Bruce Lee was a consummate badass who did it all. Director, writer, teacher, and martial arts master whose influence continues to be felt years after his death, he didn’t wait for different ways of expression to capture the world’s attention. It was almost as if technology had to catch up to his blinding speed which it finally did with his first video game from Datasoft in 1984.
This was a clever blend of platforming and beat ’em up action. Following a title screen sporting his digitized likeness, and after you got your fingers ready over the keys or with your favorite ‘stick, it was time to beat, jump, and climb your way through 20 screens of devilish traps and timed hurdles ranging from flame spouts to spikes. I couldn’t get enough of the action which Datasoft knew how to deliver.
Story-wise, Bruce Lee heads into the fortress ruled over by a giant fire wizard to seek his treasure vault. A giant sumo wrestling looking guy (Yamo) and a ninja would also get in his way, but he could either punch or fly kick his way past them. Or knock them into the same traps. The AI was pretty simple stuff and it was easy to dodge them by climbing up to a level above their heads. They didn’t know how to chase you up the same kind of ivy that Bruce could easily scramble over.
To open up the way forward, you also had to snag hanging lanterns. Sometimes those lanterns would even flicker black or white over an obstacle, forcing you to pause and cautiously time your jump. But mostly, it was all about the levels you’d have to figure out on your happy way through whether it was in picking which lanterns to snag first or how to get past the deathtraps waiting to chew Bruce up.
The only downer was the final boss battle which wasn’t so much of a game of death but a fast sprint to the other side of the screen to grab the last lantern in the game, presumably smashing the wizard’s mojo and killing him. After a short victory screen with Bruce hopping in glee over the mountains of treasure there, it was time to repeat the whole thing all over again.
With a limited number of lives and a scoreboard, the game had something of an arcade quality to it though having it at home was also a nice advantage. Strangely, the ad above doesn’t show off any screens from the game itself, though it does have nice art showing Bruce’s scarred self and the box cover. The blurb talks up the action, the setting, and even tells you how much the game is.
This is also a game that saw wide distribution across a number of platforms across the years from the traditional duo of the Apple II and the Commodore 64 to a DOS version in 1987. Since then, games that have tried to translate Bruce Lee’s action packed fists and feet have had something of a mixed reception. Hopefully that doesn’t keep developers from trying to hit that perfect balance between Bruce Lee’s unflappable skill and the kind of blistering, bone breaking action that a solid game can deliver.