Kick High

There’s been an explosion in martial-arts sims since The Way Of The Exploding Fist, as RICKY EDDY and ROBIN CANDY observe in this good beat-’em-up guide. And the ninjas just won’t lie down — all they want to do is...


THEY STARTED three years ago, when Bug Byte revealed an interesting little number called Kung Fu. It was an admirable wireframe attempt to produce a martial-arts simulation — ‘probably the most unusual game to be seen on the Spectrum for a long while,’ said CRASH in amazement.

But sceptics thought the genre would never catch on. It took Melbourne House to show them the way — The Way Of The Exploding Fist, which sold more than 150,000 copies for the Spectrum and nearly half a million across all formats.

Since then, nothing’s kept the combat games down. They’ve been grotesque (Barbarian), skilful (Fist) and downright silly (Ninja Hamster).

The genre soon caught the nickname ‘beat-’em-ups’, as the gameplay always involves a player beating up his opponent, whether the computer or another player.

And with the advent of the 128s and their improved sound chips, the fighting effects became more hideous — the most disturbing beat-’em-up sounds must be the animal squeals in Ninja Hamster.

But most of these martial-arts simulations are so unrealistic, set in pseudo-Oriental fantasy worlds, that it’s just harmless surrogate violence — and everyone likes a bit of that.



62% Issue 43

ROBIN After many years abroad, Ninja Hamster returns to his homeland to find it overrun by evil creatures. Your mission as the Ramboesque rodent is to defeat them all in turn...

Graphically Ninja Hamster is very detailed, though some of the detail is lost when the fighting begins. And it’s easy to get into, despite problems with the keyboard — there are so many keys needed.

I feel Ninja Hamster was slightly underrated in the CRASH review: it makes a good beat-em-up, though it doesn’t leave any lasting impression.

RICKY And you thought hamsters were cute? Dig this baby for one hell of a fighting rodent, saving a village from Sinister Rat, Loony Lobster and a host of other monsters. The humour adds to this traditional beat-em-ups appeal, but doesn’t disguise a very average combat game.


US Gold

56% Issue 31

ROBIN In this conversion of a coin-op original, you have to rescue a fair damsel from the evil clutches of a wizard. As the eponymous master, you progress through five levels fighting off other kung fu warriors and assorted monsters conjured up by the wizard’s sorcery. Moves for attack and defence can be accessed quite easily.

I was never impressed by the arcade game of Kung-Fu Master, and US Gold’s conversion is terrible. Graphically it’s inept, with attribute problems and flickery animation, and the gameplay is very boring. Though the arcade original was run-of-the-mill, a lot more could have been made of this licence.

RICKY I didn’t think much of the coin-op Kung-Fu Master, and this is no improvement — Scooby Doo is a better game along similar lines.



85% Issue 41

RICKY Scream! Maria Whittaker!! Pornography!!! There was great moral outrage over the luscious lady who advertised this Gothic horror beat-’em-up — and over the notorious CRASH cover.

Fight your way through screens of beautifully animated bashing action to release Princess Marina from the evil Drax...

When you knock off an opponent in Barbarian, a deformed lizard creature trundles the body away. Little touches like this make the game worthwhile, though experts may find it a bit simple. Still, Barbarian is one of my top combat games; Fist is wearing a bit thin these days.

Now programmer Steve Brown is developing Barbarian II...

ROBIN Barbarian is one of the best beat-em-ups I’ve played. Most of the graphics are monochromatic, but this enhances the game rather than detracting from the super-smooth animation.

It’s instantly playable, and for such a simple idea it’s surprisingly addictive. The two-player game is one of the best features of Barbarian — you can invite your friends round for a slice’n’dice party. So if you want nothing more than a straightforward brutal fighting game, this is the one to get.


Melbourne House

58% Issue 38

ROBIN Two years after the success of The Way Of The Exploding Fist, Melbourne House released this follow-up. The warriors of Exploding Fist have been betrayed and their homeland has been conquered by an evil warlord. The player must find the temple of the religion of the Exploding Fist, and thus gain power to overthrow the tyrant.

Fist II was a disappointment — it consists largely of walking around the many locations looking for an adversary to bash up. The fight sequences are enjoyable, but the long periods between bouts are tedious.

RICKY A poor follow-up to the sensational original, Fist II lacks the compulsion of The Way Of The Exploding Fist. The background scenery repeats itself often, and there’s not enough variety in the gameplay.



92% Issue 25

RICKY From Konami’s coin-op game comes a Smashing conversion. As the right ’onerable Oolong, you’ve got to become a kung fu master — so it’s just as well you have 16 moves at your disposal as you battle with nine opponents past the well-drawn backgrounds.

