Kung-Fu Master

This article is about the 1984 arcade game. For other uses, see Kung Fu master.
Kung-Fu Master

North American arcade flyer of Kung Fu Master.
Developer(s) Irem (arcade)
Nintendo (NES)
Publisher(s) Irem (JPN arcade)
Data East USA (NA arcade)
Nintendo (Worldwide NES)
Designer(s) Takashi Nishiyama
Composer(s) Koji Kondo (NES version)
Series Spartan X / Kung-Fu Master
Platform(s) Arcade (original)
Amstrad CPC, Apple II, Atari 2600, Atari 7800, C64, MSX, NES, ZX Spectrum
Release date(s)

Arcade version:

  • JP: December 1984

NES version:

  • NA: October 18, 1985

Game Boy version:

Genre(s) Beat 'em up
Mode(s) Up to 2 players, alternating turns
Cabinet Upright, mini-upright, and cocktail
Arcade system


  • CPU: Z80 main
  • M6803 Snd
  • 2x AY-3-8910
  • 2x MSM5205 (=Irem-M62)
Display Raster (Horizontal) 4:3

Kung-Fu Master is a side-scrolling beat 'em up game produced by Irem as arcade game in 1984 and distributed by Data East in North America. The game was initially released in Japan under the title of Spartan X (スパルタンX Suparutan X) as a tie-in based on the Jackie Chan film Wheels on Meals (which was distributed under the same title in Japan); however, the game has no bearing on the plot of the film outside the names of the protagonist and his girlfriend, allowing Irem to export the game without the license by simply changing title.

The players control Thomas, the titular Kung-Fu Master, as he fights his way through the five levels of the Devil's Temple in order to rescue his girlfriend Sylvia from the mysterious crime boss Mr. X.


Screenshot of Kung-Fu Master.

The player controls Thomas with a four-way joystick and two attack buttons for punching and kick. Unlike more conventional side-scrolling games, the joystick is used not only to crouch, but also to jump. Punches and kicks can be performed from a standing, crouching or jumping position. Punches award more points than kicks and do more damage, but their range is shorter.

Underlings encountered by the player include Grippers, who can grab Thomas and drain his energy until shaken off; Knife Throwers, who can throw at two different heights and must be hit twice; and Tom Toms, short fighters who can either grab Thomas or somersault to strike his head when he is crouching. On even-numbered floors, the player must also deal with falling balls and pots, snakes, poisonous moths, fire-breathing dragons, and exploding confetti balls.

The temple has five floors, each ending with a different 'son of the devil' or boss who must be defeated before Thomas can climb the stairs to the next floor. Thomas must complete each floor within a fixed time; if time runs out or his energy is completely drained, he loses one life and must replay the entire floor. If a boss defeats Thomas, the boss laughs. Although there are five bosses, the game only uses two different synthesized laughs. (The NES version uses a third, high-pitched synthesized laugh for the Black Magician, the fourth boss.)

Once the player has completed all five floors, the game restarts with a more demanding version of the Devil's Temple, although the essential details remain unchanged. A visual indication of the current house is displayed on the screen. For each series of five completed floors, a dragon symbol appears in the upper-right corner of the screen. After three dragons have been added, the dragon symbols blink.


The game was produced for Irem by Takashi Nishiyama, who also created Irem's 1982 arcade-hit Moon Patrol, and later designed the original 1987 Street Fighter at Capcom before leaving to run SNK's videogame development division, creating the Neo Geo arcade system board and its games like Fatal Fury: King of Fighters, Art of Fighting, The King of Fighters '94, and Samurai Shodown there, as well as several of their successors.[1]

The game was originally based on Bruce Lee's 1972 movie Game of Death, with the five-level Devil's Temple reflecting that movie's setting of a five-level pagoda with a martial arts master in each level. However, the title was changed during development to make it a tie-in to Jackie Chan's Spartan X.[2]

Screenshot of the NES version, which dropped Master from the game's title.

Kung-Fu Master was ported to the Atari 2600, Atari 7800, Amstrad CPC, Apple II, Commodore 64, NES/Famicom, MSX (Irem/ASCII version as Seiken Achō), PlayChoice-10 (arcade, nearly the same as the NES version), Sinclair ZX Spectrum. It was also made for the 8-bit Gameking console, under the name of Nagual. Some of the 8-bit conversions offered highly degraded performance, sound and image resolution. The NES version was ported and published by Nintendo simply under the title "Kung Fu" in North America and the PAL region.

The original arcade version was later included along with the arcade versions of 10-Yard Fight and Zippy Race in IAC/Irem Arcade Classics for the PlayStation and Sega Saturn, released in Japan only in 1996 by Irem and I'Max. The arcade version was also released to cell phones.

The Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum versions of the game were included on the 1986 compilation They Sold a Million 3,[3][4] along with Fighter Pilot, Ghostbusters, and Rambo.

Video game sequels

Mosaic by Invader in Hong Kong (2014)

There was going to be an arcade sequel called Super Kung-Fu Master, but it was never released.

Irem's 1988 Vigilante was intended as a followup. The gameplay is nearly the same, but with a completely different plot added to it that takes place in the urban areas of New York City, where a nameless titular character must save his girlfriend, Madonna ("Maria" in the Sega Master System version) who was captured by the Skinheads ("Rogues" in the Sega Master System version). One unique feature is the ability to pick up and use the battering weapon: the nunchuks, until either the player gets hurt, finishes a stage or begin battling the final boss.

In 1990, the arcade game received a completely different Game Boy sequel titled as "Kung-Fu Master" ("Spartan X" in Japan), which has similar gameplay to the arcade game, but with a completely different plot, setting, set of enemies and stages. Some of Thomas's new abilities are back-flip kicks and small bombs dropped by enemies. The flat levels were modified into stages with different platforms and objects in an urban city style similar to Vigilante's. The English version was modified from the Japanese version, by changing the look of Thomas, renaming him "Bruce Leap", and add some small enemies in the final stage before fighting the final boss.

In 1991 a Japan-exclusive sequel to the game was released for the Famicom, titled Spartan X 2. Like Vigilante and the Game Boy version of Kung-Fu Master, Spartan X 2's plot is also quite different and takes place in an urban area, with no mention of Sylvia, but rather "Johnny Spartan", a member of an unnamed crime-fighting unit who wears a red, short-sleeved jacket, an charges with foiling a group of drug smugglers. One unique feature is the ability to crouch for a second before either sending an uppercut or grab and throw enemies from behind.

Director Agnès Varda featured the game prominently in a live action film of the same name (Kung-Fu Master!), dealing with an affair between a 40-year-old woman and a fourteen-year-old boy obsessed with the game. When he finally beats it after 6 months, he asks a bartender to give the older woman a call to let her know. The bartender is initially a bit dismissive but still picks up the phone. However, she cannot get the message because she is not home, and the bartender reaches her daughter who is too young to be a messenger. The film was retitled Le Petit Amour for U.S. release so it would not be perceived as a martial arts film.


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