C64 Retro-Gaming: Bruce Lee

Game: Bruce Lee
Made by: Datasoft (1984)
Genre: Platform/Beat'em Up hybrid
Did I have this? Yes!
Bruce Lee isn't on the C64 Mini, but compatible conversions are available online.

What Is It?
You play a tiny pixelated Bruce Lee running around 20 connected "platform" screens representing a temple and its deadly underground, each guarded by a ninja and a green sumo wrestler, as well as all manner of deadly traps, heading for a showdown with an evil sorcerer. Your only powers: Jumping, ducking, climbing, punching, and a flying kick!

Bruce Lee is really a game of precision. You often have to drop down or jump at exactly the right time or the right position to avoid the game's many pitfalls, or to hit an enemy without being hit yourself (but that works both ways, if you're in the same space as an enemy, they can't hit you either). You can take several hits before dying (you 5 lives, the first 4 are called "Falls", which is a nice in-story idea), but so can they, Yamo (the green guy, equivalent in fighting ability to Bruce) one more than the ninja. Kicks are more powerful than punches (2 kicks kill a ninja, but it takes 3 punches to get the same result). They respawn very quickly, but so do you, at the top of the platform (the screen is not however reset). They are unintelligent pests that come racing after you usually when you're in their line of sight, as you navigate the much more dangerous traps in almost every screen as you grab lanterns that open new doors (the puzzle aspect of the game). Everything kills Bruce, you see. Daggers set in ceilings and floors, electrified grids, exploding fountains, cycling forcefields... Half the game is learning the timing on all of these so you can get through the levels quickly before an enemy pushes you into them.

The controls are at least responsive, making jumps (normal or kicking) and running/stepping pretty easy. The speed of the game is really what makes it addictive even though it's pretty hard. I don't remember how far I got back in the day, but as an adult, I've probably access less than half the 20 screens. I've looked at the final boss on YouTube, and he's a big giant thing that shoots things you have to avoid, but if you do, you flip a switch and he's dead. Then the game restarts, with harder/faster obstacles. In the 2-player game, you can either take turns as Bruce, or you can play simultaneously, with Player 2 taking on the role of Yama and trying to stop Bruce from accomplishing his goals (amusing, but not wholly satisfying). You score points for almost everything you do, but I don't think anyone plays it for that.
Graphics and Sounds
A simple-looking game, but you can immediately recognize the "Dragon" by his black pants and naked chest, and his kung fu kick pose. It might have been fun to allow the character to have or grab some nun-chucks for his close range attack. The punching is kind of drab and looks like a boxing move. His silliest move is the duck. He throws himself on the ground and looks like a tadpole. And I love it. Also amusing is the way Bruce dies. Not when hit by an enemy, that's fine, a kind of prone but relaxed, grape-eating position. But when he is hit by a forcefield or other electric threat, he just stands to attention, frozen. Now, there is the question of the skin tone, which is an unfortunate yellow (though not screaming canary, mustard is still on the racist side). Yamo is green, so we'll chalk this up to simple pixels and easy to spot, contrasting colors. As for the environments, it quickly becomes samey kind of caves and dungeons, but at least starts in the open air, with a big ox on top of the temple. There's definitely some flavor to the art.

Less flavor sound-wise. No music beyond the main menu, for example, just air swooshes, running patter, and lantern-grabbing jingles. Not quite kung fu cracking action.
The World
It's not clear what kind of licensing agreement is at play here, but I do wish a few winks were made to Enter the Dragon, perhaps indicating we were on some version of that island, maybe some kind of hall of mirrors (walls that refract energy beams maybe). As is, we're in a non-descript Bruce Lee movie (or Brucesploitation film starring Bruce Le, Bruce Li, or some other Bruce), where there's a wizard, but his underground lair runs of electricity (maybe it's elemental magic, I dunno). Maybe it all takes place in Japan despite Bruce's Chinese origins, which explains the ninja and the "Yama". What's perhaps odder than Yama being green is that though based, physically, on a sumo wrestler, he does kung fu. I elect Sammo Hung to play the role. After all, he and Bruce were both Golden Harvest stars. So not the best example of world-building, kind of the dream of a memory of old martial arts films, but I'm not really complaining.

Bottom Line

A nice, addictive mix of genres, Bruce Lee uses a recognizable hero for simple fighting, platform jumping and avoiding, and maze running, in a quick and dirty action game that's too quick to really be frustrating. It's hard, but doesn't cheat, as the controls are neither finicky nor twitchy. I'm sure I could master it in time, and at only 20 interlocked screens, finishing it doesn't seem completely out of reach.

What about you? Ever played the C64 Bruce Lee game?


Anonymous said...

I've never played this, but it reminds me of the Chuck Norris Atari game ... except this has slightly better graphics and more threats.

Mike W.


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