solid double take. The man had some pretty crack comic timing, a sharp contrast from his steely-eyed turn in “Enter the Dragon” (incidentally, a movie that just gets better every time I see it) and it’s a shame he didn’t live long enough to reveal more of this side of himself onscreen. All told, and speaking from experience, “Return of the Dragon” is a prime introduction to Bruce Lee if you’ve never gotten around to watching any of his movies.
I know, I haven’t even gotten around to the game yet, but I feel I must include a video of Bruce vs. Chuck for all to enjoy or revisit…
…and lastly, the coolest emmereffing picture of Bruce Lee, or perhaps anyone, I have ever seen:
Beat that, Debbie Harry!
So ANYWAY, the game:
All right, obviously you’re Bruce Lee in this game, and that’s of course you at the bottom there, serving that ridiculous ninja a mouth-watering slice of shoe pie. That fat green Sumo guy in the hat and diaper is also going to be in your face throughout the entirety of the adventure. See those white things dangling from various areas of the room? Lacking an instructional manual, I always assumed those were diamonds, but it turns out they’re lamps, and you have to jump up and collect them in order to activate trap doors that grant you access into the next room. Fat Green and the ninja don’t want you to have those lamps, so they attack you repeatedly. I know, you’re Bruce Lee and all, and you can handle it, but believe me, it gets annoying, and the computerized version of Bruce Lee decidedly lacks his real-life counterpart’s arsenal of Jeet Kune Do moves, limited here to the mysterious “kick” and the legendary “punch”. You can also duck to avoid weird projectiles that occasionally come at you or ninja kicks, but it’s really more of an instantaneous crumpling of your body into an ungainly and painful-looking heap, kind of like what happens to Beetle Bailey whenever Sarge stomps on him. That blue thing that Fat Green is about to get on is a ladder you can use, and your jumping skills are thankfully pretty solid, as they’re essential to move from ledge to ledge, grab lamps, and make your way through the screens.
The screens progressively became more treacherous and interesting graphicwise. Streams of electricity would intermittently be emitted across passageways you needed to fall through (you can see the ninja about to get zapped by one in the upper left hand corner), so timing and patience (elements that in my case have always been in extremely short supply) were of the essence. That magenta strip to the right is a conveyor belt. They appear throughout the game, and very rarely are they headed in the direction you want to go in, so one had to be furtive in their climbing effort, else you’re sucked to your death or propelled into a demise-providing electric shock.
I played this game so often that it was inevitable that I eventually beat it, though lest I brag, “Bruce Lee” is nobody’s idea of an especially difficult computer game. At the end, a dragon/pig/bull sort of fellow spits what I suppose are laser beams at you, and you have to avoid these and make it to a switch at the opposite end of the screen, which, once thrown, blows whoever that guy is to kingdom come, and you’ve won. The above screen displayed upon your victory, the game offers you its congrats, and little Bruce Lee, presumably overcome with joy at the notion of a break from evading electrocution and ninja attacks while amassing light fixtures, jumps up and down repeatedly. There are a fair number of screens to conquer before this moment, but those are all the purloinable screenshots at this time. I seem to recall some kind of tripwire that if scampered across would engulf Bruce in an odd, shrubbery-esque explosion. It’s hard to explain, I wish I could have found a picture of it.
“Bruce Lee” was a good game to have on hand if you had a buddy over spendin’ the night at your house, because the two-player mode offered the chance to either have you and your friend take turns being Bruce Lee (when one of you dies, the other takes over) or to have one of you play as Bruce and the other actually play as Fat Green. So whether you tended to side with your friend in playground skirmishes or butt heads at any given opportunity, there was a “Bruce Lee” two-player mode tailor-made for your particular relationship. These are the details that inspire gamer devotion, and kudos to Datasoft for putting such thought into what could have been a tossed-off cash-in. Their game met with both critical and financial success, and today “Bruce Lee” continues to be remembered as an innovative amalgam of genres, later inspiring other such “walk down the street and beat people up while collecting treasures” classics as “Double Dragon” and “Ninja Gaiden”, just to name a couple.
At the risk of media overload, here are a couple of excellent YouTube clips of this game I’ve just happened upon. This first one is quite impressive, as it shows a skilled player defeating the game in under ten minutes. I watched the entire thing, and the warm hug of nostalgia was almost too much to bear. The soundtrack is a newer version of the game’s theme that whoever made this tacked on, and while I would have preferred just a straight recording of the game itself, I have to say I ended up getting into it, as it manages to jazz up the original music while retaining its primitive beepiness. In the interest of keeping the game to YouTube-ready length, however, the player barely bothers fighting with Fat Green and the ninja at all, as such scuffles eat up a lot of time, so you don’t see a lot of Bruce kicking ass here. Nonetheless, this is obviously someone who’s played this game a lot, and he doesn’t miss a trick. There are so many hair-raising moments that I forgotten about (the stage that appears around 7:54 was always a butt-clencher for sure) and well-timed evasions to thrill to. I watched all 9+ minutes of it, and plan on doing so again once I’ve posted this.
The ability on display in the above video notwithstanding, I find myself even fonder of this next video, which I swear to God is the last footage of 1984’s “Bruce Lee” for the Commodore 64 I will entreat you to regard. This one’s only a couple minutes long, there’s no music or anything, and whoever’s playing this time possesses a level of “Bruce Lee” talent that I’m far more able to relate to. He falls off things, flubs kicks (but at least he gets some fighting in), gets kicked a lot, has a moment of humorous difficulty with the ladder (1:27), and makes it through almost none of the game. It felt like I was actually playing.
I hadn’t intended on spending this much time on one stinkin’ game, but oh well, in this case the topic at hand is well deserving of more paragraphs than usual. As always, thank you for indulging me, and for your troubles, here is yet another picture of Debbie Harry:
We’ll see ya next time.