Titans have clashed, waves have crashed, skies have fallen, and in the midst of it all the unthinkable has happened. I think… I think – pending confirmation from The Guinness Book of World Records – I’ve found a game that’s actually worse than Top Banana. I’ll give you a moment for that to sink in. A bit longer. There we go.
What gives this potential award winner the edge over that hideous assault on the senses is that it’s a game released following a further four years and nine months worth of technological advances, and not even on the cusp of a seismic shift in gamer’s preferences and expectations. That horse had already bolted.
Kang-Fu stars a supremely resilient, battle-hardened fighting machine known as Klont, who just so happens to be a kangaroo, hence the punnerific title. Klont is also the name of a Russian drug, “A nitroimidazole used to treat amebiasis; vaginitis; trichomonas infections; giardiasis; anaerobic bacteria; and treponemal infections.” That’s probably not relevant. We’ll move on, shall we?
Championing his cause, it’s our mission to bound between 10 levels themed around particular countries, navigating the iconic scenery and monuments for which they are famous. All in an effort to recover our lost joeys, scattered haphazardly throughout the game and lazily drawn as shrunken carbon copies of Klont. Copy, paste, resize. Copy, paste, resize. I’m not joking, that was the design process!
Round up 10 joeys in each locale and it’s onto the next, providing you can find the obligatory colour-coded key required to access the exit door. Complicating matters further, a number of super-sized bosses serve as the gatekeepers.
So, a traditional 2D platformer then, released at a time when most gamers were craving 3D FPSs and the Amiga market had long-since flatlined. Well, at least with the benefit of having lived through the ‘Wonder Years’ this must surely turn out to be an exceptional new twist on the tired genre, push the envelope out in a boat, paddled with a raised bar.
Hmm, not quite. Digitised backgrounds and foreground objects blended with cartoony sprites and ropey, minimalist animation proves to be a recipe for disaster. Equally bizarre, tedious and car-crash-ugly as Top Banana, I can’t imagine that anyone would tolerate it long enough to find out if anything revolutionary is occurring under the hood.
In fact, the whole package from Dutch outfit, GREat Effects Development (aka GREED), is weird to the core. Why would anyone deliberately go out of their way to choose a company name based on its capacity for awkward acronym retrofitting when the result represents such a negative concept? When did greed become something to aspire to? Maybe the developers were big fans of the Wall Street movie, who knows?
As for the Dutch-kangaroo connection, let’s see. Australia was originally known as ‘New Holland’, the European name for the mainland region coined by Dutch seafarer, Abel Tasman, in 1644. In 1772 scouser George Stubbs oil-painted ‘The Kongouro from New Holland’, the first western illustration of an Australian mammal. Together with a ‘Portrait of a Large Dog’ it sold at auction for $9.3m AUD in 2012. That’s my best stab at it anyway. No idea if that’s at all relevant.
From the opening animation Kang-Fu sets out its stall as a showcase for cheap, ‘my first steps’ video production software. A 3D title and the company name hover in mid air, rotate on their axes before transitioning into the options menu. There fragments of the available selections emerge from the periphery of the screen, gravitating towards the centre to form the complete words. Upon making your choice they break apart in the opposite direction. All superimposed over a high resolution (for the time) image of a kangaroo.
Presumably, the same uprooted marsupial makes a return for the game over screen if you don’t drink enough energy replenishing coke bottles. Having become an ex-roo, all that remains to prove you existed at all is a fleshless carcass, overlaid with a set of jangly keywords by way of an obituary, again no doubt straight from GREED’s bumper special effects package.
From the manual – and duplicated on screen for anyone who pirated the game rather than mailing a cheque to Holland – we learn that…
“The aim of the game is to collect as many little kangaroos as possible, kill the enemies, collect the bonusses and find the exit to the next level. During his quest, Klont is harassed by all sorts of animals and objects which normally harass Kangaroos. They will do their best to sent Klont to Kangarooheaven as quickly as they can.”
