Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#86 – Kung-Fu Heroes

Punch, kick, and flip your way through this challenging action game.

The title logo palette changes, I think this color looks best.

To Beat: Reach the ending
To Complete: Reach the ending without warping
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 5/19/18 – 5/26/18
Difficulty: 9/10
My Difficulty: 9/10
My Video: Kung-Fu Heroes Longplay

As you may know, before I started Take On The NES Library, I generated a randomized list of games and I am clearing games in that order. Once that list was set, I have completely ignored it aside from revealing only the next game in the list as I finish new games. I love the mystery of it all and I’m glad I’m doing it this way. Still, there are a few games that I remember where they fall on that list. For no particular reason, I remembered that Kung-Fu Heroes appeared somewhere in the 80s. Well, here we are! Perhaps this game stuck out to me because I knew that it was a sneaky difficult game. Let’s jump in and see what I was up against.

Kung-Fu Heroes began as an arcade title named Chinese Hero. It was developed by Nihon Game and published by Taiyo System in Japan and Kitcorp in North America. It released in 1984. A Famicom port of the game released in 1986 under the name Super Chinese. That version was published by Namco under the Namcot label. The NES version wouldn’t come out until March 1989. The NES version was also developed by Nihon Game, but by then they had renamed the company to Culture Brain. They also published the game on NES. Kung-Fu Heroes is the first game in the Super Chinese series. There were three Famicom games in the series. Super Chinese 2 would release on the NES as Little Ninja Brothers, and Super Chinese 3 is exclusive to the Famicom.

Kung-Fu Heroes is a top-down action game. You’ve heard this kind of story before. Monsters come and capture Princess Min-Min while also taking away ten treasures. You control either Jacky or Lee to battle the monsters and restore peace. (I wonder where their names came from?) Kung-Fu Heroes has a two-player mode with simultaneous gameplay if you want to tackle the game with a friend. The game takes places over eight castles with four areas each. Your task is to defeat enough monsters in each area so that the door opens to the next area. Once you complete all 32 areas, you save the princess and beat the game.

A nice courtyard becomes a battleground.

The controls to this game are more complicated than they first appear. You walk with the D-pad, moving in the four cardinal directions. Press A to punch. You reach forward by stepping quickly ahead and back when you punch and enemies break apart completely when you defeat them. You can perform the moon sault kick by pressing the B button. This also acts as a jump button. Hold down a direction and press B to jump kick into the air. You can defeat some enemies while airborne, and others you can defeat when you land on top of them with the kick. If you press B while standing still, you will perform a special move called the miracle kick. During the miracle kick, you move really fast and can jump much further than with the moon sault kick. There are a few other things you can do under special circumstances that I’ll cover later.

It’s a little unclear what you have to do in this game when you first start playing the game, so I’ll clear that up first. All the action takes place on a single screen. Enemies will appear one at a time periodically from the sides of the screen. There will be no more than four enemies on the screen at one time. After defeating twelve enemies, the door at the top of the screen will open, accompanied by a loud beeping noise. Unfortunately, there is no indicator for how far you have progressed within a level. Sometimes you don’t need to defeat all twelve enemies. Either way, as soon as the door opens the enemies speed up significantly. You can continue to beat them up if you want. To end the level, walk through the open door.

The top of the screen contains most of the information you need during game play. The first row has a bunch of icons and counters. The first one is of a little face that displays how many lives you have remaining. The next one is a letter K which indicates how many miracle kicks you can use. The second player also has these indicators on the right side of the screen. There are three more counters in the middle that are shared between both players. E indicates the number of E-balls you have, the fist icon indicates your punching power, and the money bag displays how much money you have. The second row on the menu bar contains the score for each player. In the middle of the row is a space reserved for any permanent treasures you acquire.

Punch to collect treasures, for nothing is fist-safe.

As you can see, there are a lot of items and abilities in this game. Most of them are acquired through collecting items within each area. Many levels will contain several rocks or blocks. You can punch these blocks to reveal an item that emerges from the block as a bubble. Then punch the item to collect it. The most common item you will see is a treasure box. This will hold one of many different items or upgrades that may not be immediately apparent. It may upgrade your punching power one level, which caps out at three, and you need certain power levels to defeat certain enemies. It may give you five miracle kicks. It might give you a money bag, which you can hold up to six. It might also contain one of the ten treasures. A new treasure will appear blinking at the top of the screen when you get a new one.

