Review by Altered Beast
Reviewed: 09/15/01 | Updated: 09/15/01
Re-Enter the Dragon into an intriguing Game of Death
'Warrior, teacher and street fighter, Bruce Lee is a match for the most powerful imaginations. His body is his weapon, and he's ready to join forces with you.'
Bloomer: So runs the back-of-the-box spiel for what I declare to be one of the greatest personal computer games of the 1980s - Bruce Lee.
ASchultz: Games with outright fighting usually bug me; getting in a ship and shooting stuff or touch-and-die (''watch muscular Conan touch a silly ant and vanish with a pop!'') games or RPG games with loads of statistics provide a comfortable degree of surrealism. Yet I got hooked on Bruce Lee despite generally disliking fighting movies and being heinously thrashed in my first few tries. The opening scene's background was intriguing enough that a Numbers Person like myself took a while to notice the two thousand point bribe the computer dropped on me just for playing. There was a castle with a smiling pot-bellied pig, a four-armed beast guarding one side of the top, and a mountain. Then came the two likeable ruffians, one black and one white, who materialized on top of me and issued a prompt if stiff-limbed beatdown, leaving me to feel that this game might be quite good, especially if I could get up to the two higher platforms without having my lunch served to me.
THE AGELESS QUESTIONS OF WHY AND HOW AND THEIR PHYSICAL CORRELATIONS
Bloomer: Bruce Lee relates Bruce's eternal search for the mystical Chinese lanterns. The lanterns continually guide Bruce towards the hiding place of his ultimate goal, the secret treasure trove. As Bruce you must dash, leap, sidekick, punch and duck your way through scores of dynamic platforming scenes, forever pursued by two endlessly reincarnating mortal foes who Never give up and Never surrender!
ASchultz: Some of the scenes may not contain your two, err, companions, and it's not clear if they're training desperately, rushing off to night jobs as bouncers, or just on lunch break getting chewed out while taking their important vitamin supplements that allow evil people multiple resurrections. What is clear, though, is that the game's scenes have variety. Sometimes you'll double back to an old scene, one of many factors that make you feel you're not just jumping through hoops.
JACKIE CHAN AND VAN DAMME
Bloomer: Nemesis number one is The Ninja, or as my friend Rowan and I used to call him, 'Wimp'.
ASchultz: He looks like a goblin out of Archon.
Bloomer: He's a weedy black-helmed stick figure with a sword, and by golly, if you get near him will he give you such a poking. Like our Earth he's 'mostly harmless', yet he's also a consistent distraction.
ASchultz: His blackness surely represents the Ying half of two ying-yangs. An evil Woodstock to his comrade's Snoopy.
Bloomer: Nemesis number two is Sumo Warrior, aka 'The Fat Guy'. His Sumo appearance and cute bun-hair belie the fact that he is a speedy freight-train of death, punching and side-kicking Bruce Lee and even crushing him by gracelessly landing atop him with his deadly bodyweight after cunning banzai leaps from great heights.
ASchultz: Actually the tall white guy looks like a Storm Trooper built out of Lego, and I'm pretty sure that thing on his head is a yarmulke, and I'll sing forty verses of ''Kum Ba Yah'' at anyone who feels otherwise. It's fun to see his flying kicks or weird rangy punches with Chaplinesque yells, but best of all is his stoic expression when he falls down. That is truly the way of the martial arts.
Bloomer: Really, he's scarier than that.
ASchultz: Yeah, if you're eight, maybe he looks like ''Megatron'' from ''Transformers'' on pain-killers. Ooo, mommy, mommy.
Bloomer: Anyway, herein lies the main tension of the game: In almost every scene, Bruce has only a moment's head-start onscreen before his nemeses materialise behind him, begin the chase and attempt to kung-fu him to death.
KOMBATTING THE KEYSTONE KOPS OF KOMPUTERIZED KARATE
ASchultz: For controls, you can execute a flying kick by pushing the button and hitting left or right. A broad jump results by moving upper-right. You can belly-flop by pushing down, where Bill and Ted's attacks can't reach you until you get up, though if you flop face-first into a flame, that's your own fault, Jackson. You're a fighter, not a yogi. Hitting button zero just punches in the direction you face. Also, climbing's very slow, and you can hit your head on the ceiling climbing up the side of something wide. And watch falling down; Abbot and Costello, if lying in ambush, can pop you good.
