Yie Ar Kung-Fu (イー・アル・カンフー) - Arcade, Commodore 64, Commodore 16, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Acorn Electron, BBC Micro, Gameboy Advance, PlayStation, PlayStation 2, Nintendo DS, Xbox 360 (1985)
Among the big traditional arcade game manufacturers in Japan, nearly everyone has their own famous long-running fighting game series. Capcom's Street Fighter, SNK's King of Fighters, Sega's Virtua Fighter and Namco's Tekken all used to be important status symbols and moneymaking machines in the 1990s. All Konami ever sent into competition, however, was a handful of quickly forgotten one-offs like Dragoon Might, Deadly Arts, Rakuga Kids or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters. Yet a long time ago, Konami beat all these competitors to the punch with Yie Ar Kung-Fu.
The most popular fighting game of the 1980s plays very differently from what one has come to expect from a fighting game nowadays. Next to the directional joystick lie only two buttons, for punches and kicks, respectively. But protagonist Oolong (yes, like the tea) still knows all kinds of fancy martial arts tricks. Moves are executed by holding the joystick in any of the eight directions while pressing a button, allowing him to execute 16 different maneuvers. They only got one frame of animation each, but stringed together fluently by a skilled player, they can form impressive katas. Every attack is rewarded with a different amount of points when it connects. While Yie Ar Kung-Fu doesn't have combo system like modern games in the genre, contestants are stunned very briefly when hit, leaving them open for an adequate follow-up attack. Oolong is much more likely to find himself at the receiving end of such rapid beatings, though, as the game is very specific about how he has to hit enemies for his blows to count, and not all directions for the moves seem particularly intuitive. Oolong's defensive abilities are lacking, though: Holding the joystick up and backwards makes him look like he's trying to block, but it doesn't do him any good at all. His only means to evade attacks and get around the arena quickly is to jump around like a frog.
While Yie Ar Kung-Fu's mechanics owe a fair share to Karate Champ, the original 1-on-1 fighting game by Data East, its innovations lie in a different field: Generic Karate Guy 1 and Generic Karate Guy 2 were the stars of almost every fighting game at the time, but Yie Ar Kung-Fu features a colorful cast of characters that look like it was ripped straight from a boisterous 1970s Hong Kong flick, each of them with individual characteristics and abilities. The duels are accompanied by the most stereotypical tunes of "Chinese music" one could imagine. The player always plays the role of Oolong, who is out for revenge after his father has been killed by the tournament champion in the final battle. Character select screens were still a thing of the future, matches for two human players the privilege of Generic Karate Guys in other games.
The opponents are grouped into two tiers: In the "Hot Fighting History," Oolong challenges the first five in front of a picturesque waterfall. After beating them, he gets promoted to "Masterhand History," where six more, harder enemies await at a Buddhist temple. Few of them are inclined to a fair hand-to-hand fight; most are in fact simply named after their weapons. So Pole annoys players by using his stick to block most blows, Chain can attack even from the far side of the screen, and Club is only vulnerable by hitting low or pre-empting his strikes, thanks to the shield he's holding up constantly. Star and Fan, who co-star as the first female fighting game characters ever, rely on throwing countless projectiles at Oolong, which he can fortunately intercept with well-placed counterattacks. Unusually for a classic fighting game, there is no formal bonus round, although Feedle kind of fills that void when he storms at the player in form of an army of clones, all of which go down in one hit.
Like most fighting games that predate intricate combo systems, Yie Ar Kung-Fu is all about using the best strategy to fool each opponent's AI, rather than mad skills with the controller. Due to its rapid pace, the latter is still required, but a fight becomes much easier as soon as the opponent's weakness is learned. The last foe, however, shows some serious SNK boss syndrome, and that at a time when Shin Nihon Kikaku was still all about mediocre 2D shooters. Blues (Bruce?) doesn't even need a weapon, for he can combo Oolong's sorry ass to the ground within seconds, just using his incredibly swift legs.
While the gameplay of Yie Ar Kung-Fu have been left behind by Street Fighter and its many followers, the template it had laid out for the look and feel was there to stay with Japanese fighting games for many years to come. When playing Yie Ar Kung-Fu, one can see why Billy Kane from Fatal Fury can bring his annoying stick to every tournament without being disqualified, fight the first shirtless fat guy that attacks by flying head first - obviously inspiring E. Honda from Street Fighter II - and even meet a fan-throwing woman in a sexy red dress, which makes the design of SNK's Mai Shiranui seem hardly coincidental. A perfect round is also rewarded here, with a voice sample that says "xie xie" (Chinese for "thanks").