Another item you can find is a key. Collecting this opens up a staircase on the block where the key came from. It will close up after some time, but you can enter the stairs before then to go to one of two areas. The more common area is the bonus room. This is a timed room that generates items for you to collect. Red apples just give you points. The E balls are better in that collecting five of them gives you an extra life. This is also what E balls do in the main levels, however collecting them in the bonus area is separate from collecting them during levels. Also, in the bonus areas are a stream of bullets that you should dodge. Dying in the bonus area just ends it early without losing a life. Besides the bonus room, stairs may also lead to a warp room. In this room there are two holes and you can jump in the one you want to advance either a few levels or several levels ahead.

Some levels contain a gun ball item. This is a ball with the letter G on it. When you collect it, you can fire gun balls when you punch for a short time. Firing horizontally causes the gun balls to bounce on the ground as they move ahead. Firing vertically throws them in a straight line very quickly. There are a few upsides to the gun ball. You can use this to kill enemies that usually require more difficult techniques to defeat. Enemies will run away from you while the gun ball is active, and they are unable to shoot projectiles of their own. A few enemies take several gun balls to defeat, so fighting them may not always be worth it.

Bonus rooms are full of items and bullets.

The final items you can collect are question balls and 1ups. Blocks that do not hold items any more, or blocks that don’t hold items at all, can still be interacted with in a couple of ways. Some blocks go flying when you punch them. You can shove the blocks into other enemies and defeat them for more points than with standard attacks. Otherwise, you can keep punching an empty, stationary block to eventually generate a question ball. This will either contain a money bag or an X ball. The X ball resets your money bag count to zero. These blocks are the easiest ways to collect money bags but it is risky. 1ups are uncommon items that tend to appear on empty spaces and you reveal them by punching the air. Makes sure to take note of these special locations if you happen to find one. Finally, the last thing you can find in the levels is another bonus area called Break Time. This takes you to a separate screen where you gain half a million points and can take a free 30-second break if you desire. You can’t control your character or do anything aside from leave early.

Money bags are used to trigger two special items. Simply collecting five money bags generates an E ball somewhere on screen, and remember, five E balls equals an extra life. If you have six money bags, you can redeem them for a P ball. Press A and B together while standing still to make the P ball appear. Be patient because the controls for this are very rigid and I think you have to press both A and B together on the exact same frame to get the P ball to appear. Collect the P ball to turn invincible to enemies for a little while. Enemies turn blue and will run away from you. You can defeat them by simply running into them. It’s a great way to help when clearing difficult rooms.

The ten treasures you find throughout the game all have various effects. Most of them boil down to making it easier either to defeat or to avoid certain enemies. A couple of them reveal hidden dangers in later levels. If you mysteriously die in some of the later levels, you might be missing a treasure that could help. One treasure is a sword. You unsheathe the sword by pressing both A and B at the same time while you are walking, and you put it away the same way. The trigger is similar to the P ball and it’s important to remember the difference so that you don’t accidentally reveal the P ball when you don’t need it. Our hero will hold the sword out while it is in use. There are a couple of enemies that are only vulnerable to the sword.

Uni-Gon is the closest thing to a boss in the game.

There is a wide variety of enemies in this game. Most of them have different attacks, too. The standard commando enemies can punch and kick just like you. There are spear men and gun men. There’s a coffin enemy that will hold you inside of him briefly. A couple enemies fire medusa beams that freeze you for a bit and leave you vulnerable. One enemy just pushes you around. There are two large enemies that you need to watch out for. Uni-Gon is a huge, mummy-like monster that pursues you alone. All other enemies leave when he shows up. He can also breath fire. You can defeat him by punching him five times, but it is extremely risky. I’ve only done it once and usually I just avoid him until he goes away. If you can defeat him, he will leave an E ball behind. The other large enemy is a dragon. He is only vulnerable to the sword and you also have to hit him five times.

