Friday, September 17, 2010

Oddities East and West: Jackie Chan (and his Action Kung-Fu)

Back in 1991, comic martial arts actor Jackie Chan was known on American shores only to die-hard kung fu movie fans and Cannonball Run aficionados.  But he was a major star in Japan, which is why Hudson Soft produced Jackie Chan for the Famicom and PC Engine (as the company's thirty-sixth title for the machine.)  The game was a solid platformer, with particularly nice graphics on the PC Engine, and it came to the US for the Nintendo Entertainment System and even the TurboGrafx-16 as Jackie Chan's Action Kung-Fu.  We're looking at the PC Engine/TurboGrafx edition here.

The only real difference is in the title screen:

Which was translated to:

The game maintains a light-hearted sense of humor, with Jackie determinedly kicking and punching his way across the landscape as he seeks to rescue his sister from an evil sorcerer.  The world map unfurls on a classical-style Asian scroll, and while Jackie's progress is strictly linear, the artwork provides a nice sense of atmosphere:

Befitting the actor's stature, videogame Jackie Chan has a number of attacks at his disposal -- he can punch and kick, crouch and low kick, and leap through the air for a flying kick, with some more complicated fireball and spin kick moves available as the game progresses.

There are some really nice special effects in the game -- Hudson Soft designed the PC Engine and knew how to get the most out of the hardware, with rotating platforms, color-cycling background animation, parallax scrolling on some levels, and this interesting shadow effect, unique in my TurboGrafx gaming experience:

The animated caricature of Jackie Chan is full of personality, though when he isn't fighting he looks rather more like a dark-haired Gordon Ramsay.  Green frogs turn up from time to time, with a little amphibian abuse yielding power-up items, like bowls of rice to restore Jackie's hit points.  Occasionally Mr. Chan finds a bell, enabling access to a Special Stage.  These bonus challenges include bouncing off of clouds to pick up fruit, and punching a series of targets as quickly as possible, with his weary sensei rating his success afterward.   The text is in English in both territories -- this is from the Japanese edition:

The animation is cartoonish and simple, with some very nice backgrounds and enemy sprites.  Unlike Bonk, Jackie isn't subjected to the indignity of Westernization -- when he dies, he gets the bug-eyed, twitchy manga treatment on both sides of the water:

The action is not overly difficult but it takes some practice and memorization to master each level.  The challenge ramps up significantly as we progress, and a limited number of continues means that eventually it's time for Jackie Chan to be crushed under granite:

Jackie Chan is a charming little Hudson platformer, with solid controls and memorable music.  The license was unfortunately too far ahead of its time in the States, but knowledge of Mr. Chan's work isn't essential to appreciating the gameplay, which still holds up well almost two decades later.

Jackie Chan hasn't been remade or released on the Wii Virtual Console, probably due to re-licensing issues, and it's gained some value as a licensed collectible, so it's not always easy to find at a good price.  It may be available for purchase here.

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