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Sunday, 11 August 2013

Bruce Lee (Datasoft Inc., 1984)


Original by Ron J. Fortier and Kelly Day.

Published for :
Apple ][, Atari 800, Commodore 64 and MS-DOS by Datasoft Inc. in 1984
Amstrad CPC, BBC Micro and ZX Spectrum by U.S. Gold in 1984
MSX by Comptiq in 1985
Sharp MZ-800 by VSetin (?) in 1988
NEC PC-8801 (and Sharp X-1?) by Comptiq in 1989
Sega Master System by Kagesan in 2015

GAME STATUS


To properly start off this blog, let's go for what most of us retrogamers would call a true classic. Currently, on the Lemon64 top 40 list, it's on #23, World Of Spectrum has it tied on spot #55 with 5 other games, Atarimania has it on spot #21, CPC Games Reviews gave it an 8 out of 10, and at Generation-MSX, it has four stars out of five. For the other conversions, I found it too difficult to find any reviews, but it's not a seriously bad game on any platform. Just a seriously flawed conversion on some of them. UPDATE, 6th of July, 2016: the newish Sega conversion was released a couple of years after I originally wrote this comparison, but as I mentioned in the relevant Updates entry, the remake shall not be featured here.


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DESCRIPTION & REVIEW


Bruce Lee is a platforming action-adventure game, that broke a couple of boundaries - more specifically, it was the first game to mash up platform and beat'em up genres.

Your mission is to guide Bruce through 20 screens, which is supposed to represent an evil wizard's tower, but I always thought it more like a castle. You have two enemies chasing you around the grounds, trying to put an end to your quest: the Green Yamo and the Ninja. Also, you will have a bunch of obstacles to get around scattered everywhere. When you finally get to the end and electrocute the evil Fire Wizard, you'll get your infinite wealth, the secret of immortality, the princess, the wings of Icarus, the record deal, your dead grandparents back, your dog that got hit by neighbour's car and whatnot. Then you'll just start over again with more difficulty. That's 1984 for you.

There are also two different two-player modes in the game: either a regular hot seat game, where you just take turns and compete for high score, or alternatively, you could have another player control the Green Yamo to try and stop Bruce's quest.

I've always felt that this game is one of the most stylish and important pieces of gaming history, with lots of elements rarely seen in games of that age. It's easy enough to complete quickly when you have nothing else to do, and it's still mesmerizing to go through the map, 30 years on.

There's one thing a modern gamer should remember when looking at this... Back in 1984, not too many games had been made that dealt with martial arts. Back in 1984, not too many platform games included weapons, and if there were some, they were usually bouncing firebolts or something like it. This was most likely the first platforming adventure game that offered something resembling martial arts as a means to deal with your enemies. It didn't matter if it didn't look exactly realistic - it was a turn in that direction.

The game makes you deal with objects you probably never will know what they are supposed to represent, but you will learn to use them in order to make progress. You will even learn to think tactically, luring your enemies to kill themselves in the underground traps. You will learn the importance of rhythm. All this and more, and you probably never even notice(d) it.

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LOADING


For some, the loading times are strangely important, even if the game itself isn't much to talk about. I've noticed, for example, that the most vocal Spectrum enthusiasts like to point out C64's 25 minutes'
loading time for Imagine's Arcadia, which is an early Space Invaders variant, as opposed to approximately two minutes on the Spectrum version. Granted, the difference is colossal (if not quite as colossal as has often been given to understand), and the game is pretty much equally horrendous on both machines. Well, that was before the C64 programmers came up with their first turbo loaders. Up until today, the quickest I've seen a properly good machine code game load on a C64 was less than 30 seconds. Spectrum? I've yet to find a good counterpart, unless written in basic language. Maybe you guys can help me out?

The loading times for Bruce Lee on each machine it was released on, based on the original release:

ACORN BBC - Tape: 4 minutes 14 seconds
AMSTRAD CPC - Tape: 3 minutes 49 seconds
ATARI 8-BIT - Disk: 28 seconds
ATARI 8-BIT - Tape: 11 minutes 56 seconds
APPLE ][ - Disk: about 30 seconds? (on an emulator)
COMMODORE 64 - Disk: 2 minutes 54 seconds
COMMODORE 64 - Tape: 4 minutes 32 seconds
DOS - HD: no loading time, except for starting up your PC.
MSX - ROM: no loading time, except for starting up your MSX.
MSX - Tape: 3 minutes 7 seconds (2400 baud) / 5 minutes 41 seconds (1200 baud)
NEC PC-8801 - Disk: 16 seconds? (on an emulator)
SHARP MZ-800 - Tape: 3 minutes 8 seconds  (1200 baud)
ZX SPECTRUM - Tape: 3 minutes 2 seconds

Phew. That's everything I could find and get to work. The list has been updated as of 6th of June 2016, so that all the known releases are included, except for the Sharp X-1 version which I still haven't been able to locate from the internet. You might notice that the loading times have now lost their optional additional overall score - that's part of the 2014 autumn overhaul.

