Thursday, December 17, 2009

Oddities: Chuck Norris Superkicks / Artillery Duel

Before he brought macho back as Walker: Texas Ranger, Chuck Norris was a kung-fu hero and a genuine karate champion from 1968 to 1974.  K-Tel's short-lived Xonox videogame label produced a videogame featuring Norris' karate prowess for the Atari 2600 back in 1983.  The game served as the marquee title for one of Xonox's gimmicky "double-ender" cartridges, with the woeful Artillery Duel tacked on at the other end.

Chuck Norris Superkicks starts out with Chuck wandering through a vertically-scrolling Asian countryside.  Perhaps it's Route Super66.

The game is fairly sophisticated by 2600 standards, in that it has TWO different screens of gameplay.  There's no real action on the main screen, beyond Chuck marching along, but as he reaches various points along the path, he gets jumped by gangs of rival martial artists, and the game transitions from the countryside screen to the fighting screen:

The fighting action isn't awful -- it's no Street Fighter II, but it's faster-paced than Kung Fu Master. Chuck's technique relies heavily on the fabled Thrust Kick, which the instruction manual tells us is an effective technique for attacking the opponent's lower body when he or she is protecting his upper body.  In the early levels, all of the enemies are of the body-protecting variety; the game, however, doesn't actually care where Chuck is when he opens up a can o' thrust kick -- connecting with head, feet, or torso sends the enemy flying offscreen.

Chuck can also use his punch to attack enemies with upper-body vulnerabilities, and to block thrown weapons, which look like small gray bricks but (again per the manual) are meant to be Chinese Throwing Stars.

The real problem with the fighting is that the Atari 2600 joystick only has one button.  The joystick is used to move Chuck around the screen, while the stick and button must be used in precisely-timed combination to execute attack moves.  If the button is pressed at the same time the stick is moved up, Chuck punches; press the button and move the stick down to make him perform a kick.  Later screens allow him to do somersault kicks and Superkicks, but the control mechanism is always the same -- move the stick in the proper direction, press the button at exactly the same instant.  This proves difficult to pull off in practice -- at least in my experience, Mr. Norris frequently runs around, stops, tries to ready his attack, and fails to execute it, getting knocked on his backside.

When he has been defeated three times, Chuck sits in the middle of the road, weeping like an infant as the game's nada de macho "nyahh-nahh-na-nyahh-nahh" tune of schoolyard defeat echoes in his weary ears.

Press the reset button, and Norris gets up to resume wandering the land like a bearded, vaguely spaced-out transient uncle, repeatedly getting into brawls he is ill-equipped to handle.

Like so many early games from established media companies, K-Tel's Chuck Norris Superkicks came out just as the Atari era was fading, and a sequel never appeared.  Most likely because they would have had to call it Super Chuck Norris Superkicks, or perhaps Chuck Norris Ultrakicks, neither of which was likely to set the retail world on fire.

And what of the other end of the cartridge -- Artillery Duel?  It's not a bad implementation of the traditional two-player aim-and-lob game, if one can deal with a few minor flaws.  Like the fact that it's strictly a two-player game -- there's no player-vs.-CPU support.  And that the angle of attack isn't represented visually onscreen -- the player's gun remains at a fixed position, with only the numbers at the top of the screen changing to denote the current setting, making intuitive visual aiming impossible.  And that the Atari 2600's mirror-or-copy background hardware is incapable of handling destructible landscapes, making randomized layouts like this pretty impossible for the player on the left, who has no hope of carving out a path to the target:

Rock on, K-Tel.  Rest in peace, Xonox.

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