Yie Ar Kung-Fu also made a big splash in the rest of the world. Ports of the arcade game made it to all the important 8-bit computers in Europe, courtesy of Imagine: There were versions for Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, and BBC Micro. Of course all of them had to make more or less severe cutbacks in graphics and controls, as they only supported 1-button joysticks. Each version also leave out different enemies: The ZX Spectrum lacks Chain, while both him and Fan are omitted in the Amstrad version. The Acorn Electron and BBC Micro versions - which are mostly identical, save for an extended palette with the Micro - come without Club and Tonfun. Feedle is sacrificed in all of them, although Electron/BBC Micro name their exclusive bonus rounds after him, which have him throwing stuff at Oolong from off screen instead of cloning himself. Some, especially the Spectrum and Electron/BBC versions, are barely playable. As usual, the Speccy also plays no music. The C64 version is the best of the bunch, but it replaces the cartoon style of the original with a more realistic look. There's also a stripped-down variant for the C16 (Plus/4 in Europe), which uses the same sprites as the C64, but has lower quality backgrounds, no music and off controls.
More faithful were later conversions on compilations like Konami Arcade Classics for the PSOne and Konami Classic Series: Arcade Hits for the DS, as well as Oretachi Game Center Zoku: Yie Ar Kung-Fu for the PlayStation 2. These differ from the arcade game only in details like the interface and screen resolution. The DS version tries to conceal its lower resolution with some really weird half-interlacing, though, which makes it look hideous on screenshots. The second screen is used to display the original arcade instructions leaflet.
But the most interesting is the Game Boy Advance port on Konami Collector's Series: Arcade Advanced, which looks almost like the original, making up for the lower screen resolution with a transparent HUD. It features an exclusive new background and two hidden characters, which can be unlocked with the classic Konami Code. Bishoo seems like she's modeled after a knife-throwing opponent from the MSX sequel, while Clayman is a giant made out of just that - clay. The game has also been made much easier by expanding the opponents' hit zones. The true highlight on the GBA, however, is the system link versus mode, where players finally get to take control of all the other characters.
Yie Ar Kung-Fu was also released on Xbox Live Arcade in 2007. This new version lacks the GBA improvements, but comes with redrawn backgrounds, touched-up hi-res sprites and remixed music. At the same time it also allows switching back to the arcade original. One year later, the game made it to mobile devices. The download isn't available anymore, but according to a contemporary review, the AI in this version was completely ruined anyway.
Yie Ar Kung-Fu (イー・アル・カンフー) - Famicom, MSX, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, PlayStation, Saturn, Mobile (1985)
Since conversions to 8-bit consoles couldn't ever hope to compete with their arcade counterparts, Japanese developers made a habit of completely reinventing their games with the home versions. Yie Ar Kung-Fu on the Famicom didn't deviate as much as Konami's own Goemon or Tecmo's Ninja Gaiden did later, after all it was still in the same genre, but it is still a very different game. The hero here is called Lee, and the list of his opponents is down to five, which are more or less based on characters from the arcade game, with the focus on the shirtless big bald guys. Completely new is only Tao, who spits fireballs. All the battles take place inside a dojo, and after all five enemies are beaten, the game just loops with higher difficulty (as did the arcade game) and different dojo colors. There's now also a bonus stage where various projectiles come flying at different speeds, and Lee has to knock them out of the air to gain bonus points.
The controls have been simplified a lot. Lee only knows two different punches and four kicks. While jump attacks in the arcade were separate moves from the "normal" jumping, it is now possible to kick at any given time while in the air (but only once per jump). Lee also bounces of walls when jumping against them, to this day a common trait of particularly agile characters in fighting games (Chun Li, Mai Shiranui, etc.). This stripped-down moveset makes it much easier to find out the weaknesses of each opponent. What doesn't make the job any easier is the even worse hit detection.
The home variation of Yie Ar Kung-Fu also made it onto MSX (1) computers, but the 1-button layout makes the controls much more cumbersome than they need to be. It also lacks the wall bouncing, and Lee can only jump forward. It looks very similar to the Famicom version, but for some reason Lang was changed to look like a child. The MSX version also appears emulated on Konami Antiques: MSX Collection Volume 1 for PlayStation and Saturn.
A Game Boy port that was made more than a decade later plays closer to the Famicom game. This was only released as part of the Konami GB Collection packs. In Japan this was a regular monochrome cartridge, but it supported the enhanced palette options of the Super Game Boy for the energy bar and to cycle the Dojo colors, finally getting rid of the depressing black background. In the West, the whole compilation was upgraded to support the Game Boy Color, but it only uses one palette for the entire game. Other than the original, the Game Boy versions even have a proper ending where a supersized Lee kicks down the entire building. There was also a very early mobile phone port in 2001, but only in Japan.
