Released by Hudson (of Bomberman fame) in 1991 for the PC Engine, (there was also a NES version,) Jackie Chan's Action Kung Fu was always going to interest me because it's about Jackie Chan. I love Jackie Chan, the action-comedy master of drunken stage-crashing and running up walls. Yes, his recent career has bee unfortunate to say the least, but this is the man from Armour of God and City Hunter, so I have to cut him some slack.
The game itself is a fairly standard left-to-right scrolling platformer with some added kung fu. Sadly, the kung fu is limited to a punch, a jumping kick and a crouching cossack-dance style maneuvere, but, look, it's Jackie freakin' Chan! You walk toward the goal, jumping on platforms, kicking animals (more on this later) and riding rocket turtles, in a way that will be instantly (over-)familiar to you if you've ever played, well, any platformer.
The story amounts to one wordless sequence in which Jackie is walking with (or possibly just near) a woman who is then abducted by what appears to be a three-eyed vampire played by Hannibal from The A-Team. Plot neatly disseminated, Jackie sets off to rescue this woman he may well have met just seconds before, pausing only to nod at an elderly Chinese gentleman.
The game starts you off in a nice rural environment, and as our hero takes his first steps, he his confronted with a butterfly. Yes, in a bold step, the game issues one hell of a challenge: telling you that your first action should be to kick a butterfly to death. Not one to refuse a challenge from a simple videogame, I launched my full screaming fury at this butterfly, only to mistime my kick and simply collide with it, causing Jackie to turn pink and lose some health. I'll just leave you with that thought: Jackie Chan, kung fu master, martial arts legend, is hurt by a butterfly flitting against him. This, I thought, does not bode well.
The rest of the stage is much the same. You're attacked by some men who look like Rasputin, snakes, eagles and more butterflies. Jackie is building quite a reputation as an animal abuser already, and we're only half-way through the first level. There are a few tigers to fight, which at least is a more even fight than man against butterfly. There are also frogs which vomit up items when punched, and soon enough you are looking forward to punching frogs until they vomit. Forget Grand Theft Auto, this really is a game to warp the mind.
Jackie soon reaches a temple, where he is beset by men with blue hair wielding toilet brushes. He also gets to punch some mice, and by kicking worms he finally finds something less threatening than a butterfly that he can kill. Hannibal Dracula arrives and turns a statue into a killer robot by striking it with lightning (thus reprogramming it, obviously) for the stage's boss fight. Luckily, the robot is very considerate, and lifts Jackie up to head height so he can punch it to death.
Stage two finds you in one of platform gaming's favourite cliches - the lava cave, which in a frankly Herculean effort to cram as many cliches into one level as possible, later turns into an ice cave. Beautiful. The fire section has phoenixes for Jackie to sate his bloodlust upon. At least I assume they are phoenixes: they may just be the eagles, but on fire. Either way, they are extinct now, thanks in no small part to Jackie Chan. Some bald fellows try and hadoken you to death, and at this point I realised that Jackie can also hadoken by holding the attack button down. Some pink bats swoop down: they die in a horrible fireball. Pink bats are, sadly, now extinct. Disturbingly, if you leave Jackie to stand still for a moment, he glances out of the screen pleadingly, as if he is trying to make you complicit in his butchery. You're one creepy bastard, Jackie. The ice portion of the level is almost identical, but with palette-swapped enemies: the bald guys now throw icicles instead of fireballs. In keeping with neither of the level's themes, the boss is a big guy with a ball-and-chain, who thumps the floor, causing it to rise so you can ride in up to his face and, you guessed it, punch him.
The third stage is up on a cliff, and starts with a platform section where you must jump across the shells of rocket-powered turtles whilst avoiding Jackie's deadliest foe: butterflies. There are a lot of shells here. Gamera must have taken some time out from being a friend to children to actually have some of his own. At the top of the cliff is a forest populated by Kappa and flying pufferfish, and at the end of the forest, the villain turns one of the item-vomiting frogs into a giant frog monster. You cannot help but feel that this frog volunteered for the job in order to get revenge for all his frog brothers, and he tries to defeat you by firing tadpoles out of his mouth. This is not a normal form of reproduction, and Jackie triumphs over this mockery of the natural order by kicking it until it is dead.