As you can see, the winner here is the MSX cartridge version, because the PC boots up so much slower than the MSX. Depending on how much trouble you're willing to put up with loading the game up, there's really no clear choice if your only choice is to emulate. Anyway, the loading times matter very little if the game isn't any good, right?

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PLAYABILITY


The ATARI version was developed simultaneously with the C64 version, so the gameplay doesn't differ much from the essentials. The only thing is, the Atari version is a bit too slow for my tastes, because the game is otherwise so easy it only becomes boring with the speed decrease. Still, you can't complain about anything else, because the gameplay is so balanced in every way - it just plays as well as the original coders could make it to play according to their vision. All the characters move fittingly to the game's environments, every obstacle is programmed to move in a way for you to easily fall in to a rhythm with, you don't need to do any useless climbing or running unless you really want to. It's just a bit slow.

As I said, the C64 version plays a lot faster than the Atari one, which is better suited to my style of playing. Here, everything is in perfect balance. The running is a bit twitchy in both of the originals, because the surfaces aren't all exactly marble, so it feels sort of natural in a weird way. The underground obstacles movements are timed slightly differently from the Atari version, but that's pretty much all of the noticeable differences here.

The MS-DOS version is very close to the C64 in playability, but somehow feels unnatural playing it on an old analog PC joystick. The option is to play it on a keyboard, which is not bad at all, but might need getting a bit accustomed to.

The SPECTRUM version plays pretty much as fast as the C64 version, but since it's not made by the original team, it differs a bit more in places than just in graphics. First off, the game starts from a different spot, although in the same screen. Not too much, but it spawns more useless movement. Secondly, Bruce doesn't latch on to the weird elevator carpets or whatever they're called, as soon as he touches them, and I haven't really gotten the hang of this thing yet. Third, Bruce falls a bit faster, which is sort of nice. Fourth, and probably the most significant difference, is that the (In This Case, Not Very) Green Yamo AI can climb ladders, whereas he couldn't do such action in the original versions. Don't know if it makes it better, just adds its own flavour here. There are some small differences in environment and obstacles in some screens, but nothing to make much of a difference in gameplay. Just something to make you notice it's not exactly the same game, but close enough.

The AMSTRAD version at first looks like a mash-up between the original and the Spectrum conversion. It certainly has elements from both: the graphics are as close to the original as you could want, but the gameplay is a mixed bag of everything you've read so far. Your character moves more similarly to the Spectrum version than the original, but the Green Yamo feels much slower than anywhere else. At some points, the terrain seems to be a bit messed up, and you're required to do more jumping in order to move anywhere. I didn't mention this earlier, but the fighting in both Spectrum and Amstrad versions feels a bit more stiff and quicker to execute than in the original. This makes the fighting a bit harder, because you have to get closer to your enemies in order to kill them. It's not very player-friendly, especially in the later playthroughs, when your enemies get more energetic.

The MSX version falls somehow in between everything. The player movement is not quite as fast as on the C64, nor quite as slow as on the Atari and Amstrad. However, the MSX version has some quirky characteristics to the movement that put me a bit off. Bruce's jump starts off as slow as his running speed, but in mid-air, goes noticably faster than anywhere else. At least he doesn't keep on twitching as much according to the terrain, if it ever bothered you. The enemies' recovery time from attacking is non-existant on the first difficulty level (first playthrough), compared to the other versions. Also, the underground sections have their moving obstacles timed very differently. So it's definitely a bit harder as default.

The APPLE ][ version, gameplay-wise, could be considered closest to either the Amstrad or the MSX version, I'm not really sure. The colours were such a pain for the eyes, I couldn't look at it for more than a couple of minutes. The controls felt a bit jerky here, but not exactly the worst of the bunch.

The only one left to comment on, that I know of, is the BBC Micro version, which, at first look, is kind of close to the Spectrum version, but all the character movement is unnaturally stiff. It plays quick enough, which is a plus, but everything else is so off, I can't really describe it properly. Oh, and the Ninja is either completely missing, or it's black against black.