This is a good traditional karate game that stood up well when first released in early 1986. In light of more recent games, though, Yie Ar Kung Fu is going to have to be content with a right ’onerable..

ROBIN Imagine’s conversion of the hit arcade game is one of the most enjoyable beat-’em-ups. The background graphics are pretty, the animation is smooth, and Yie Ar Kung Fu really scores on playability, with the range of opponents offering some variety.

It’s just a bit too easy — but it is a good game.


System 3

68% Issue 24

RICKY International Karate has just been rereleased by Prism at the budget price of £2.99. It’s practically the same as The Way Of The Exploding Fist, but much cruder; the only significant visible difference is in the backdrops, which take you around the world in five screens.

There are also bonus screens where you can earn extra points by shattering blocks of wood.

But playability is marred by the milliard of keys your fingers have to grapple with.

The game’s one redeeming feature is the excellent speech as the scores are called out. I wasn’t enthralled by International Karate — it’s not very addictive or playable.

ROBIN International Karate took a long time to actually appear after it was first announced, and I wasn’t impressed when I did see it. It still seems awkward to play, and the graphics are disappointing.



36% Issue 39

RICKY Uchi Mata was the first judo simulation on the Spectrum. Traditional moves are executed in a novel way: rather than using a single keypress, the player takes the joystick through a series of actions which relate to a complete move. Four major moves are provided in the instructions, but more are there to be discovered by wiggling the joystick around.

Uchi Mata sounds exciting, but the novelties soon wear off and it’s not long before you wish the sweeping joystick movements could be reduced to a simple keypress. Though well-designed, the graphics flicker badly, and when the characters collide it’s difficult to see what’s going on.

ROBIN Judo is a strange martial art to simulate on a computer, because it involves a lot of contact with your opponent which others such as karate and Thai boxing don’t. Martech made an admirable attempt at representing the sport in Uchi Mata, but the graphics are appalling and suffer from severe bouts of flicker.

What really bugs me, though, is the control method. It’s one of the hardest I’ve ever encountered — trying to execute a move is almost a game in itself! If you like judo, stick to the real thing.


US Gold

70% Issue 29

ROBIN Lady Wilde and her infant daughter are the only survivors of a plane crash in the Amazon jungle. Recovering from the shock of the crash, Lady Wilde realises that her daughter has been kidnapped by the Amazons, a horde of woman warriors.

To rescue her, Lady Wilde must defeat every Amazon in her way in a battle to the death.

Legend Of The Amazon Women is little more than an average beat-’em-up; there aren’t many moves, so it’s quite easy to defeat your opponents. The animation is adequate, but not particularly impressive — like the game in general.

RICKY Legend Of The Amazon Women is a combat cross of Gargoyle Games’s Tir Na Nog and Melbourne House’s Fighting Warrior. But it’s dated and has little going for it. The animation is reasonable, but the uninteresting gameplay doesn’t hold up.



77% Issue 24

ROBIN Gladiator is a bit of a departure from the standard beat-’em-up. Playing the part of a lowly slave named Marcus, you enter the combat arena in a bid to earn some money and so buy your freedom; and in case your fighting isn’t too hot, there’s also a gambling session.

This beat-’em-up is special because the player can choose which weapons he wants to use. The weapons have attack and defence ratings which you can find out only by trial and error.

Graphically it’s nothing special, the control method is tricky (there are 25 possible moves to choose from) and the imaginative gambling sequence becomes tedious.

Two years ago Gladiator was a good beat-’em-up variant, but now it seems only average.

RICKY Gladiator was one of the serious contenders to The Way Of The Exploding Fist, and it stood up well. However, it has aged and seems a bit repetitive. Still, it’s certainly worth playing if you can get to grips with the awkward controls.



41% Issue 42

RICKY Meet mean man Mick The Meat Kicker — it’s a name to be reckoned with. But I don’t reckon Kick Boxing is up to much.

The playing area is done in isometric 3-D, but this doesn’t affect the gameplay, apart from making it hard to see.

You progress through the levels by killing off one opponent after another, and it’s no more inspiring than it sounds.

ROBIN I’d forgotten just how bad this is! Firebird’s representation of the fast contact sport is appalling. The characters jerk around the screen drunkenly, performing poorly-drawn moves that appear physically impossible. There are better, similar games; Kick Boxing is cheap, nasty and almost unplayable.



81% Issue 28

ROBIN Sai karate is like karate but uses a stick called a sai. This simulation pits the player against 16 adversaries; vanquish all, and you become a Sai Master. As in most games of this genre, the screen shows two fighters trying to beat the hell out of each other.

There’s a two-player option for those of you who want to hurt your friends, but this is only really playable with an Interface II unit — for the keyboard option you’d need 16 keys each!

