Jackie Chan’s Action Kung Fu, or just ‘Jackie Chan’ as my Japanese version reads, is a side-scrolling platformer published by Hudson Soft in 1990 for the Nintendo Entertainment System, and it also made an appearance on the Turbo Graphix 16. It was developed by Now Production Co., a game development studio that started out in 1986 and, surprisingly, is still around. A little digging revealed that these were the same glorious bastards behind Adventure Island and Splatterhouse. They even worked on a couple of Sonic titles. It doesn’t seem like they are all that busy these days, but I’m impressed both by the company’s history and resilience.
So one sunny day, Jackie Chan was going for a stroll through the mountains with his little sister. Suddenly, out of nowhere, an evil sorcerer shows up and kidnaps Jackie’s sister all while laughing his evil, maniacal, asshole laugh. And from there a Kung Fu adventure through ancient China begins! To be fair, this game actually has more plot than some of the Jackie Chan films I’ve seen. He has to be the only man in the world who can create a completely incoherent movie and still make it entertaining as all hell.
The first thing that struck me about this game was the graphics. They are really good for an 8-bit system. The character sprites are a little on the large side, but they are animated quite well and are generally easy on the eye. I did notice a little flickering though, which I guess can’t really be helped given the inherent limitations of the hardware.
Graphics alone don’t make a game. Luckily Jackie Chan’s Action Kung Fu delivers in the gameplay department as well. The controls are smooth, Jackie has a few different attacks at his disposal and the overall difficulty is spot-on. The game isn’t so much ‘hard’ as it is ‘tricky’. The creators have used a few tactics to keep you on your toes and make the player feel that they must be constantly moving. Things like disappearing platforms, moving platforms and auto-scrolling screens (both vertical and horizontal), all keep Jackie jumping about the place like an 8 year old who just ate a bag a sugar. Jackie can also take a few hits before give up the ghost. The way lives are handled is a little odd. You start of with a set number of lives (four or five – I forget) and extra lives can be collected, except they work like continues. So once Jackie’s life bar gets depleted, you are given the game over screen and then taken back to the title screen where you will be given the option to continue.
There are power ups throughout the game which have to be punched out of frogs to be collected. Yes, you read that correctly. The powerups give Jackie a special move to use or a bowl of ramen noodles which restores a few points on his health bar. The special moves do a lot more damage than the standard attacks, but they are limited. Another item that pops up now and then is (I think) a bell which takes Jackie to a bonus level. The bonus levels test your Kung Fu skills with reflex based challenges (jumping, hitting things, c’mon it was 1990). Points are awarded based on how well you did, and then those points get exchanged for powerups or even an extra life if you do well enough.
Everything in this game comes together so well that I’m kind of surprised it rarely comes up in discussion about old 8-bit classics. Everything seems to work. I can’t really find anything wrong with it. If you haven’t already given Jackie Chan’s Action Kung Fu a play through yet, get on to that shit quick-smart. Every retro gamer out there owes it to themselves to give this game a go.