Get ready for fast-paced karate action on the go, because it's time to talk about Kung Fu Master for the Game Boy. This is yet another example of Irem getting the most out of Nintendo's limited hardware. What's more, it proves that great beat-em-ups exist on the black and white portable.
Not to be confused with the arcade game with the same name, Kung Fu Master is an original follow-up that is exclusive to Nintendo's handheld. You play the hero from the first game, Thomas, who returns to take on a series of tough boss characters. Does he do this by cleverly outsmarting his opponents? Of course not, just like the title suggests, he goes into each stage ready to kick-ass using his mastery of kung fu.
Unfortunately, our hero isn't as masterful as he thinks he is. When it comes right down to it, this game only gives us a few moves to play around with. Most of the time Thomas is doing little more than kicking and punching; only occasionally throwing in back flips and jump kicks. He has learned a few things since the 1984 original, but I'm not convinced at his bona fides.
On the other hand, his simple punches and kicks did get me through all six stages intact. That's an impressive feat when you consider the bosses, which include a chainsaw maniac, barrel tosser, soldier with a flamethrower and a bunch of nasty ninjas with throwing stars. You'll also need to survive a bunch of simple (albeit persistent) foot soldiers that will drain your health if you're not careful.
Although these bosses are interesting, they don't do anything to help fill in the story. With no cinema at the start, we are never fully sure of Thomas' motivation. He saved his girlfriend in the first game, but there appears to be no similar prize in this Game Boy sequel. And don't expect the closing cinema to answer any lingering questions, because it's nothing more than Thomas standing by the ocean. It was an interesting adventure, but ultimately unfulfilling.
Kung Fu Master may have a simple look, but the gameplay is quick and the controls are responsive. I was also impressed with the different levels, which made the most out of the limited hardware. Best of all, the game isn't stuck walking from one part of the city to the next, as Thomas takes part in an exciting fight sequence on a moving train. Despite being short, Kung Fu Master packs quite a bit of variety into small package.
The Game Boy may not have been known for its brawlers, but Kung Fu Master is definitely one of the best. Even though the graphics are simple and the single-player story mode is short, I still had a lot of fun with the fast-paced gameplay and unique level designs. Too bad Irem didn't spend any time developing the barebones story.