UPDATE, 2nd of August, 2014:
As you can see from the comments section, and as I already said in the original Bruce Lee update in September 2013, a Google user by the name of rhod pointed out that versions of Bruce Lee were also released for the NEC PC-8801 and Sharp X-1. I still haven't been able to find the X-1 version, so I can only add the NEC version here for now. (The original Bruce Lee update entry will be left for archival purposes.)

Playability-wise, the NEC version isn't too far off from the originals. Most of the character movement is close enough to the original, although the ninja seems to be replaced with a slower substitute. The graphics do their own part in making the game less playable as well with all the flickering and the colours in use, because you really have to have a high stamina eye-sight to be able to play this one for more than 5 minutes in one sitting. More about the colours later. The flickering, however, has some effect on the gameplay - it makes fighting the Green Yamo a bit difficult, since your characters are flickering like hell while on the move, and the collision detection in fights is dependant on the sprites connecting at certain points. But I noticed that if you slightly take advance on your attacks, you should do fine. The insane amount of flickering just makes it a bit more random. To make the NEC version easier on your eyes, try the age-old Spectrum trick - go grayscale, if possible.

UPDATE, 6th of July, 2016:
Since my previous update here, I still haven't been able to find an image file of the Sharp X-1 version, but I did manage to find a version for another Sharp computer called the MZ-800. This version is basically a cheap port of the SPECTRUM version, which plays otherwise very much the same, but suffers from some severe speed issues when the amount of sprites increases on the screen.

I'd say, the C64 version from the two originals takes the lead here, not only because the gameplay is very balanced and works as the programmers intended, but because it's that much more fun to play with that speed. Easily the worst version is on the BBC.

1. COMMODORE 64
2. IBM-PC COMPATIBLES
3. ATARI 8-BIT
4. APPLE ][
5. MSX
6. AMSTRAD CPC
7. NEC PC-8801
8. ZX SPECTRUM
9. SHARP MZ-800
10. ACORN BBC MICRO

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GRAPHICS


Note that the screenshots are badly edited and put together in MS Paint.
Most of these only give you some sort of idea what it actually looks like.


ABOVE: Spectrum, Apple ][, Atari, Spectrum
BELOW: MS-DOS, BBC Micro, Commodore 64, MSX


The first thing that greets you is usually the loading screen, unless it's the copyrights screen, but let's not get into that. The Spectrum and Amstrad versions seem to have the closest representations of the cover art, while the others have a more simple closeup approach to the man himself. Below, you can also see the NEC loading screens, of which you get three, rather extravagantly, but I'm not very fond of them at all. I'd say the Spectrum loader screen takes the prize, but the Apple ][ version of the more usual one is pretty nice too.

NEC PC-8801 loading screens.

Unfortunately, the loading screen doesn't affect the final score. What it does affect, is the amount of nostalgia created for each retro gamer. =)

Atari 800

Commodore 64

ATARI & C64: very similar graphics, except slightly different colour palette, and the different system font, both in which it's entirely a matter of preference. I kind of like the Atari system font a bit more, but everything else is all the same to me. The ending screen looks more pleasing to my eye on the C64, though.

Amstrad CPC 464
The AMSTRAD version looks close enough to the originals apart from a few strange choices in colours, but instead of using the system font for the score bar, they've decided to make their own font, which looks a bit unfitting for the game. Some may like it better, but I feel it somehow gives the action screen less presence somehow. Don't know why, but that's just my opinion



MSX



MSX graphics are a bit off, mostly due to the screen size, but the colours are just plain weird. The background, for instance, is different in every area I could get myself to play into: the palace grounds background is green, the first underground section is cyan (strangely brighter than above), below that is light grey (which is actually a bit better than the original orange). Also, depending on the model of MSX you're using, you're going to experience a varying amount of character sprite flickering. In the screenshots above, the Ninja is also supposed to be there. The character colours are strangely enough, untouched from the original.

MS-DOS (DOSBOX)


The inevitable MS-DOS version, which has the horrible 4-coloured CGA graphics (cyan, magenta, white and black). Other than the colours, the MS-DOS version is perfectly fine, and gets as close to the Atari and C64 versions in every other aspect. For some reason, my version of Bruce Lee on the MS-DOS seemed to have 79 lives at the beginning, but that's hardly important..

APPLE ][e


Here's where the graphics really start getting weird: The APPLE ][ version has a purple sky, green mountains and blue walls in the first area. Couldn't bother to play further than the second  underground room. All the characters are black and white (or in case of the ninja, just black). The character animation feels a bit jerky, could be just the emulator, but I've got a feeling it's just a feature in APPLE ][. The font looks weird, but I suppose that's a given.

