Multiplayergames’ Digital Dojo: Kung Fu vs Karate Champ


Welcome back to the Digital Dojo, Multiplayergames dissection of martial arts accuracy in video games.  Today’s lesson will pit old school digital Kung Fu against old school digital Karate. Let’s begin with the NES port of Kung Fu from 1985.

This is a game most video game fans remember. It was a great straightforward effort, with a simplistic concept of vengeance on the man who stole your girl.  Now, one might think because this game is old, it probably is off the mark on accurately portraying Kung Fu. To this I say yes and no. First off, who knows what style of Kung Fu the lead character Thomas is supposed to know in this game, because there are a lot of them, and as mentioned in the first lesson, each variation of a style has certain focuses. Thomas may be working Northern Shaolin or Monkey Kung Fu (of which there are also six variations within itself), and there are many more besides these.

kungfunesI should point out that some of the goons attacking run at Thomas with their fist raised above their head. This may be trying to convey something like a wooden monkey style. That being said, the ancient visuals actually serve martial arts proud by rendering chambers and pivots through punching and kicking (the base foot turns on Thomas’ side-kick). The jumping kicks are right on for any style of Kung Fu as well as the quick striking, but the limited graphics make it impossible to show all the circular movements and blocks that makes Kung Fu artistic/cool looking, therefore a popular choice for movie characters to show off on screen. Thomas lacks any kind of guard stance and certainly doesn’t hold a wider one which is more appropriate for Kung Fu.

Now for digital Karate as portrayed in 1986 by NES Karate Champ. This game is back-in-the-day point fighting, or sport karate, and is tougher to see clean technique in the NES port than its arcade brother from 1984. Oddly enough, the fighting stance and high focus on kicking in this game points to a Tae Kwon Do style. As I said in the first lesson, I actually consider this style to fall into the Karate category as I feel this is a broad term. However, many hardcore traditionalists do not like this categorization at all, and since this was made in the 80’s when things were more traditional, this is important to note.

karatechampThe graphics do not demonstrate technique as well as Kung Fu. Much of it is a jumbled mess, but the idea of the point fighting is fairly accurate. In point fighting tournaments, you score a point, break, and go again when the judge starts you. The typical colors are even white and red, as in the game. The side scrolling graphics are also appropriate for point fighting in the 80’s, because sport karate used to be more linear then, as more angled and dynamic fighting evolved shortly after.

Kung Fu wins out in terms of demonstrating its style into the game more accurately, and Thomas could probably beat down a fighter in Karate Champ because of his speed. Although, that may be only if you’re talking a life and death situation like in Kung Fu. If you throw him into the Karate Champ world of point fighting, he may get it handed to him. I only say this because anytime I have seen someone try and use Kung Fu in point fighting they have been destroyed.

Here ends the lesson.

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