John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China in 1986 is a fantastic action mash-up of Chinese mysticism, American swagger, and outrageous martial arts sequences set in modern Chinatown. The game published by Electric Dreams Software sits somewhere on the opposite end of that pugilistic sorcery spectrum.
It was released in 1987 for the Amstrad, Commodore 64, and the ZX Spectrum and wasn’t ported anywhere else. It was also the only video game adaptation of the film or its characters anyone would make. That is, until people started recreating them in games like WWE Legends of Wrestlemania.
This side-scrolling beat ’em up game loosely followed the plot — tough guy, Jack Burton, along with Wang and resident wizard, Egg Shen, go off to fight their way to confront Lo Pan and rescue the two women he has kidnapped in order to restore himself to flesh and rule the world. All three tag along, one after the other which the player can juggle through by tapping the first letter of their names to battle the bad guys that inevitably get in their faces. The game is broken down into four stages taking you from Chinatown to the Marriage Chamber were Lo Pan awaits with his ill-gotten brides.
Each character also has a specialization – Jack can pick up and use guns as long as he can get ammo, Wang can use swords (which break after awhile), and Egg Shen can use powerful magic as long as he can keep himself juiced up on potions. They also have their own health meters measured by stacked yin and yang symbols that slowly decrease with damage. At the end of the game, it’s even suggested that players juggle between all three characters to beat Lo Pan.
The game also seems to be designed to be broken. The characters apparently can’t turn around and fight someone who has gotten behind them though they can move left, right, and even jump up — just not be able to turn around. You’re stuck facing in one direction while doing punches, kicks, or whipping out magic at whoever is to the left. To keep things fair, the enemy can’t turn around, either, so it becomes a broken, Benny Hill-like ballet of the player and the enemy AI trying to get back to the correct sides of each other to actually do any damage.
It’s hard to imagine how this game ended up the way it did especially when examples such as DataSoft’s Bruce Lee or Irem’s Kung Fu Master and its ports were floating around out there as solid examples of beat ’em up basics. If you’ve seen the film, it literally screams to have an action game made for it along the same lines that either one of those examples lay down so well.
Though sad to see, at least the ad above is a fantastic piece of work based as it is from one of the movie poster print. In it, we see clips from the movie as Kurt Russell’s Jack Burton stands with a gun in his hand while Kim Cattrall’s Gracie Law embraces him from behind. In the back, James Hong leers at everyone as a green Lo Pan. Exciting, action packed, and a wonderful portrayal of the film — which was sadly nothing like the actual game.