Yie Ar Kung-Fu 2: The Emperor Yie-Gah / Yie Ar Kung-Fu II: イーガー皇帝の逆襲 (Yie-Gah Koutei no Gyakushuu) - MSX, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, BBC Micro, Thomson TO7-70, ZX Spectrum, Saturn, PlayStation (1985)
It didn't even take a year for Konami to come up with a sequel. Yie Ar Kung-Fu 2: The Emperor Yie-Gah picks up from the first MSX game, but mixes things up even further. The hero this time is called Lee Young, presumably the son of the former game's Lee and shamelessly traced from a photo of Bruce Lee for the cover. Before fighting the actual opponents, the player now has to get through three screens of flying kung fu babies, which are mostly there to land two or three cheap hits at the player. There are eight stages this time, and while some characters vaguely resemble previous ones, their designs have gone absolutely crazy this time. Yen-Pei, for example, roughly corresponds to Chain/Chen from the first game, but uses his long hair to attack instead of a metal chain. Po-Chin stuns Lee Young with his farts, and Wen-Hu throws a magical flying mask - there isn't a single opponent that doesn't have some kind of ranged attack.
During boss battles, a bowl of soup might appear randomly to make the hero invincible for a short time, which is nothing short of an instant-win card in the first five stages. Afterwards, it just lifts the instant-lose spell from the player, when the game shows its true face as a mean-spirited death trap to humble even those who have mastered the first game. All the later enemies are stronger and faster than Lee, most notoriously the bomb-throwing thief Han-Chen and "Ming the Merciless" Li-Jen, who fills the whole screen with lightning and is frankly invincible.
As a faint gesture of goodwill, the game features one of the most innovative hidden extras: When playing on an computer with two cartridge slots and the first MSX game inserted in slot 2, the old Lee shows up occasionally after the first two stages, to save his son from near death situations.
A neat easter egg can't conceal the fact that The Emperor Yie-Gah is not a very pleasant game, though. The controls are a minor catastrophe - Lee Young can only jump straight up, as pressing up and forward executes a high kick, and the hit detection is once again all over the place. It's like playing Yie Ar Kung-Fu with mittens on, and Lee Young ist just some ordinary dude against an army of super heroes.
Yie Ar Kung-Fu 2 is the first in the series to introduce a vs. mode for two players, although it appears tacked-on and unbalanced: While Player 1 is stuck with Lee Young, Player 2 gets to chose from three of the enemy characters: The aforementioned Yen-Pei and Po-Chin, and a fan-throwing lady called Lan-Fang.
It appears Europe was already starving for a sequel to the arcade game, as Imagine just took this one and ported it to their usual range of home computers, which also come with the same terrible controls, and each with its own usual platform-specific issues: The Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum have no in-game music (except for the hectic low-health music on Amstrad), and the Speccy has messed up AI that easily allows Lee to destroy some of the bosses without much of an effort. New is a version for the obscure French machine Thomson TO7, which is about on par with the ZX Spectrum version, although Po-Chin is missing here. Following the first game, Yie Ar Kung-Fu 2 appeared on Konami Antiques: MSX Collection Volume 2 for PlayStation and Saturn.
Even though the series ended the same year it began (not accounting for some later released ports), several unconfirmed sources on the web claim that the 1993 Konami fighting game Martial Champion was originally introduced as Yie Ar Kung-Fu 2. Released during the Street Fighter II mania, it plays somewhat closer to the modern fighting game formula, although it's not a simple clone: It's three buttons stand for upper, middle and lower attacks, similar to the later Kakuto Chojin. Some of the characters also have weapons that can be knocked off and picked up by the opponent (who then never actually uses them). It featured some huge sprites for its time, but suffered from terrible controls and an AI that encourages only a very narrow range of tactics. Martial Masters was ported to the PC Engine CD in Japan. The home version has much smaller sprites, but thanks to improved controls, additional modes and characters that actually use the weapons they pick up, it is actually a fairly decent game. Even if the rumors are true, though, it's easy to see why Konami opted out of making this a Yie Ar Kung-Fu sequel: Only two or three of the ten playable characters even qualify as "kung fu" fighters.
Konami's Parodius series has a long tradition of making fun of the company's own titles, from Goemon to Castlevania. Yie Ar Kung-Fu finally got its due in one of the last titles in the series, Sexy Parodius. The game has a whole stage and music dedicated to the kung fu theme, and Oolong even appears in person.
Somewhat in the spirit of Parodius, Konami published the weird Game Boy Advance game Pyuu to Fuku! Jaguar Byuu to Deru! Megane-kun, based on an even weirder manga series by Kyosuke Usuta. In all kinds of 2D action stages with alternating perspectives and several mini games, it references dozens of famous game classics, not limited to those made by Konami. In one stage, the hero of the game gets transported into an 8-bit world, which includes sections inspired by Sokoban and The Legend of Zelda, among other titles. At the end of this part of the game, one gets to play a whole round of the NES Yie Ar Kung-Fu. Only the five opponents are replaced with weirdos like a Japanese gangster with an enormous flat top haircut, or a big fat guy in a schoolgirl skirt. The scroll that showed the Chinese characters for "kung fu" in the original, now reads "strange flute."
Finally, the Sumo Digital-developed New International Track & Field for NDS has a playable character named Oolong, but in that game he's a ancient martial artist whose biography declares him roughly 1000 years old.