There are other features to some levels. One useful feature is the quick passage. These are doors on the left and right edges of the screen and most levels have them. If you walk through the door you will wrap around to the other side of the screen. Some levels have two pairs of quick passage doors. These are most helpful in evading Uni-Gon, but enemies can use them too so that’s another thing to keep in mind. Some levels have wells in them. These are just like the holes you enter in the warp room, only these kill you if you fall in. Some levels have fireballs streaming out of these wells. They are deadly to the touch, even if you are jumping in the air or are invincible with the P ball. Stay away. Some levels have pools of water or lava, and those kill you too. Finally, a few of the later levels have moving or disappearing blocks within the water or lava. If you can get on top of those blocks for just a brief time you will earn a bunch of points as well as some E balls.

You start the game with five lives. You can earn up to nine through the various methods already described. It’s a little frustrating to get good enough at the game to go beyond nine lives only for them not to count. There are no continues to the game either. There is a continue code I found by holding A and pressing Start at the title screen. It will take you back to the first area of the castle you were on. However, it is not listed in the manual so it is off-limits for me. The only nice thing Kung-Fu Heroes does for you is that you will always start each new level with at least three lives. If you finish a level with one or two lives remaining, you will get three lives to start the next area. I believe this is a holdover from the arcade game. It’s very generous, but it also speaks to the difficulty of the game in that death is so swift and frequent that those extra lives don’t always help.

If you’re playing for score, don’t miss Break Time.

This was my first time beating Kung-Fu Heroes. This is a game I have tinkered with a little bit off and on. Mostly I didn’t get through the first castle before turning off the game, but it was fun to pick up and try out a few times. I also played this game for the NintendoAge contest a few years back, but I didn’t get much beyond the third castle. I remember buying my copy of the game at my local game store several years ago when prices were still cheap. This game is still cheap today if you are looking to buy a copy.

I was able to beat the game in about a week. I sure played the game a lot in that one week, however. I think it took me over thirty attempts to beat the game. I took detailed notes on item locations which I found helpful for learning the game. By the end, I had all the item locations memorized that I needed. The first couple days of attempts didn’t get me very far. This was because I was spending all the time combing levels for items while also properly learning how to fight the enemies. Soon enough I was getting to the 6th, 7th, and final castle somewhat regularly when I hit another wall. Many of the final areas have no items along with difficult sets of enemies. A few areas include enemies that cannot be defeated, so you have to wait for them to leave so they can be replaced with enemies you can attack. I could do the early game really well only for it all to be wiped out in a flash at the end. I resorted to warping just so I could quickly get to the end of the game to practice. I beat the game that way once, and then the next day I beat it again without warping. The game loops continuously after you beat it, but the difficulty does not seem to change and there’s no special ending beyond the first loop.

It gets tough when there are no items late in the game.

Beating this game requires good technique and strategy. I found each enemy has either a specific way to beat them or a preferred way to beat them. Mastering the moon sault kick is important since you can dodge enemy projectiles and even get a nice point bonus for jumping over attacks. Then you land on top of the enemy to defeat it. It’s dangerous to jump on enemies that can also jump since they will evade your attack. For them, I approach them from the side and punch them or slice them with the sword before they go airborne. Defensively, I always keep my finger on the B button to moon sault kick my way out of danger, such as when the lightning obstacle quickly appears. I didn’t have much use for miracle kicks offensively, but they are very helpful as an evasive maneuver since you move so fast. It might not be best practice, but I use miracle kicks sometimes to go straight at the open door when it’s surrounded by enemies. Miracle kicks are also useful in the bonus room and they are unlimited for that room only. I just avoid both Uni-Gon and the Dragon. Shuffling back and forth through the quick passage keeps Uni-Gon away pretty easily. I also came up with a nice strategy for the final area. I saved four E-balls and six money bags for that stage since it’s the hardest one. I spent the money bags on a P ball when there were four enemies on screen, and then I went to town wiping out as many enemies as possible using the quick passages. Uni-Gon appears here and I can beat him with the invincibility, and then he drops the fifth E ball I need for an extra life. This level is still awfully tough after that, but every little bit helps.

