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Kung Fu Master

Kung Fu Master

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The fictional character Shang-Chi is also known as The Master of Kung Fu.

Kung-Fu Master is a 1984 arcade game developed by the Japanese company Irem Corporation. It was manufactured under license in the United States by Data East. It was released in Japan as Spartan X (スパルタンX) and credited "Paragon Films Ltd., Towa Promotion", who made the movie starring Jackie Chan, called Spartan X (Wheels on Meals) upon which it was based. The game contains elements of Bruce Lee's Game of Death.

The Story

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 opened with the clumsy phrase "Thomas and Sylvia were attacked by several unknown guys...."


The game was the first beat 'em up. It is cited as the inspiration for subsequent successes like Double Dragon, Final Fight, Captain Commando, Streets of Rage and Bad Dudes.

The first floor of the temple contains Grippers (standard Kung Fu henchmen who charge Thomas and grab him, draining his life bar) and Knife Throwers (men who throw knives high or low). But subsequent levels introduce Tom Toms (small dwarves who can surprise Thomas by jumping on his head), poisonous moths, fire-breathing dragons (Thomas must punch or kick them before they breathe fire), snakes, and confetti balls. (These hang in mid-air for a few seconds and then explode into three pieces after a few seconds; Thomas must jump kick these before they explode. If Thomas is hit by any pieces of debris from an exploding confetti ball, he takes massive damage.)

Each of the five floors ends with a different boss who must be defeated before Thomas can climb the stairs to the next floor. The first two bosses are ordinary men armed with a stick and honed boomerangs, respectively. The third is a Giant, the fourth a Black Magician, and the fifth is Mr. X, a versatile Kung Fu master. 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 dragons symbols blink.

Floor Details

In the film, Game of Death, the pagoda is the Buddhist temple Beopjusa in South Korea. The inside and outside are displayed in the movie Bruce Lee: A Warrior's Journey (a Game of Death documentary). In the movie, Lee has four companions. The pagoda is guarded by ten karate-guards on the outside.

In the game, Thomas is alone. The five floors of the Devil's Temple not only feature five different fighting-styles, but require different tactics for successfully completing each level.

Floor 1: Right-to-left. Enemies are Grippers and Knife Throwers. Grippers usually come in large numbers. The boss is the Stick Fighter. His high attacks miss if Thomas crouches, and all attacks miss if Thomas is directly next to him.

In Game of Death, this level is called "Hall of the Tiger" and the boss is Master of the Escrima (Filipino stick fighting-style), played by Dan Inosanto. As Lee died, before filming level one and two, this level is the third. Originally, it was planned an expert kicker and student of Chi with no weapon on level one.

Floor 2: Left-to-right. Enemies are snakes, dragons, and confetti balls, followed by more Grippers and Knife Throwers. In addition, Tom Toms make their first appearance on this floor. The boss is the Boomerang Fighter (throws a boomerang, high or low).

In Game of Death this level is the "Red Area" (level four), with the Hapkido-fighter played by Ji Han Jae. It was planned a boss with fast and direct attack on level two, which was to be called "Floor of the Preying Mantis".

Between floors 2 and 3, and between 4 and 5, Mr. X off screen taunts Thomas while Sylvia is tied to a chair.

Floor 3: Right-to-left. Enemies consist of large numbers of Grippers, Tom Toms, and Knife Throwers. The boss is Mr. Big (an orange giant).

In the film, The Giant is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. On A Warrior's Journey (2000) Jabbar is on the fifth level. In the original Game of Death, Jabbar comes even after the fifth floor, at the outside of the pagoda.

Floor 4: Left-to-right. Enemies consist of Poisonous Moths, Grippers, Tom Toms, and Knife Throwers. The boss is the Black Magician, a hunchback who casts fire, summons Dragons, snakes, and bats, and cannot be hurt with shots to the head. His fire can be attacked, and only a crouch-punch hurts him.

In Game of Death, he was the Master of Illusion.

Floor 5: Right-to-left. Grippers, Tom Toms, and Knife Throwers come at Thomas in droves. The boss is Mr. X himself (a decent karate master, but a glitch forces him to walk into the player's crouch kicks).

In Game of Death there was a document instead of the girl. She was held elsewhere.


The game ran on an Irem M62 platform controlled by a set of 3 PCBs using a 3.072 MHz Z80 CPU, and an 894.886 kHz Motorola 6803 for sound, The horizontal 4:3 screen used a 512-colour raster display. Accommodating one or two players. it was controlled by a 4-way joystick and two buttons: Punch and Kick, respectively. Sound was generated by 2 General Instruments AY-3-8910s and 2 Oki MSM5205 noise generators.

Via dipswitch settings, the number of lives (normally 3), difficulty (easy/hard) and faster decrease of the life-bar can be set. Additionally, there is a test, a freeze and an invisible option. With this option, the player can walk through Grippers without danger.

The game has more than 10,000 lines of assembly code and 28 ROMs (including 177 KB of graphics), main code 2x 16 KB.


Kung-Fu Master was ported to the Atari 2600, Atari 7800, Amstrad CPC, Apple II, BeOS x86, Commodore 64, DOS, Java, Linux, NES/Famicom, MSX (Irem/ASCII version), PlayChoice-10 (arcade, nearly the same as the NES version), Sega SG-1000, Sinclair ZX Spectrum 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 under the title Kung-Fu in North America and the PAL region. It is 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.

Other ports (mostly different):

  • Spartan X: MSX (ASCII, 1983) - Completely different game that follows the plot of the movie.
  • Spartan X: Game Boy (Irem, 1990) - Original game that has similar gameplay to the arcade and NES versions, but with new enemies and stages.
  • Kung Fu (Karate): ZX Spectrum (Bug Byte, 1984, first home computer port)
  • Spartan X: IAC/Irem Arcade Classics for the PlayStation and Sega Saturn, Japan only (1996, I'Max)
  • Kung-Fu Master DX: EmuDX (2005)
  • Kung-Fu Master: cell phone
  • Kung-Fu Master 3D (WIP, 2005)


A Japanese-only sequel to the game was released for the Famicom in 1991, titled simply Spartan X 2. In this game, the main character's name has changed to "Jonny Spartan," and his costume resembles a red jumpsuit. The storyline is also quite different, 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.

There is also a game by Irem known as Vigilante, which shares the same gameplay.


In 1985, a successor was planned, to be called Super Kung-Fu Master. A prototype was made, but tested poorly. The ROM images are not available.


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