Codex Gamicus

Kung-Fu Master, known in Japan as Spartan X (スパルタンX?), is a 1984 beat 'em up arcade game developed and published in Japan by Irem. It was later published in North America by Data East. The Japanese version was based on the movie starring Jackie Chan of one of the alternate names of the film, Wheels on Meals, and credited "Paragon Films Ltd., Towa Promotion", who produced the film upon which it was based. The game is considered by many to be the first beat 'em up video game, and contains elements of Bruce Lee's Game of Death.


Kung-Fu Master is a side-scrolling beat 'em up action game produced by Irem that was originally released as an arcade game in 1984 and distributed by Data East in North America. The game was initially released in Japan under the title of Spartan X (スパルタンX Suparutan X?) as a tie-in based on the Jackie Chan film Wheels on Meals (which was distributed under the same title in Japan). Besides the names of the protagonist and his girlfriend, and the general theme of rescuing a damsel in distress, the game has little bearing on the plot of the film, allowing Irem to export the game without the license by simply changing title.

The game is credited for laying the foundations of the beat 'em up genre,[8][9] combining side-scrolling platform and fighting game elements with multiple enemies.


The player takes the role of Keiji Thomas, a man in a Keikogi and slippers. Thomas's girlfriend, Sylvia, has been kidnapped by "Mr. X", and Thomas must fight through five side-scrolling floors full of enemies to rescue her.

Brutally summarized as "rescue girlfriend – hit people", the US and UK version opens with the phrase "Thomas and Sylvia were attacked by several unknown guys...."


The game was an early beat 'em up. It is cited as one of the inspirations for subsequent successes like Double Dragon, Final Fight, Captain Commando, Streets of Rage, P.O.W.: Prisoners of War and Bad Dudes Vs. DragonNinja.

Thomas can punch with the A button and kick with the B button. Either move can be done from a crouching or jumping position. Punches are worth twice as much as kicks and do twice as much damage, but their range is shorter. The first floor of the temple contains Grippers and Knife Throwers. Subsequent levels introduce Tom Toms, poisonous moths, fire-breathing dragons, snakes, and confetti balls.

Each of the five floors ends with a different boss who must be defeated before Thomas can climb the stairs to the next floor. Thomas must complete each floor within a fixed time. The timer starts at 2000. If it falls below 330, an acoustic warning sounds. If a boss defeats Thomas, the boss laughs. Although there are five bosses, the game only uses two different synthesized laughs. (The NES port uses a third, high-pitched synthesized laugh for the Black Magician.)

Once the player has completed all five floors, the game restarts with a more demanding version of the Devil's Temple, although the essential details remain unchanged. A visual indication of the current house is displayed on the screen. For each series of five completed floors, a dragon symbol appears in the upper-right corner of the screen. After three dragons have been added, the dragon symbols blink.



Knife Thrower

Tom Tom



Confetti Ball

Killer Moth


Kung-Fu Master was originally inspired by Hong Kong action cinema, particularly Bruce Lee's film Game of Death, before eventually being released as a tie-in for the Jackie Chan film Wheels on Meals (known as Spartan X in Japan).[8]

Ports and related releases[]

Kung-Fu Master was ported to the Atari 2600, Atari 7800, Amstrad CPC,[5] Apple II, BeOS x86, Commodore 64,[10] DOS, Java, Linux, NES/Famicom, MSX (Irem/ASCII version as Seiken Achō), PlayChoice-10 (arcade, nearly the same as the NES version), Sega SG-1000, Sinclair ZX Spectrum (released simply as "Kung Fu (Karate)" by Bug Byte as the first home computer port) and Windows. It was also made for the 8-bit Gameking console, under the name of Nagual. Some of the 8-bit conversions offered highly degraded performance, sound and image resolution. The NES version was ported and published by Nintendo simply under the title "Kung Fu" in North America and the PAL region. It is also one of two NES/Famicom games that had Jackie Chan as its lead character, the other being Jackie Chan's Action Kung Fu (which was also released for the TurboGrafx-16). The original arcade version was later included along with the arcade versions of 10-Yard Fight and Zippy Race in IAC/Irem Arcade Classics for the PlayStation and Sega Saturn, released in Japan only in 1996 by Irem and I'Max. The arcade version was also released to cell phones.

In 1988, another arcade game by Irem titled as Vigilante was created and released, which is a spin-off of Kung-Fu Master, due to the gameplay being the same, but with a completely different plot added to it that takes place in the urban areas of New York City, where a nameless titular character must save his girlfriend, Madonna ("Maria" in the Sega Master System version) who was captured by the Skinheads ("Rogues" in the Sega Master System version). About a year later in 1990, the arcade game received a completely different Game Boy sequel as "Kung-Fu Master" ("Spartan X" in Japan), which has similar gameplay to the arcade game, but with a completely different plot, setting, set of enemies and stages. Some of Keiji Thomas's new abilities are back-flip kicks and grenades dropped by enemies. The flat levels were modified into stages with different platforms and objects in an urban city style similar to Vigilante's. Another year later in 1991, a Japan-exclusive sequel to the game was released for the Famicom, titled Spartan X 2. In this game, players control "Jonny Spartan", who wears a red, short-sleeved jacket. Like Vigilante and the Game Boy version of Kung-Fu Master, the plot is also quite different and takes place in an urban area, with no mention of Sylvia, but rather "Jonny" is now a member of an unnamed crime-fighting unit charged with foiling a group of drug smugglers.


The arcade game received a positive review in the April 1985 issue of Computer and Video Games, where reviewer Clare Edgeley described it as "one of the most hard-hitting, breath-taking fast games for Kung-Fu adepts." She described the player character as "a whirling, kicking, jumping, fighting machine controlled" by "an eight-way joystick and punch and kick buttons." She notes the fights are "hard and draining" but praises the "very fast" pace of the game, the "catchy" music, the "smooth" and "picturesque" graphics, and the "lifelike" movement animation. She concludes, "If you thought Karate Champ was good – wait 'til you try this one!"[11] The June 1985 issue of Computer and Video Games notes that the arcade game has "proved to be a great success".[12]


Agnès Varda featured the game prominently in a film of the same name (Kung-Fu Master!), dealing with an affair between a 40 year-old woman and a fourteen year-old boy obsessed with the game. When he finally beats it after 6 months, he asks a bartender to giver her a call to let her know. The bartender is initially a bit dismissive but still picks up the phone. However, she cannot get the message because she is not home, and the bartender reaches her daughter who is too young to be a messenger. The film was retitled Le Petit Amour for U.S. release so it would not be perceived as a martial arts film.

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