ENRICHING DIVERSIONS ON THE WAY TO ULTIMATE FULFILLMENT
Bloomer: Screens appear one at a time, being replaced when you walk off the edge. It's a platform game and yet there's nothing so boring as a plain old ladder to climb on. Bruce Lee has a killer visual style and exotic Chinese design elements which make it stand head and shoulders above any other similar games from this era. You don't climb on ladders but on runged walls, grilles, folding screens, curtains, spiderweb bannisters and flowing ornamental structures.
ASchultz: The level's backgrounds are similarly varied, as each of the Apple's ''real'' colors (blue, green, purple and orange) is a dominant color in at least one scene, with very little black or white. Putting this much color in an Apple game shows the programmer made a considerable effort.
Bloomer: Death is often close at hand but just as beautifully conceived. The walls come lined with deadly ceremonial swords. Flames arc from launchers in the floor and bizarre insect-like blades scythe across doorways and tunnels. This game's visual inventory is so enormous that the first time you enter any particular room, you'll often be dazzled and not know what you can walk on, what you can't, and what might kill you. Scenery is surprisingly sticky and with a great tactile sensation - Bruce reacts to even the slightest contact with lone pixels of obstacles.
ASchultz: Bruce doesn't react. Quite the opposite! He freezes up and dies. :)
Bloomer: You should know, you've probably run into plenty of walls in your time.
ASchultz: Moving right along... The twists the game takes are rather nice, although it seems the level difficulty may be loaded unfairly toward the beginning. You start out in a three-screen scene where you must jump to pick up all the lanterns to drop through a trap door in the middle screen, and then you need to zigzag to the bottom of the next while avoiding some lethal dots that might be shockwaves. Then you have a choice of lanterns to take before you get to the orange background of a room with fire traps--walk by them and a flame bursts, jump over them and you'll get singed. There's more intrigue here as you seem to be able to access only the top two platforms. Later on you have a choice of rooms, but I don't want to spoil too much. There's enough here to make up for a screen with no way out, which is a one-off.
Bloomer: Yes, level design is exceptional, with incredible mileage eked out of each screen. Collecting the lanterns removes traps and opens new doors, always creating further opportunities for exploration. You may make multiple passes through the one big junction, cleverly being forced to negotiate the same set of traps in several dimensions as you climb up, across, back, across, up and then down the one screen. The waterfalling walls can be made to change direction, and when you overcome their 'tidal' speeds you can reach previously inaccessible areas. Zen-like patience is required at times if you're not to be tossed onto swords in your haste. The contrast between Bruce's running speed (fast) and his climbing style (slow and measured) tosses up lots of skill issues. Nobody likes being kicked off a wall they were shambling up by a speeding sumo warrior. In short, Bruce Lee displays endless resourcefulness in maximising the trickery of its scenery.
THE WAY OF THE EXPLODING FIST
ASchultz: Learning combat against the Gruesome Twosome is not necessary, as fortunately for smart-mouthed pacifists-by-necessity (i.e. too lazy/ unskilled to learn fighting techniques) like me it's possible to win the game with a lot of ducking and maybe occasionally jumping on the big fella to stun him. Watch it--involuntary piggyback rides work both ways.
ASchultz: Watching Laurel and Hardy flail about is heartily amusing, even more so once you figure how to avoid them; positioning yourself so that the baddies will wind up setting off a fire trap (they disappear when killed and re-appear at one of two fixed spots) is as effective and probably more exact in the long run, although the rare occasions when I do kick them out of the way to buy a little time certainly are satisfying.
Bloomer: Kick them out of the way?! What fun is that? This is the best part of Bruce Lee, the hatred you develop for your relentless tormentors as they cramp your lantern-collecting style - the hatred which eventually boils over into explicit sadism.
ASchultz: That's interesting coming from someone who admits he's afraid of a LEGO WARRIOR. Anyhoo nonviolence is more sophisticated and, er, you should try letting your hatred fester. It's worth...