I should make a quick mention of the special stages you can find dotted around the levels. There are four in all: bouncing on clouds to get fruit, hitting a rock either high or low depending on the icon, fighting some wooden training dummies and my personal favourite, punching salmon that jump out of a waterfall. The fact that this is my favourite says a lot about how Jackie Chan's animal-hating ways have blackened my spirit.
The next stage is atop a snowy mountain, where a constant assault by goddamn Yetis throwing goddamn rocks will test your goddamn patience to its goddamn limit. You get to fight an honest-to-god martial arts expert here, a mysterious woman who has all the right moves, until you beat her and it turns out she was a tiger all along. You know, Jackie Chan's Action Kung Fu can be abbreviated to JCAKF: this could also mean Jackie Chan: Always Killing Fauna, or even Jesus Christ, Animal Killing's Fun. Coincidence? I think not. The level continues high up in the clouds, where you bounce across the cumulonimbus avoiding the swarm of high-altitude pufferfish until you reach the boss, a large Cyclops who I ended up feeling sorry for after repeatedly kicking him in his eyeball. It just seemed like he wanted to be left alone, and I kicked him in the sclera. Sad, really. In a nice touch, his eye gets more bloodshot every time you kick it, which did nothing to assuage my feelings of guilt.
And so on to the final level, the villain's castle. Things start getting a bit Castlevania here, with the clockwork backgrounds, conveyor belts and floating skulls which perform the task of Castlevania's Medusa heads, i.e. to get right in your bloody way when you're jumping. A demon chases you across the first area, slamming into the floor so you can't jump properly. Once you've avoided him for a while, he goes for the head-on approach, and once you manage to knock his armour off he is defeated easily enough. There's a whole section of moving platforms with fat firebreathing men on them, which is nice and irritating, although mercifully short. And why are firebreathers in games always fat? Apart from Dhalsim, obviously. I digress. The final hurdle before the last boss is a group of five dragons that you fight one at a time: four of them are easy enough, but the purple one is a cheap son of a bitch who fills the whole screen with what I assume is a poisonous gas, leaving you no place to stand. It seems the only way to defeat his is to stand in front of him, mash punch and hope he runs out of health first. If he does, you reach the final boss, Mister three-eyed martial-arts vampire. Actually, I've decided he looks more like George Hamilton. Either way, he jumps around the room, throwing what look like CDs at you and trying to poke you with his nails, while a dragon looks on impassively from the background. He probably sees this kind of thing all the time. The story is so vague that this could be a weekly thing for these two guys, like playing squash to keep them supple, y'know, now they're getting on a bit. This fight is actually pretty good fun, and a lot of JCAKF is fun: it's nothing unique, but on the whole it does what it does well, with decent controls and a pretty good difficulty curve (bastard Yetis and purple dragons aside). The music is decent, occasionally veering into good (especially the ice cave level) and the graphics aren't terrible. I certainly don't regret playing through it all. Although I'm not at the end yet: after defeating the vampire, Jackie frees the woman that may or may not know him. However, the villain still lives, except now he's a giant spider. Jackie chases him on a flying cloud, avoiding the spider's boomerangs (well, they do have big spiders in Australia) and punching him in the thorax until he is defeated once and for all. The ending rolls, Jackie walks through the changing seasons of the year, and the programmers appear with their face placed over the heads of the enemies. It's pretty cool. Now, after kicking his way through a vast swathe of the animal kingdom, Jackie can finally rest, and so can I: I'm off to watch Wheels on Meals again. I advise you all to do the same.
P.S. Here's some Youtube gameplay footage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8EqJiSSq2NM