Sai Combat is very playable, despite all those control keys; the graphics are reasonable, with smooth animation, though some of the backgrounds are a bit boring.

RICKY For a two-player kill-’em-up Sai Combat has some marvellous animation, but the gameplay becomes simple after a little practice.



50% Issue 37

RICKY Get ready for the usual scenario which bears only some distant relationship to the backdrops and very little to the game itself...

A remote relative of Ninja, our hero, has just had his temple robbed by a bunch of evil ninjas. So off trots Ninja (the good one) to kill oft all the other ninjas (the bad ones), who are still lurking in the temple. These bad ninjas have beautifully Oriental names such as Thug.

Ninja had potential, but it’s amateurish and ridiculously easy. The enemies can all be killed with a couple of low kicks or by lobbing shuriken stars at them. So Ninja has very little to offer the dedicated combateer, despite its budget price tag.

ROBIN This budget beat-’em-up is one of the worst of the bunch. The graphics are very simplistic, with poor animation, and there’s only the odd sound effect. It doesn’t take long to get tired of Ninja — even though it’s so cheap, steer clear of it.



46% Issue 37

RICKY When Konami attempted to improve on Yie Ar Kung Fu by adding a bit ovva scroll and some ‘wacky’ opponents, it all ended up a bit ovva mess...

Oolong (from the first Yie Ar) has a son, aptly named Lee Young, who has vowed to wipe out the last of his father’s deadly enemies — Yie Gah. But Yie Gah has many faithful Oriental minions, and Lee Young has to battle his way through them to reach the master enemy.

For every wave of minion attack eliminated, Lee Young gets a tea leaf, and when he has five tea leaves he can settle down and brew a cuppa to replenish his energy. There are bowls of chow mein to nibble from, too; these make Lee temporarily invincible.

The main fault of Yie Ar Kung Fu II is the level of difficulty — there isn’t any. It’s very simple, unchallenging and pretty dull.

ROBIN As a follow-up to a Smashed original, this is disappointing. It’s not as beautifully presented or as playable as Yie Ar Kung Fu, and it’s so easy to play. Don’t bother with this mediocre effort.


Gremlin Graphics

93% Issue 28

ROBIN This Gremlin Graphics licence is based on the Fighting Fantasy books of the same name. It’s split into three distinct subgames which are loaded separately.

The first features unarmed combat, the second pole fighting and the third sword fighting.

They’re highly enjoyable and very addictive — this is my favourite of the beat-em-ups featured here. The graphics are excellent, but it’s the animation that really grabs the player. It’s just so smooth. If you’re going to get just one beat-’em-up, I can’t recommend this enough!

RICKY This is one of the best beat-em-ups, with some great graphic routines. The action doesn’t quite have the excitement of Barbarian, though.


Melbourne House

92% Issue 21

ROBIN In this, the original beat-’em-up, the player has to fight through 11 levels to reach the rank of Tenth Dan. At your disposal are a whole host of movements, which are easily used with a joystick.

When this was released in the autumn of 1985 it was one of the most enjoyable games around, and even today I occasionally find myself returning to this golden oldie; The Way Of The Exploding Fist holds a special kind of magic because it was the first worthwhile game of its type.

RICKY Despite its age, The Way Of The Exploding Fist has stood up very well, retaining its exciting and addictive elements. it’s no wonder a game of this standard set off such a massive craze, and I’d still Smash it, so...



89% Issue 33

RICKY Definitely the best beat-’em-up! Renegade is an epic of nonstop fighting with some original scenario touches.

What is the cause of all this violence, though?

It’s Lucy — not just any Lucy, but your luscious Lucy, the love of your life. You’re off to meet her, but on your way you run into violent street gangs intent upon mugging and killing.

There are six locations to battle through, each featuring a different set of villains — such as bikers, mad women, gangsters and evil mobs.

The movement of the monochromatic characters is good, though sometimes a touch sluggish. Like many beat-em-ups it’s a bit too easy to be addictive in the long term, but the two-player option is fun, and The Way Of The Exploding Fist is worth looking at.

Renegade isn’t too difficult, and it’s a game you play more for high scores than for reaching the last stage. Fight, beat and enjoy till you can smell the blood.

ROBIN It was hard put to choose between this and The Way Of The Tiger as my favourite beat-’em-up — Renegade is just so good. It’s not the hardest game in the world, but it’s enjoyable.

Programmer Mike Lamb managed to escape from the one-opponent-at-a-time format typical of this genre, and presents the player with up to eight baddies onscreen to be defeated.

The presentation is very slick, it would be hard to fault the graphics and sound, and with plenty of gameplay this makes an excellent buy. Try to get Renegade AND The Way Of The Tiger!

Search for more information