Looking back at Konami’s Shao-Lin’s Road

News Ryan Lambie 17 Dec 2010 - 15:50

Konami’s strange and downright mad platform brawler Shao-Lin’s Road is the latest 80s arcade classic to get the retrospective treatment…

Having already showered Yie Ar Kung-Fu in nostalgic love in a previous Den of Geek entry, it would be downright rude not to acknowledge the existence of Konami’s other great fighting game from 1985, Shao-Lin’s Road, also known as Kicker.

A marriage of simplistic Kung-Fu Master-style combat and platformer, Shao-Lin’s Road was, if anything, a better, more addictive game than the influential Yie Ar Kung-Fu. Playing as a character who looks remarkably similar to Yie Ar’s Oolong, the aim is to clear each screen of leaping, high-kicking enemies.

Like classic run-and-gunner Rolling Thunder, released the following year, enemies suddenly appear from doors in the background, and since even the slightest touch from a bad guy will relieve your character of a chunk of energy, swift reactions are required to avoid them and deliver a defensive foot to the face.

After every third screen, a boss will appear, each boasting their own special moves and requiring several hits to kill. An athletic chap with a ponytail shows up, followed by a comely lady in a slinky dress, then a warrior in a Kabuki mask, a burly thug with a shield and chain, and finally a Brian Blessed look-alike in full kung-fu regalia.

In what appears to be a hallmark of Konami games circa 1985, the tempo of Shao-Lin’s Road is quite, quite mad. Accompanied by a warbling tune that rivals Yie Ar Kung-Fu in terms of 8-bit catchiness, Shao-Lin’s Road plays like the videogame equivalent of a Benny Hill sketch.

As assailants attack you from every angle – rushing in from the sides, dropping down from above or hopping up from platforms below – the overall feeling of panic and anarchy is almost giggle inducing. And the more hits you take, the faster the music and action gets, reaching a dizzying apogee of jangly music and leaping men in green trousers.

To even the odds, there are a series of superb limited-time-only power-ups, including little green laser bolts that emanate from your crotch, and a huge spiked ball that, if launched and then retrieved quickly enough, can be used as a powerful, homicidal yoyo that takes down entire rows of enemies at a time.

So dangerously compelling and addictive is Shao-Lin’s Road, it’s odd to note just how few other games emulated its ideas and manic energy. Sure, the game appeared on a few home computers at the time, and even lives on in Microsoft’s Games Room, but Konami never attempted to create a sequel to Shao-Lin’s Road, and its blend of platformer and knock-about violence doesn’t appear to have been replicated elsewhere.

There’s a vague whiff of Shao-Lin’s Road about Sega’s Shinobi, though that’s more like a ninja-themed Rolling Thunder than a close-quarters kung-fu platformer, with its throwing stars and scrolling levels.

To date, few 2D games have managed to replicate Shao-Lin’s pace or sense of claustrophobia. With everything occurring in one densely packed, barely scrolling screen, the feeling is of being trapped in an airing cupboard with a scurry of feral squirrels, and its precisely this joyous sense of chaos that makes Shao-Lin’s Road one of the most addictive, compelling games of 1985. A true arcade delight.

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