Bloomer: Yeah whatever... -- kicks down ASchultz, who is too klutzy with the controls to strike back --
Where was I? Those wacky guys, fatty and skinny, can be so cute at times, waiting patiently while Bruce descends to the floor they're on... then they'll break out in a sudden frenzy of stabbing and kung-fu violence. Being poked, kicked, knocked onto my butt, perhaps even thrown into some flames or a deadly blade - all while I'm struggling to collect those flashing, dangling lanterns - starts to merely get up my nose at first, then eventually makes me explode.
I retaliate, dropping everything to create a world of pain. I run around behind Wimpy-Man and side-kick him onto a moving wall which in turn promptly flings him into an artful arrangement of swords on the roof. Dead. Now I turn my attention to the charging Sumo guy. I duck his flying kick then rise behind him and relentlessly mash his face with my fist, driving him all the way across the screen 'til he's jammed up against the edge. I continue to pummel his goofy head 'til he's dead. Now both the bad guys reincarnate. As they toss themselves from the overhead floor, I gracefully sidekick them into a nearby pit where twin scything blades remove them from this world again.
'Tell them Bruce sent ya! And try not to come back as a snail!'
ASchultz: For graphics, Apple authors who actually tried to go into detail often had to rely on the player or an instruction manual to fill in the rest, which often resulted in unintentional humor. That is the case here, and it doesn't really detract from the game. When hit, you slide on the ground and briefly seem to slip into a Playboy Playmate sort of pose. ''Turn-ons: sitting by a nice warm cozy lantern flame. Turn-offs: over-aggressive men.''
THE SOUND OF ONE HAND CLAPPING
Bloomer: The in-game Bruce Lee sonics on the Apple II are fine but nothing amazing. Functional dashing footsteps, crunchy collisions and blipping lanterns. On the other hand, the eerily potent Bruce Lee theme tune has always been really special to me. It's heard only on the title screen, and while melodically similar across both the Apple II and C64 versions (with only a few individual minor chord notes making the difference), the Apple II cleaned up in this department. The tune is so good I started playing it on the piano. Then my cousin, whom I hadn't seen all year, walked in at Christmas time circa 1986 when I was bashing Bruce Lee out on the organ and he said - 'That's Bruce Lee isn't it?'
Hopefully that anecdote gives you some idea of how this menacing little tune manages to travel with people and stay with them.
THAT WHICH MATURETH, YET BECOMETH NOT TRULY OLD
Bloomer: My only qualm when I play Bruce Lee these days is - if only there were more of it!.. because I'm so familiar with the entire game by now. Ah well. But fear not - the game cycles endlessly, cranking up the aggression, speed and reincarnation rate of your foes as the difficulty factor. Great fun. You can set yourself a grueling endurance test whereby you see how long you can continue to kill and reincarnate the bad guys - or survive to collect lanterns - before either your concentration or gaming stamina wanes.
ASchultz: Agreed, it's easy to miss Mutt and Jeff after a while. There are several ways to go through the game, and they're always up for a challenge. Sometimes I almost have myself convinced that I can whip 'em regularly in a fight!
YING AND YANG
ASchultz: Comparing this game to others, it's like Conan, with a few more scenes, although it doesn't have the graphical detail or the consistent challenge. If the authors did have more ideas, it was a mistake not to put the game on a double-sided disk like Conan. But there is enough in it so that Bruce Lee passes an acid test of mine for being a good game; I got stuck several places and was torn between asking for help and staying up a bit longer past midnight. I didn't and couldn't really, but I was pleased to figure the solution out later, and of course I was a bit upset the game finished so soon, despite having just finished a tough puzzle. Games that make you feel that can make up for other flaws.
Bloomer: Bruce Lee is kung-fu platforming nirvana for me, and was surely the finest Apple II hour for Rick Mirsky, the great programmer of such other Datasoft platformers as The Goonies and Zorro. It rolls together exploration intrigue, exotic scenery, traps and non-stop scuffling with two apposite baddies who truly strike you as your Soul Enemies. If the Apple II version had also included the AWESOME 2-player versus mode from the Commodore 64 (where players can take turns at swapping roles between Bruce and the endlessly reincarnating Sumo nemesis! Yes, in the course of the regular game!) I'd give it a 10. It's still a brilliant and fun 9, and a huge player from my childhood which feels just as special today.
ASchultz: Great game.
Bloomer: Great game!
Score from ASchultz: 9/10
Score from Bloomer: 9/10
-- Grand Final Score: 9 --
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
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