Kung Fu Master’s Spiritual Successor: Vigilante

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Vigilante was the lesser known sequel to the NES classic, Kung-Fu Master. Made by Irem in 1988 and later published by Data East in the U.S. Vigilante was based on a similar premise to it’s predecessor. The story line follows a wannabe Jackie Chan who’s paraplegic girlfriend (named Madonna… seriously) is kidnapped by a gang of “skinheads”. Not happy with the theft of his handicapped pop diva girlfriend Jackee Chun proceeds to wreak havoc against the multi-cultural ethnic and racial blend of racist skinheads. It is never explained why your girlfriend is kidnapped and though a sexual intention could always be inferred she tends to spend most of the game alone and asleep or prone in the back of a child molester van, continually driven away by her enslavers as you approach. In all fairness it never mentions that she is a T12 paraplegic but it’s either that, or she’s narcoleptic because the woman seriously never stands up throughout any part of the game.

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Though built off of the M75 Irem Motherboard, the game shares no visual similarity with any other Irem titles from that time period (Ninja Spirit, Adventure Island, Hammerin Harry, etc). Instead the game boasts a unique look of soft and almost pastel figures with harsh black outlines. The end result looking more like a blurry cut and paste sticker book than that of a typical video game. This look is probably what made this game most memorable for me, since it stood out as an early release title for the Turbo Grafix16. It was one of those arcade games you saw featured in a magazine but never had a chance to play, so I was more than happy to finally play this thing.

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Art direction wise, the game is a mixed bag of bizarre. Your main character is adorned in a classical Chinese kung-fu outfit yet the game takes place in what looks like a recession suffering urban slum. The city looks very similar to the crime ridden Detroit created in Robocop, complete with hole in the wall dive bars and hourly motels in the backdrop. The enemies seem aesthetically disconnected never really fitting the “skinhead” label given to them as a few of the gang members are actually black. Though I had a friend who was a Mexican skinhead this loose policy of admission is still hard to believe.
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Game play wise the game is clearly developed from the DNA of Kung-Fu. You scroll through the Flint, Michigan like slums of the city in a 2D plane while the opposing mob of skinheads attack from either side. Utilizing punch and kick buttons (and an occasional lost nunchaku waiting precariously on the sidewalk) you attempt to stave off never ending waves of armed and unarmed opponents while progressing forward much like an upstream trout, who like you, is just trying to get laid (see the Madonna plot line).
 
Like any sequel, the game play gets an upgrade with some added changes that bring an unexpected random dynamic into the fold. The jump kick in Vigilante is a flying side kick which, when timed correctly, actually recoils you back and away from your opponent placing you back out of attack range. This may seem minimal at first but this advent alone allows for some interesting back and forth combos where you can recoil off of one opponent’s face and then bounce back to punch another one in the head. What this adds to the experience is a small element of unpredictability since the recoil timing is specific and not a sure thing to pull off. Comparative to Kung-Fu Master, this element breaks up the repetitious monotony of taking on waves of similar opponents. Combine this with “Continue anywhere” game system and you have a game that endures past nostalgia and for longer than Kung-Fu.

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Though there’s nothing new about fighting waves of gang members, the AI still operates in a seemingly bizarre manner. It seems that every member of the skinhead gang learned to fight from the same male rape handbook since most of them seem preoccupied with groping you to death. I don’t understand why my character’s health is being drained as he is being gingerly caressed from behind, but I guess one could assume that such a task would indeed be physically draining. * RIM SHOT * This move is essential for the AI since these gropers also tie you up so that you can get stabbed or shot by another nearby opponent.
 
Crowd management is the predominant game strategy employed here against these enemies. Additional strategy lies in knowing your reach distance and timing the appropriate attack for the corresponding opponent. Throughout the course of the game you devise optimal take down tactics for the various gun toting, knife wielding, bike riding, rape choking, opponents and utilize them at will. 
 
Boss encounters, which occur at the end of each Level (5 in total) require learning the optimal attack that risks the least amount of damage, and repetitiously executing it perfectly. Overall a repetitive and sometimes monotonous endeavor which is happily broken up by the various different opponents and unexpected timing errors from trickier moves like the jump kick and jump punch. What seems like an overly simple and boring experience on paper is actually quite compelling and enjoyable when all strategies of game play are in use.

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The thing that makes this game ultimately enjoyable though is the continue system that it uses. Most games of this genre require you to start over at the beginning of the level when you continue, building a sense of anxiety and tension, that once broken by losing, makes you want to eat someone’s face off in sheer bath salt raging anger. Thankfully, that is not the case with this game. As long as you have another credit available you can continue at the exact point where you left off. Though this is typical of later 2.5D side scrolling brawlers (Double Dragon) it is great to play an old style single layer 2D brawler with this feature. For this reason alone, the game is accessible to play through without the commitment of mastery, making it a fun little retro jaunt for those that are interested. So grab a 6 pack and 15 minutes of spare time for an odd little quest against racist male rapists and save that crippled girl.
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