Many video game fans believe that 1992’s Mortal Kombat was the first fighting game to use digitized sprite graphics. Others recognize Atari’s 1990 hit Pit-Fighter as the premiere beat ‘em up boasting the technology. The truth is that a rather obscure title, released mostly in Japan, beat them both to the punch! Reikai Doshi: Chinese Exorcist, which translates roughly to ‘Priest of the Spirit World’, launched in September of 1988 to little fanfare, despite being rather unique and fresh. The game was later released stateside as The Last Apostle Puppet Show, but its distribution was so poor and limited, it is doubtful that you encountered a unit.
Not only was it the first fighting game to use digitized graphics, it was also the first one-on-one combat game to make use of motion capture animation. Furthermore, it was the debut video game to feature claymation and puppets. Not hand puppets mind you, but more like marionettes dangling from strings, reminiscent of the stop motion animation. Compare them to bobble headed wooden puppets often seen in children’s programming such as the famous Rankin Bass Christmas specials. Is it possible that the game’s clay- mation inspired the Goro character in Mortal Kombat?
More fascinating is the back story of the game. In this far east fighter, you play as a Chinese exorcist battling your way up a mountain against an army of oriental demons known as Kyonshi, the Japanese equivalent of the Chinese Jiangshi. These demons are reanimated corpses that have frightened Chinese children for generations
through lore and legend. The character for “jiang” translates to “stiff” implying that rigor mortis, or postmortem rigidity, caused the limbs of the corpse to stiffen, resulting in zombie- like creatures that have to hop about with their arms out- stretched to maintain simple mobility. Ancient folklore decrees that when such dire creatures happen upon the living, they kill and absorb the “qi”, or life force. Hence, the term hopping vampire.
Such stories are thought to have resulted from tales of Taoist priests who would conduct a ritual to reanimate a cadaver and teach it to hop home so that it could be buried among family and friends. In truth, corpses were arranged in single file and upright, tied to long bamboo rods, and carried long distances on the shoulders of the living. However, when the bamboo expanded and contracted while in motion, it gave the impression that the corpses were hopping when viewed from a distance.
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