I enjoyed my time with Kung-Fu Heroes. It does feel a little out of place for a 1989 NES release. The graphics and aesthetic are nice. The music is catchy at its best, and a bit dull at its worst. The controls are fine aside from trying to press A and B together. The action is very quick. This is an easy game to pick up and play for a few minutes or to sit down and try to dig into it. This game is also part of a trend among early NES games I’ve noticed where there is more internal complexity to the game systems than it first lets on. All the treasures with different effects and all the other things to keep track of like miracle kicks and money bags seem so overwhelming for what looks like a simple action game at first glance. Therefore, this game is easy to start playing but tough to master. This is a game for people who like quick action games and don’t mind a challenge in the endgame, but I think it’s also a great NES game if you don’t take it too seriously and just want to carve up some enemies for a little while.

#86 – Kung-Fu Heroes

MagMax Box Cover

#25 – MagMax

This simple shooter does not crank up the fun to the max as the name might suggest.

Basic title screen but it does the job.

Basic title screen but it does the job.

To Beat: Defeat the Dragon after Level 4
To Complete: Complete 3 loops
My Goal: Complete the game
What I Did: Completed 3 loops
Played: 8/20/16, 8/25/16
Difficulty: 3/10
My Difficulty: 3/10

Playing games at random like I am doing for this blog means that progression is going to be terribly unpredictable. Ikari Warriors and MagMax couldn’t be any more different in terms of time spent beating the game. While I am thankful that MagMax was a very welcome breather in terms of pushing toward the overall goal, the game itself was not all that interesting.

MagMax was released in the arcades in Japan in 1985. All versions were developed by Nihon Bussan. The arcade version was also published by the developer under the brand Nichibutsu. The NES port was released on the Famicom in March 1986. The US version was published by FCI and was not released until October 1988, nearly two and a half years apart from the Famicom release. The game also received ports to the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, and Amstrad CPC all in 1987.

MagMax is a side scrolling shooter. The story goes that aliens conquered the Earth and put the super-computer beast Babylon over the humans. The people fight back by creating a mech named MagMax that is their only hope to take back Earth.

It's pretty slow going starting out.

It’s pretty slow going starting out.

The game has two somewhat interesting gimmicks going for it. The first feature is that as you play you collect and merge the different parts of MagMax to create a fully powered robot. You start off with a basic spaceship that eventually becomes the midsection of MagMax. You can attach the head and legs separately as you come across them. Each segment has its own gun adding more shots to the fray. There is also a wave beam gun that attaches to the head providing even more firepower. You are completely MagMax whenever all four pieces are put together.

The other feature is that there are two separate fields of play and you are able to switch between them periodically. The game starts on the surface and from time to time there will be warp holes that show up. You can choose to descend down the hole and continue play underground. Similarly there are warp holes underground that bring you back up to the surface. The surface has different enemies and obstacles than the underground. The other difference between the fields is in visual perspective. The surface is sort of halfway between side view and top down view while the underground is purely side view. No matter which side you choose, play always scrolls to the right.

The gray warp hole carries you to the underground.

The gray warp hole carries you to the underground.

When only the basic starting ship, it only takes one hit to lose a life. However, as you merge with the other parts of MagMax, both the head and the legs can be destroyed separately which lets you take a bullet and survive. You lose your extra firepower but you stay alive which is a fair tradeoff. It gives you a bit of a cushion to survive until finding other replacement parts to build back up to full strength. It should be noted that the wave beam gun gets destroyed along with the head if that part is lost.

The difference in perspective means that each field plays a little bit differently. On the surface, the full MagMax stands taller than all the enemies, so the bullets fire slightly downward and move forward across the ground. The enemies also fire across the ground, so the player hitbox is merely the bottom part of the MagMax. Bullets that appear to hit the top of MagMax actually travel behind it due to the perspective. The wave beam gun on the surface is a constant beam that drags along the ground in front of the player. This can be used to destroy enemies that are otherwise immune to standard shots.

Having to point the beam downward seems like bad robot design.

Having to point the beam downward seems like bad robot design.

The underground perspective plays by different rules than the surface. The most visible change is that having multiple parts attached gives the MagMax three distinct vertical levels of shooting the standard beam. In effect this is akin to a spread shot. The downside is that the hitbox is the exact size of the MagMax so when fully powered up the hitbox is three times larger than with the bare ship or on the surface. The wave beam gun underground provides a fireball that blasts across the screen cutting through all enemies in its path.

