Monday, 1 January 2018

Game Review: Dragon - The Bruce Lee Story (Sega Mega Drive/Genesis)

There are many conflicting opinions online surrounding the abilities of Bruce Lee, martial artist and famed screen actor, ranging from serious analytical analysis of the man's abilities as a martial artist by informed commentators, to YouTube comments that furiously disagree over who Lee could beat/be beaten by in any number of hypothetical, not to mention improbable, scenarios. Whatever your personal opinions are about Lee and his abilities, there's no denying the impact he had on the film industry, especially in the martial arts movie genre.

Tragically, Lee died all too prematurely in 1973 at the age of 32 following the release of the film that would catapult him to international stardom. Despite his passing, his legend as a martial arts film star continued to endure, continuing to influence martial arts movies for decades to come.

Such is the allure of Lee's on-screen appeal and legend (rightly or wrongly) as a martial artist that a it would lead to production of a movie aimed to chronicle his life and achievements. Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story entered theatres in 1993 and went straight to number 1 at the box office, grossing over $63 million world-wide. Whilst it performed well, it drew criticism from many corners for not being particularly accurate, particular in respect of the fight scenes that never actually occurred in reality.

It should come as no surprise that a video game was developed as an official tie-in to the film's release, launching initially on the Atari Jaguar in '94, with Mega Drive and SNES releases following a year later. The game is a round-based, tournament fighting game in similar vein to the likes of Capcom's Street Fighter, with the main attraction being a story mode that (mostly) follows the plot of the film. Each fight scene involves a showdown between Bruce and a key adversary (or adversaries - there are fights where Bruce must fight multiple opponents at once) and the only way to progress is to defeat said opponent.

Much like the film on which it is based, the game starts to deviate from the source on which it's based by throwing in fights from characters that either don't feature in the film, or simply don't take place (i.e. the fight with Han on set of Enter the Dragon). There's the inclusion of a black fighter who bears an uncanny resemblance to Jim Kelly (Enter the Dragon) whom, to my knowledge, never actually features in the film, as well as a pair of staff-wielding females that definitely do not appear in the film (I think I'd had remembered a pair of leather-clad dominatrix' trying to beat Lee to a pulp).

Criticising the game for such inaccuracies probably matters precious little when the movie on which it's based was hardly a factual documentary to begin with, but it is justifiable to criticise the game for the blatant palette swap of our aforementioned, Jim Kelly-wannabe, who features later in the game and feels like a thinly veiled attempt to pad out the limited content on offer.

The game culminates in a final stand-off between Bruce and the Phantom, a giant samurai in full armour, brandishing a fearsome naginata. I don't recall what the purpose of the Phantom actually was, other than to provide a climatic "boss fight" at the end of the movie; I assumed it was some supposed  quasi-existential manifestation of Bruce's inner fears, but I'm not sure if this is accurate or not. In any case, only one man is going to walk away from this particular fight, so you better get handy with your nunchaku if you intend to be the last man standing.

If you complete the story mode (or just get bored of it) then there's also a series of versus modes available where you can fight against a friend in 1-on-1 competitions, or fight it out in a 3-way battle against each other, or CPU opponents. Unfortunately, the only character you can choose in any of the game's modes is Bruce himself - all of the opponents that you face in the story mode have their own roster of moves, including special attacks, so they could easily have been included as playable characters.

One of the game's signature mechanics is the stance system that enables Bruce to adopt alternate fighting stances mid-bout, providing access to different fighting moves and abilities. Normal mode is the most balanced of the three, giving access to a range of punches, kicks and, most crucially, the ability to block opponent's attacks. Fighter mode increases Bruce's agility and ability to deliver successive lightning-quick blows at the cost of defence, whilst Nunchaku mode enables Bruce to whip out a pair of nunchuks and lay some serious beat-down on his foes with longer ranged attacks.

The ability to activate different modes is restricted by Bruce's Chi level (bar below the main health bar). Each of the modes can only be activated when the Chi level has reached the appropriate segment in the bar and you can only earn Chi by landing multiple, successive strikes on your opponent without taking damage in return.

Like the rest of the game, the actual combat is pretty average. There's a sense of satisfaction if you manage to land enough blows to knock your opponent down (with equally satisfying crunch and accompanying screen-shake), but I found it difficult to judge the distance at which many of the punches or kicks would connect. Whilst it is technically possible to land a combo of punches or kicks on an opponent, they usually respond with counterattacks of their own that result in the fight devolving into an ungraceful slug-fest.

The game features some reasonable graphics and artwork, particularly in relation to the actual fighter sprites. I believe that Jaguar was the lead platform for the game and that features the best visuals of all versions available, but  this version features parallax scrolling present on the arena floors and in the background, although I did notice an error on the restaurant stage where you can clearly see the scrolling layer behind the restaurant door cuts off when the camera moves to the extreme right of the stage.

As for sound, one of the most memorable things about Bruce Lee was the howls and hoots he would make to unnerve his opponents whilst fighting, which have been included in the game as reasonably clear speech samples. Players that manage to execute the infamous neck break/rib-cracking stomp will be treated to a suitably crunching sound effect that hits home the brutality of the move.

I remember renting the game from a local video store not long after the game's release. In hindsight, this was probably the right decision as you'll probably have exhausted all that this game has to offer in the space of weekend. Play it against a friend and you might be able to eke a few additional hours of enjoyment from it, but this is a fairly average game that offers no serious competition to titles such as those from from Capcom or SNK.

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