Left and centre: ZX Spectrum 48k
Right: Acorn BBC Micro B


The SPECTRUM version is pretty close to being very unpleasant to look at, but it has some redeeming features. While some of the structures and ornaments look more interesting and colourful, it's not really an improvement in any way, when every background is coloured black, and all the characters are white. Of course, this minimizes the chance of colour clash, but if you have a character called Green Yamo, it should be green, dammit. Well, nitpicking aside, it's not half bad when you play it - everything's recognizable as what they're supposed to represent, and all the characters do their stuff clearly enough what they're supposed to. It's still way too far from the original to be considered acceptable.

If you're looking for something worse than the Spectrum version, you need not go any further than the Acorn BBC Micro. The colour scheme is similar to the Spectrum version in every other way, but the player characters are coloured - wrong colours, but still coloured. Well, actually, it is a bit worse, because the characters are flickering all the time, so your eyes start hurting before you get to the third screen.

UPDATE, 2nd of August 2014:
Somewhere between the previous two comes the NEC version. In the very essentials, it looks close enough to the original, but the colour scheme was probably made by someone purely evil.

NEC PC-8801


The first area you can deal with, even though the mountains in the background are horribly orange and red. At least Bruce Lee is still yellow, but his torso looks floating against the mountains. He jumps and runs admirably fast, very much like he should. The ninja is also black, which is good. The Green Yamo is somehow made black-and-blue, which makes him look like an undesribable mass of dark blobby matter. Then there's the flickering, which I already mentioned earlier - this makes the NEC version almost as bad as the BBC version. When you get to the first underground section, the game suddenly turns into a horrible CGA style graphic thing: cyan, pink, white and black. Because there's so much moving things around, your movement becomes painfully slow, and you turn into a cyan-white Bruce. The Green Yamo at least looks more green now in his cyan/interlaced-cyan look, and the ninja is still black. Otherwise, it's pretty much like it should be, just slow and painful for the eyes. The third section, however, is just pure hell. Literally. It's just different shades of fire and brimstone for your eyes to feast upon, and not really knowning what's going on, because the shades are so close to each other that you really have to focus on looking at the movement on the screen. At least the main platforms are coloured black, but the moving things are interlaced pink against orange background. It's just evil, and I couldn't bother to go any further from there.

UPDATE, 6th of July 2016:
I'm not really sure having no variations in colour is really a proper alternative to having ghastly colours, but the SHARP MZ-800 version only features blue, black and red graphics on light grey background. Making my job easier here is the fact that it looks otherwise exactly the same as the SPECTRUM version.

SHARP MZ-800

All around, the Atari version looks the best, but it's really a matter of taste - the first 4 on the list below are just fine, and if you can free yourself from the restraints of the original colour scheme, the Spectrum version isn't too bad either.

1. ATARI 8-BIT
2. COMMODORE 64
3. AMSTRAD CPC
4. MSX
5. IBM-PC COMPATIBLES
6. APPLE ][
7. ZX SPECTRUM
8. SHARP MZ-800
9. NEC PC-8801
10. ACORN BBC MICRO

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SOUNDS


Strangely, the ATARI version feels a bit too random in its bleeps and bloops. Not even a theme song is given for the ATARI owner to hear at the beginning, and instead is made to endure 11 minutes of beeps while loading, before hearing a bit more random bloops while playing. Not really what I was hoping for, after having played the C64 version since forever, and only seeing the Atari version once when I was really young and leaving me with a strong impression.

C64 with it's SID chip does exactly what it's expected to do: create a playing environment that drags you in time after time. While not the only one of the bunch that achieves this, it certainly ups the ante with a ridiculous amount of melodic sound effects, the best rendition of the Bruce Lee theme song, and even a medley of national anthems or whatever on the tape loader version. You don't need to hear any music during gameplay, if the effects are musical enough.

The closest to the sheer majesty of the C64 is, surprisingly, the MS-DOS version. Even with a dodgy PC beeper, you will hear a whole bunch of sounds that don't exactly try to imitate the C64 sounds, but there's definitely a unique kind of charm and character in this version. Even the theme song is very close to the original. Thumbs up.

The APPLE ][ version tries to imitate the MS-DOS version, but is mostly annoying and produces some ear-pearcing pitches that will make you want to murder your closest neighbour's cat.

The AMSTRAD and the MSX versions form the middle ground here, and overall are pretty much tied with the Atari version. Nothing too fancy, but enough to know you're actually playing Bruce Lee. Unlike the MSX, at least the Amstrad version has the theme song intact.

Amazingly, the NEC version has a nicely varied set of sounds, which makes me put it just at the average line. Only when Yamo makes his entrance on the screen, it sounds more like a big burp than his trademark yawp or whatever you'd call it.

