Format reviewed: Sega Master System
Publisher: Acclaim Entertainment Inc.
Developer: Virgin Interactive Entertainment Ltd.
Submitted by: Lee Tatlock
The master system has no shortage of scrolling beat ‘em ups from the sublime; Streets of Rage I & II, Kung Fu Kid, Blackbelt, etc, to the god awful; My Hero, Running Battle and so on and so forth (sorry to anyone who actually like them but my opinion will never change). Then there are those games that sit firmly in the middle of the genre and don’t do much to eke out any emotion from the player, for better or worse, and Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story is like the ringleader of these inbetweeners.
Sitting next to its buddy Renegade, Dragon puts you in the role of the ultimate master of the one inch punch and the blurring nunchaku; Bruce Lee, sand with such high calibre talent to draw from you’re probably wondering how Dragon ends up being the arch duke of meh…yeah me too. Well let us try and solve this mind boggling mystery through the power of the review! I’m not promising any conclusive answers but I’ll give it my best shot.
Now one could argue that you are actually playing the role of Jason Scott Lee who in turn played the role of Bruce Lee in the movie, and I’d be quite happy to stick with that to save sullying the good name of the master of Jeet Kune Do any further. So straight off you’ll notice that the graphics are quite good but your main character “Jason” is more than slightly diminutive and when you meet a boss they are all, for some bizarre reason, complete goliaths. I don’t pretend to understand this mix up in size and scale but I do wish that all the sprites where nice and chunky like these bosses, I think it would have given the game more umf from the get go, Anyway, how does our pint-sized protagonist manoeuvre? Does he have the incredible reflexes you’d expect or is he about as nimble as a legless turtle sinking in a bowl of wallpaper paste? Well, honestly, he is much like the game; mediocre in the speed department, flying kicks feel a little weak and you even have to press both buttons and forward to pull them off! Other moves follow a similar pattern to Rise to Honour featuring Jet Li on the PS2, if you press the attack button nothing happens but press it with a direction on the d-pad and you will pull of one of a whole range of moves not normally available to your average 8-bit characters. This is a rather good point and I was actually wondering before I received this game in the post how the makers could even attempt to make the character as diverse as its namesake, and fair enough they were never going to completely pull it off with the technology on hand but they’ve done the very best they could considering. Examples of a few of these moves are as follows: speedy mid-punches, round house kicks, leg sweeps, spinning back fists and snapping face kicks. It works like Barbarian to anyone unfamiliar with Rise to honour and it works very well. So that’s a thumbs up to the moves. So what about the rest of the manoeuvres? Well jumps are adequate and work similarly to Shinobi in that you have you normal jumps and the ability to super jump up onto normally unreachable ledges, and again this works very well.
Moving swiftly on, as I’ve spent far too much time on control mechanics than the game actually deserves, I’m going to concentrate on level design. This is what I consider to be the main crux of the games mediocrity. Firstly although the graphics are pretty tight the levels feel more than a little uninspired and bland. That isn’t to say that they are sparse but rather a bit on the dull side, and they all go a little like this: you mooch along kicking the odd bad guy until you reach a point where the camera stops and you must face a screen full of said bad guys. Once these miscreants are dealt with you move on in a similar fashion with the exception of jumping over the odd bunch of spikes or whirring circular blades, depending on the level you’re on, then you may face another screen of baddies until eventually you meet one of the giant bosses then it’s onto the next level. One decent little thing that I like is that each level is has the odd barrel or block of ice that you can punch or kick across the level to take out bad guys, but be careful as they ricochet and you could come a proper cropper!
Sound effects are next up and they are your usual 8-bit crunches and crackles but music is strangely missing from the mix. This is another thing that definitely takes away from any possible atmosphere that the levels attempt to impose. It’s all a bit of a mystery as to why the soundtrack is missing, I’ve seen better looking games than this and each has a good old tune thumping in the background so I reckon it has more to do with laziness than hardware constraints. It reminds me of the total horror that is Wolfchild; a pretty little game it may have been but it was a total void as far as music was concerned…come to think of it your main character in both of these titles is a completely miniscule…is there some dark wizardry at work here?
Right let’s end this before I become consumed by none existent conspiracy theories. Overall Dragon just doesn’t cut the mustard as it should, and more than this is feels like a proper missed opportunity not just as a game but also in doing justice to a proper hero of the silver screen, and a master of the human body and spirit. It’s not a total loss, it’s not uncontrollable, it’s not hideous to behold, but neither is it exciting, engaging or something you’ll come back to once the inevitable credits roll to completion. Oh well…NEXT!