We often assume that simplistic games don’t have a very rich history, but Spartan X is a perfect example of why this isn’t true. It acted not only as a door to a brand new genre that would rule a large portion of the late 80s and 90s, a potential pathway to multiple world-changing games, a licensed game (sort of) and a transitional game for some notable individuals. When playing “Kung Fu” (the name that it was released under in the US) on my NES as a kid around 1988, I was unable to get past the third floor and would think “This game seems a little primitive…” (little did I know at the time how old the game itself actually was). I truly had no idea how significant what I was playing actually was.
Spartan X was an Irem developed arcade game in 1984, released overseas by Data East as “Kung-Fu Master”. It served as one of the earliest example of a side-scrolling “beat-em-up” game (or “belt scrolling action” in Japan), a genre that would absolutely blow up in popularity in both arcades and on consoles over the next several years. The premise is simple: You move the main character Thomas left and right (you can also crouch and jump) on a single plane to progress through a level, punching and kicking your way through groups of various types of enemies (regular martial artists, knife throwing martial artists, midgets, small snakes that burst from balls, and even moths that fly out of holes in the wall) and eventually level bosses (Or “Sons of the Devil”, as they were called in the arcade game). You’ll do this over the course of the five floors of the “Devil’s Temple” until you reach Mr. X, who is holding Thomas’ girlfriend Sylvia hostage. After rescuing her you’ll get a brief ending, but you’ll then loop back through the game with increased difficulty, a number next to a dragon icon indicating which loop you are on (at least in the Famicom version).
|A screenshot for the arcade version of Spartan X, for comparison purposes.||The box art for the Famicom version, featuring a character that is probably supposed to look like Jackie Chan.|