Saturday 11 January 2020

Bruce Lee for the Amstrad CPC 464

Ever fancied becoming a kung-fu master in with a chance of acquiring riches beyond your wildest dreams, and immortality too? Well, yes. That would do nicely. A pity doing so is not as easy as DataSoft's Bruce Lee, which hit all the major 8-bit computer formats in the mid-1980s. This included Amstrad's jolly old CPC464/6128 models, where I knew it best. This game, which is really only known to retro nerds and those, ahem, who were around at the time was nevertheless an important title and opened up an entire genre. What's so special then?

As the eponymous Bruce you make your way through 20 screens of platforms collecting lanterns, avoiding traps, climbing ladders and waterfalls(!), and finally facing up to an evil wizard firing what I presume are lightning bolts. And that's pretty much all there is to it. As early video games go Bruce Lee is an exercise in timing and therefore acquiring patience. It is very tempting to simply charge in, but doing so will find you butchered. Most rooms involve timing jumps to either avoid psychotic avians or electric charges running across the floor. Also liberally sprinkled about are the customary spikes and pressure activated ... fountains. Avoiding these obstacles and getting the timing right is the way to progress from one room to the next and, thankfully, it's not too frustrating to learn the patterns. And the controls are accurate and super sharp. If you die, it is because of you.

Where Bruce Lee adds a bit more interest is the recurring enemies of the Ninja and Green Yamo. These materialise in most screens and their job is to make your day worse. Ninja has a club to clout you with, and Yamo is quite handy with his fists and flying kicks. For a Sumo, the boy can move. But because you're Bruce Lee you can fight back with a mean right hook of your own, and the ability to fly through the air to place your foot in the face of your opponent. You can beat the pair of them up but they'll respawn and come after you with renewed vigour. What is also a nice touch and the source of a few cheap laughs is how they're both vulnerable to the same traps as you are. If they follow you down a drop and they get hit by a bird, it's goodnight. Stuck on a waterfall with spikes at the bottom, they'll get skewered. Electricity will zap them. And, most fun of all, run over a fountain with them hot on your heels and, wham, instant death.

And this is what marks Bruce Lee out from the cornucopia of early platformers. It was arguably the first to combine platforming with fisticuffs, setting the stage for later efforts like the NES adaptation of Double Dragon and everything since. Yet when you consider only a year separated this from Super Mario Bros, there's a real sense of how US video game design lagged well behind that of Japan's. In the British context though, it was an occasion where Amstrad's machine pulled off a better version than either the Spectrum or Commodore 64, having much better graphics and tighter controls than each. Though it has to be said choosing yellow for the Bruce sprite was a somewhat unfortunate decision.

All this considered, how does it fare today? Well, as you would expect a fairly primitive game from the 1980s to fare. It's a great whizz in short bursts, especially for those of us with the nostalgia goggles on. But I do get the feeling that younger gamers playing this will be thankful for growing up much later.

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