Video games have never been above cashing in on Lee’s image, either, with results similar to those of the Brucespolitation films. Some of the knock-offs have come into their own (like Street Fighter’s Fei Long), but most have deservedly faded into obscurity. Hudson Soft’s China Warrior is one such game, remembered, when it’s remembered at all, as one of the worst games available at the TurboGrafx-16’s launch.
China Warrior’s badness is mitigated–only slightly–by two factors. First, it was already two years old when the TurboGrafx-16 was launched, having been originally released in 1987 for the PC-Engine as The Kung-Fu. Second, it’s not hard to imagine that the game was largely intended as a tech demo to show off the TurboGrafx’s ability to render much larger and more detailed character sprites than what was available on the NES.
In the second case, at least, China Warrior succeeds. Main character Wang does look pretty good (despite his freakishly small feet), and actually shows damage in the form of blood around his mouth and ribs as his health depleats. While most of the other enemy characters are generic guys in robes, the bosses, which are pallet swapped and reused extensively, also look good despite their stiff animations. (In a weird bit of world-building, every color variation is given a unique character name during the ending sequence.)
It’s a shame, then, that China Warrior’s gameplay squanders any goodwill that the graphics might inspire. The basic conceit is similar to that of the vastly superior Kung-Fu for the NES. Wang automatically walks from left to right (though you can stop by ducking) while you kick or punch enemies that generally appear in groups of two or three. There are also projectiles that mysteriously fly at you from off screen, and you can either dodge them, or punch or kick them for bonus points and, occasionally, health regenerating items. Each stage ends with a boss fight during which the game plays more like a bargain basement Karateka than a bargain basement Kung-Fu.
All that might be all right on its own, but the controls are a real mess. Unlike Kung-Fu, which allowed you to dispatch enemies with rapid-fire kicks and punches, China Warrior seems to go for greater realism by forcing you to wait a second or so between each attack. That’s acceptable during the slow boss fights, but when a pack of enemies is coming at you quickly, you’ll usually end up taking extra damage because it’s just not possible to attack fast enough to take them all out before they get to you.
Even though it feels like the entire control scheme was built around the boss fights, they’re still not any fun. There’s a rudimentary blocking system, which really just consists of cancelling your opponent’s attack by performing the same attack at the same time. You can also execute a couple of special movies by successfully landing a blow after taking two or three hits in a row without attacking. Other than that, the only strategy is just to stick and move, and hope that the poor collision detection doesn’t result in you taking more hits than you dish out (which it usually does).
Despite all its flaws, China Warrior is as hard to hate as it is to like. You can tell that it once would have just barely succeeded as a graphical showpiece, and it’s fun to see a game actually try to include some more exotic fighting styles, like snake and drunken, even if neither turns out to be impressively executed. Time has rendered the game virtually unplayable, but China Warrior feels less like an affront to humanity, and more like a mediocre game that has aged especially poorly. It’s not worth your time, but it probably won’t make you want to enact some of Bruce Lee's iconic violence on your TurboGrafx, either.