There are many different types of enemies to deal with. They are your typical nondescript robot ships for the most part all with different attack patterns. The surface tends to have more stationary targets, many of which are only vulnerable to the wave beam gun. The underground tends to have more waves of moving enemies that can be destroyed with any weapon. A few elements in the game have unique properties. There is an enemy type that fires a spread of cannonballs when it’s destroyed that can also defeat other surrounding enemies for bonus points. Underground there are stalactites that will fall to the ground when shot. If an enemy is hit by one of these on the way down it is destroyed for bonus points.

You start the game with two lives and you can earn more from points. There is an extra life at 30,000 points and another awarded at every 50,000 points beyond that. It does take some time to accumulate enough points to rack up lives but each one is worth it.

Lots of swarming enemies underground to blow away!

Lots of swarming enemies underground to blow away!

There are four levels in MagMax that blend seamlessly into the next during play. They are the forest, desert, sea, and automated city. At the end of the second and fourth levels you get to square off against Babylon himself. The battle is exactly the same both times and you will come across him on both the surface and underground. After the fight in the fourth stage there is a little bit further to go and then the game loops back to the beginning. Consider the game beaten when this loop point is reached.

This game was another new one for me. I didn’t have much trouble with it at all. In fact I beat the game on my very first try. I kept playing and ended up dying for good early on in the second loop. Even though I beat the game I wanted to take it a step further by playing an entire loop on the surface followed by another full loop underground. That way I get to experience the full content of the game. My second attempt was all I needed to complete that goal.

Having completed all of the surface followed by all of the underground, I can safely say that going underground is significantly more difficult than above. Almost all of the difficulty underground can be attributed to the larger hitbox of MagMax. When fully powered up, the spread firepower is excellent but with the large hitbox it doesn’t last very long. The enemies underground seem to swarm me more. I think MagMax moves slower underground but that may just be me. I did notice that having the legs increases the movement speed and I think that is more important to survival then having the head and wave beam gun. Overall the easiest way to beat the game is to stay above ground as much as possible.

You get a large swath of bullets but you are also a very tall target.

You get a large swath of bullets but you are also a very tall target.

A few days after beating MagMax I did a bit more research and found out that there is a small change even deeper into the game that I should see for myself. After completing three full loops of the game on one credit, the word “MEIGETSU” appears for a little while above the score counter. It is unclear exactly what this means or is supposed to indicate. It seems to translate to something like “harvest moon” or “great moon,” but I have no clue how that applies to MagMax at all. Either way, I went back and beat three loops so I could see the text. I did notice that the game got harder in the second and third loops, so it is possible that this message indicates that the difficulty is maxed out. I didn’t play a fourth loop to see if I could tell the difference. Anyway, now I think I have seen everything there is to see in MagMax.

The NES port of MagMax is really faithful to the arcade version. It looks and plays just about the same. From what I can tell there are only two noticeable differences. The surface view has a neat parallax scrolling effect in the arcade version where the bottom of the screen scrolls by a bit faster than the top of the screen. This effect is not present in the NES port. In the arcade version Babylon moves around a bit so his attacks are harder to dodge than in the NES version where the boss is stationary.

There is a neat minor Easter egg that I noticed right away when booting up MagMax for the first time. The default high score is set to 65,020 which is clearly a nod to the 6502 processor that the NES runs. I think that reference would have been lost on everyone when the game first came out.

The big bad boss Babylon!

The big bad boss Babylon!

I thought it was a bit difficult to pin an appropriate difficulty rating on MagMax. My decision of 3/10 was the first thing I thought off and I decided to make it stick. The game is very short clocking in at around 10 minutes. There are no continues and only a few lives, but the MagMax pieces doubling as an extra hit goes a long way toward extending each life. By staying on the surface and getting some practice it should not take very many attempts to complete one loop. It is not a cakewalk necessarily, but it is easy enough that 3/10 works I think.

It would be easy to cut MagMax some slack if it were released in the US much closer to the Famicom release. It’s not a great game for 1986 though it is acceptable, but the more than two year delay before the US release does not distinguish this game at all from its contemporaries. I know I would be disappointed if I got this game new in 1988. The good thing is now the game is both common and cheap, and it is much harder to be disappointed when both the acquisition cost and amount of time one would reasonably get out of it is so low. Overall this game is not special and it is fine to skip.

#25 - MagMax

#25 – MagMax