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Retro Friday: You must defeat Oolong to stand a chance

When people think 1-on-1 fighter, the image of a white clad Ryu and a red clad Ken aren't far behind. And if you're a video game historian, you'll know that that those colour choices aren't an accident. Old gamers like me, still remember a game called International Karate, which featured the two dressed in white and red kicking each others teeth in. It wasn't the first game to pit two fighters against each other in a tournament style setting - that honor goes to Karate Champ - it's legacy is felt even today thanks to those white and red colour palettes.

Veterans of M. Gaffoors cornershop, will tell you that while International Karate did indeed have a minor impact on the competitive fighting genre, the game that effectively set the rule for how the genre would work is Konami's Yie Ar Kung-Fu.


Unquestionably the most popular fighting game of the 1980s, Yie Ar Kung-fu played very primitively when you compare it to what we see in fighting games today. The game had only two buttons, one for punches and one for kicks, yet despite that meager selection of inputs the protagonist, Oolong, still had a surprisingly varied collection of martial arts techniques. Moves were executed by pointing the joystick in a direction while also pressing a button, giving Oolong sixteen different maneuvers. The game didn't have a combo system as we think of it now, but every attack did briefly stun opponents providing a brief window for a follow-up attack. As an arcade game, hungry for your 2-bops, chances are that you were more likely to be on the receiving end of such beat downs. The inability to block didn't help either, with the best way to avoid attacks being to, um, avoid attacks by quickly performing the games signature long range jumps, which could carry you across the entire screen.

Yie Ar Kung-fu's biggest contribution to the competitive fighting game, though is the introduction of a varied character roster for Oolong to battle, all with their own look, personality and combat techniques; and very specific strategies to defeat them. Despite the large roster of twelve characters, Oolong was the only one playable one, understandable, considering the level of technology at the time.


Many of the characters from Yie Ar Kung-fu had a subtle influence on the characters that would eventually become mainstays in other popular fighters that would follow. The fan-tossing woman, Fan, dressed up in a sexy red dress, being an obvious influence on the design of SNK's Mai Shiranui. Sadly, Yie Ar Kung-fu never got to develop as a franchise, despite getting sequel within a year of it's release.

It's true that only old arcade hounds like myself even remember the game, but watching it in motion, it's hard to deny its influence on the genre that it helped establish.

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