Spartan X

Platforms: Famicom/NES
Released: 06/21/1985 (Japan), 10/1985 (US), 04/15/1987 (PAL)
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Japanese Name: スパルタンX
Localized Name US: Kung Fu

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 - Third BossSpartan X - Sylvia
The third boss from the Famicom version,
Mr. Clean?
Do it!

Though Spartan X began as an arcade game, time seems to have remembered the Famicom version a little bit better. In fact Nintendo themselves were responsible for the development and publishing of Spartan X on the Famicom, with Shigeru Miyamoto himself as the director, producer and designer. Longtime Nintendo programmer Toshihiko Nakagou was responsible for the programming, and famed composer Koji Kondou did the music. Miyamoto apparently appreciated the arcade game for its use of colors and scrolling, making him want to see it faithfully converted to the Famicom. It may have even acted as inspiration to him in the development of Super Mario Bros, his first scrolling game. Though it lost some of the colors, bits of the story (not that there was a lot of story in the first place, but games at this time didn’t tend to have much of any story outside of their manuals) and the nice touch that was calling the temple and bosses “Devil’s Temple” and “Sons of the Devil”, this ended up being a very faithful arcade conversion for a Famicom game in 1985. The punching, kicking, crouching and jumping action all feels right, and they even went all out with preserving the voice that appears in the game. Thomas lets out a grunt when punching and a classic Bruce Lee shout when kicking. Even more impressive is that the sinister laughter found in the arcade game when being shown Sylvia held captive is still in tact (though it’s somewhat less sinister in the Famicom version), as well as the different laughs that you hear if you’re defeated by a boss. Playing with two players alternating was also made possible, and Nintendo even created A and B modes for the game. Both are the same game, but the B mode ramps up the difficulty as the enemies do considerably more damage.

Spartan X - MothsSpartan X - Mr. X
Yes, your foes DO in fact include moths
coming out of holes in the wall!
The fearsome Mr. X is a
surprisingly normal looking guy…

Beat-em-ups would get more complex from here, but that doesn’t make Spartan X any less fun to play. It’s extremely easy to complete the game in less than ten minutes once you know to handle each boss and enemy type, even if you’re not particularly skilled at beat-em-ups. If you want to check out the console version of Spartan X/Kung Fu and don’t have the NES or attractive purple Famicom cartridge…well you’re out of luck! Despite this version being a Nintendo developed game, it never made it to any version of the Virtual Console (perhaps due to the movie tie-in or Irem being the original developer).