Posted on August 21, 2011
The 8bit Game: Digesting Bruce Lee By Datasoft Software (1984)
Bruce Lee is an 8-bit computer platformer / beat-em-up that is fondly remembered by owners of almost any 8-bit computer system from the early 1980’s. The first version was programmed by Ron Fortier (with visuals by Kelly Day) in 1983 for the Atari 8-bit computer line (400, 800, XL and then forthcoming XE lines). The game was quickly ported to the C64, Apple II, and DOS machines. It would be released by US Gold in the UK for the Spectrum, BBC Micro, Amstrad CPC and MSX machines a year later.
The basic goal of the game is to control your Bruce Lee character through 20 screens of increasing puzzle and difficultly while collecting paper lanterns on each. To foil the player’s progress, a black-clad Ninja and Green Sumo wrestler (“Yamo”) chase him and attempt to kick, punch and make him fall to his death. Like Zeppelin , Bruce Lee has unique multi=player features that allow a second player to assume the role of Yamo to thwart Bruce Lee on his mission. This was a game that Steve and I picked up at Gemco, I remember the C64 version was in demo mode with the Atari 800 version ready for anyone to play. It didn’t take much time for us to figure that this cool game was worth the $24.95 it would separate from the combined cash stash in our two O.P. “ripper” wallets.
Here is a new video of the game being played (by me) in the Atari 800 Win Emulator:
During game-play, the player has a number of moves he can employ to try and knock-out the Ninja and Yamo. The best is a two-foot flying kick that is initiated by running in a direction and pressing the fire button. This devastating move will stun the baddie. Two hits and the Ninja or three to Yamo and they must re-spawn and try all over again to down our joystick controlled hero. The player can also chop (hit with his hand while standing, jump, lean, climb and duck. It sounds pretty standard by today’s measures, but the fluidity and freedom of motion (climb up a fence and leap to the next ledge) were very unique to computer (and video) games at this point in time. It my not have been the first to employ these types of actions, but it simply perfected them in such a way that made all other platformers we played before this pale in comparison.
The player must collect all (or most of the lanterns) in each room to open the door to the next chamber. All of this collecting has a purpose, which is to gain infinite wealth and immortality (not bad) from a Wizard that is supposed to be in one of the chambers. There are vines to climb, ladders and lattice to negotiate, and even a strange magical wave of particles that needs to be ridden. Also, more dangers than just just the Ninja or Yamo await the intrepid Mr. Lee. as explosions, gaps in the floor, electrical shocks, and strange panning lights all start to show up in later levels to add serious challenges. The fight against the illusive Wizard, who has the ability to shoot fire balls pretty rapidly, is the final battle in the game.
I don’t remember being able to finish this one until we found a “trainer version” on-line (probably after the game was released in the UK). I do remember Steve, and I, along with our buddy, Mike Jackson playing this one a lot in 8th grade. It was definitely one of our favorite games top play with a group of people because of the various ways in which 2 or three people could combine efforts to play with and against each other (only two could actually control the action at the same time with a third taking turns as Bruce Lee).
Ron Fortier went on to create both Conan and the Zaxxon port for the Atari 8-bit computers. I fondly remember both as very good games. It would take quite a long article to describe all of the great titles that DataSoft released for the Atari and other 8-bit machines in the 80’s. Like Synapse, they were a prolific developer of great 8-bit games but they are sadly almost completely forgotten today.