The SPECTRUM version also has the theme song somewhat intact, but it sounds so garbled it's almost unrecognizable. The sound effects that I could notice, were mainly just running sounds, random bips when collecting the hanging glowing items you're supposed to collect, and death sounds. Fighting sounds are completely ignored here. UPDATE, 6th of July 2016: The SHARP MZ-800 sounds are in the same league, for fairly obvious reasons.

BBC MICRO takes the cake on the least impressive sounds contest. It really is nothing but ticks of two pitches (walking and hitting your enemy) and then the dying melody, which doesn't really fit.

Clear winner here would be the C64, then.

1. COMMODORE 64
2. IBM-PC COMPATIBLES
3. AMSTRAD CPC
4. ATARI 8-BIT
5. NEC PC-8801
6. MSX
7. APPLE ][
8. ZX SPECTRUM / SHARP MZ-800
9. ACORN BBC MICRO

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OVERALL


All things considered - even the availability of chosen machine in the country you happen to live in - and naturally, their cost - you'd have to be an idiot to choose your machine based on one game alone.  But if it would have to be one game to choose by, you could do a lot worse than choose by Bruce  Lee, since it really is a true classic.

I remember trying this game out on 4 different machines when I was young: first, Atari, then the Spectrum, then the C64 and finally the Amstrad CPC. Even back then, the C64 version felt clearly the best, just because of the sounds. But making a better comparison in 2013, 30 years after the game was programmed, I thought it would be only proper to at least try to test it out on all the platforms it was released on, and do my first comparison for the blog.

Even if only mathematically, here are the end results:

1. COMMODORE 64 - Playability 10, Graphics 9, Sounds 9 = TOTAL 28.
2. ATARI 8-BIT - Playability 8, Graphics 10, Sounds 6 = TOTAL 24.
3. IBM-PC COMPATIBLES - Playability 9, Graphics 6, Sounds 8 = TOTAL 23.
4. AMSTRAD CPC - Playability 5, Graphics 8, Sounds 7 = TOTAL 20.
5. MSX - Playability 6, Graphics 7, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 17.
6. APPLE ][ - Playability 7, Graphics 5, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 15.
7. NEC PC-8801 - Playability 4, Graphics 2, Sounds 5 = TOTAL 11.
8. ZX SPECTRUM - Playability 3, Graphics 4, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 9.
9. SHARP MZ-800 - Playability 2, Graphics 3, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 7.
10. ACORN BBC MICRO - Playability 1, Graphics 1, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 3.


Of course, it's still a matter of anyone's opinion and preference, playing style, nostalgia factor and everything. Even after all is counted, my favourite versions of Bruce Lee are on the C64, Atari and Spectrum. Just because it's math, don't expect it to represent truth. This is my way of seeing it, but I'm kind of hoping it's the original creator's view as well. =)

UPDATE, 6th of July 2016:
Since posting this entry, the blog has evolved in various ways, and one of the more important ones is the attempt of keeping up with the times as good as possible. You should by now be aware of at least the Sega Master System remake of Bruce Lee, which I talked about in my most recent entry of Updates. A nice little surprise from 2015, and well worth taking a look, although it's not completely faithful to the original.

Screenshots of the Sega Master System remake from 2015.


Another nice surprise was delivered to all Bruce Lee fans in 2013, when Bruno R. Marcos released his unofficial, albeit very proper sequel, simply titled Bruce Lee II. The game features a much larger area to play in, more enemies to deal with and more puzzling puzzles. Also, it has nicely authentic graphics modes for C64 and Amstrad fans. To us regular folks, the game felt large and complex enough not to be really possible to do on real C64 or Amstrad, but lo and behold, conversion work for C64 was started in mid-2014 by Jonas Hultén, and finished in 2015! Now available through the game's dedicated website in various different formats, I cannot recommend you enough to pick it up and have a go.

Screenshots from Bruce Lee II by Bruno R. Marcos.

Thanks for reading, see you next time!
Comments and suggestions are welcome!

3 comments:

  1. Great blog! Random stuff filled with breadbells. Äsch! Retro gaming fanatics forever.

    ReplyDelete
  2. also on NEC PC-88 and Sharp X1 ;-)
    http://rhodblog.wordpress.com/2012/12/04/nouveautes-special-bruce-lee-pc-8801-msx/

    ReplyDelete
  3. Well, whaddya know! If I can find emulated versions of these, and get them to work, I might post an update. Thanks for the info, I completely missed those earlier! =)

    ReplyDelete