In the world of martial arts, no name looms quiet so large as that of Bruce Lee. Born in the Year of the Dragon in the Hour of the Dragon, he was the creator of Jeet Kune Do (Way of the Intercepting Fist) and a star of film and television. He was Lee in the legendary film Enter the Dragon, and Kato in TV’s The Green Hornet. His tragic death at age 32 has spawned countless myths and conspiracy theories (his son Brandon Lee’s death 20 years later only fueled this fire). Numerous books and films have been devoted to his life and legacy, so it should come as no surprise that he would also be the star of a classic video game.
The plot of the game, simply titled Bruce Lee, was somewhat similar to the unfinished 1972 film Game of Death, where Lee played Hai Tien. In the film, Lee’s character must fight his way through a five story pagoda to steal to a treasure as ransom for his kidnapped brother and sister. Part way through the filming of Game of Death, Lee received the offer that turned into Enter the Dragon. The unfinished film also became the inspiration for the 1984 Data East arcade game Kung Fu Master.
Developed for the Atari 8-bit family and released in 1984, Bruce Lee was a game that combined both platformer and beat ‘em up elements into one addictive game. It was created by Ron J. Fortier and released by Datasoft. Players controlled Lee as he worked his way through various chambers on his way to defeat an evil sorcerer. Along the way he had avoid various hazards (electrical shocks, explosions, and more), fight off the Black Ninja and his bokken stick, and defeat Yamo, an unarmed, sumo-like warrior who was surprisingly light on his feet. Both Yamo and the ninja appeared repeatedly, attempting to chip away at Lee’s five lives (with each life lasting three hits, but only one explosion or shock). Players also had to collect lanterns throughout the chambers to gain access to different areas. A two player mode allowed players to alternate controlling Lee, or face off head-to-head as Yamo and Lee. Defeat the sorcerer at the end, and you gain infinite wealth and immortality.
The game was popular enough that it eventually made its way to a number of other systems, including the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Apple II, and the Amstrad CPC.
Almost forty five years to the day since he died, Bruce Lee still remains the gold standard by which all other martial artists and martial arts movie stars are judged. At their best, actors like Jackie Chan, Jet Li, or Tommy Jaa still stand in the shadow of The Dragon. For gamers, the video game Bruce Lee is a small way to share in that legacy.