The wonderful world of Yie Ar Kung-Fu

Konami’s seminal beat-em-up, Yie Ar Kung-Fu is 25 years old. We look back at the game’s hot fighting history…

Forget Street Fighter. Balls to Tekken. You can keep Dead Or Alive, Soul Calibre and Mortal Kombat. For pure retro one-on-one beat-em-up joy, look no further than Konami’s 1985 arcade classic, Yie Ar Kung-Fu.

In fairness to all those other fighting games I’ve just carelessly dismissed, Yie Ar Kung-Fu is rather basic by today’s standards. Like so many games of the 80s, it has to be seen in the context of its time – back then, there were hardly any one-on-one brawlers, and certainly no Spinning Bird Kicks or Hundred Hand Slaps, no online competition modes or unlockable characters.

For sheer trailblazing originality, Yie Ar Kung-Fu is actually quite underrated. Technos’ Karate Champ beat Konami’s fighting game to the arcade by one year, with its pyjama-clad characters kicking and punching one another to a pulp in a sparsely sketched-in dojo, but it was Yie Ar Kung-Fu that contained most of the elements that we still associate with the genre today.

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Its range of moves was, for the time, unprecedented, with flying kicks, punches and blocks all unleashed with simple combinations of a button press and one of the joystick’s eight directions. The game’s range of colourful enemies is now a familiar sight in modern fighting games, but was quite a novelty in the mid-80s – there were lumbering sumo wrestlers, various warriors armed with chains, clubs, swords and throwing stars, and a character called Feedle who could clone himself and attack from both sides.

My favourite aspect of Yie Ar Kung-Fu, though, is its camp atmosphere, which evokes an entire generation of straight-to-video kung-fu movies, from its Bruce Lee-a-like protagonist to its occasional flashes of Jackie Chan-style humour. An accurately-placed kick to the nether regions of lumbering wrestler Buchu results in a bulging pair of eyes and an incongruous speech sample (“ni hao” which, Wikipedia tells me, means “hello”).

Defeat an opponent, and they’re left lying on their back, legs in the air, like mortified road kill. As you make your way through the roster of bad guys, the introductory screen before each fight is littered with an ever-growing row of the thwarted.

Then there’s the jingly, faintly manic oriental theme tune, which matches the frantic pace of the combat perfectly. Yie Ar Kung-Fu isn’t the most refined or tactical fighting game ever made (its rock/paper/scissors mechanics are painfully obvious at all times, in fact, and most fights are won through a mixture of jumping, mid-kicks and a bit of luck), but its relentless, rapid-fire tempo is entertainingly comical.

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As basic as Yie Ar Kung-Fu is by modern standards, it’s remained one of the fighting genre’s most enduring retro gems, appearing on all manner of platforms, from the ZX Spectrum to Xbox Live Arcade, and even spawning a rather perplexing website called The Faces Of Oolong, which I don’t fully understand.

Classic oddball shooter Sexy Parodius devoted an entire stage to the world of Yie Ar Kung-Fu, complete with an appearance from hero Oolong (who now wears pink trousers), and a fabulous rendition of the game’s sparkly theme tune.

Best of all, Yie Ar Kung-Fu is beloved enough to have spawned its own tribute rap, which really is too marvellous for words. “The pioneer of hand-to-hand fighting games, Yie Ar Kung-Fu! Yeah!”

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