Typical kangaroo foes like spaceships, Disneyfied bunny wabbits, sentient, billowing umbrellas, medieval-garbed bipedal dragons wielding spiked bo staffs, wasps, Amiga Boing balls, and cartoon cockerels. You know, the usual run of the mill motley crew you’d expect to find winding up the wildlife in the Aussie outback, along with a kangaroo doing an impression of Where’s Wally gone Postal!
“Enemies, animals and objects try to block your way and make your quest harder. But luckily there are numerous weapons and bonuses spread throughout the levels, such as guns, bombs, boomerangs, diamonds, bonuses and other stuff. Klont himself is not completely defenseless as he can kick or jump on enemies to squash them!”
Evidently, with the option (really a necessity) to engage the CD32’s extra joypad buttons, the opportunity to introduce a range of attacks not normally witnessed in platform games becomes a practical possibility. Not least a mechanical extendo-boxing-glove attack which could easily have been the kooky invention of eccentric child prodigy, Data, from the Goonies.
Klont can perform the Mario style head bounce on certain enemies, launch projectiles such as eggs (kangaroo eggs?), shoot various guns, punch and kick, and also recline back on his tail while he delivers a duel blow with his powerful hoppity devices. ‘Legs’ I believe they’re called in some parts of the globe. Versatile, yes? Fun, not so much.
Each attack is heralded by comedy caper sound effects in case you’d forgotten how absurd this all is. Using a single button joystick you’d switch between weapons by pulling back and down whilst firing, and even execute some of the moves using everyone’s favourite peripheral device destroying technique, joystick waggling! Which is awkward in practice to say the least.
With a CD32 pad connected the process is far simpler: you have one button assigned to bombs, another for high throws, a different coloured button to switch between weapons and also a separate one for firing. Jumping and kicking are independent functions taken care of using the shoulder buttons.
“If you rescue ALL the kangaroos in one level, without killing anyone, you get an extra life at the end of the level. Every 100 diamonds you have saved up Klont will trade into a bomb.”
Well, that’s certainly novel; a reward for not killing things in a platform game. Even Captain Planet and co. couldn’t lay claim to that benevolent accomplishment, and they’re bona fide, card-carrying members of the League of Niceness and Doily Craft.
Hang on a minute, the alternative way to play Kang-Fu is to collect 100 diamonds to earn a bomb. A bomb that you don’t deploy because you’ve chosen to refrain from killing enemies to accumulate extra lives. What use is an extended life if you’re not using it to snuff out baddies’ lives? Isn’t that the true meaning of life? The gift of release from it. That’s what playing Amiga games all these years has taught me anyway. There has to be a lesson in there somewhere.
“Now and then, Klont’s way is blocked by locks. Of course, he has to find the key with the corresponding color to open them. Look carefully, some of them are very well hidden.”
Good luck with that. Many people never get off the first level, although that may have more to do with losing the will to bounce, and abandoning the game entirely.
You’ll know when you’re reaching the limits of your endurance because Klont stops to take a cancer stick break; that’s the idle animation folks. Not an impatient foot tap or glance at a wristwatch, but an exercise in protracted kangicide. Fantastic message to be sending to any kids playing your game!
Exacerbating the frustration of foraging for buried keys, the levels are huge with unusually extended vertical scope. This makes it all the more irritating when you’re forced to manoeuvre our unresponsive hero into making a leap of faith and end up having to retrace your steps, bounding up platforms – some of them hidden – by accessing them from the edge.
Unlike the average platformer it’s not possible to jump up through platforms from beneath and land on them. It makes sense, of course, it’s just that we’re used to doing it the illogical way. Alleviating the punishment somewhat, at least the levels can be returned to with a password, averting the need to complete the whole game in one backside-numbing sitting. A feat I’m not sure if anyone has ever accomplished. Not for the benefit of a YouTube audience anyway.
In recognition of the gameplay’s truancy, the developers instead decided to deal the specs hyperbole card, particularly in their press releases and manual. Also, however, on their own Angelfire-hosted web site. Remember them from what was tantamount to the birth of the internet for many of us? They’re now owned by Lycos and still alive and kicking!
Yes, approaching the dawn of 1997 this was an Amiga game with an accompanying web site! How bizarre does that sound? A web site that against all the odds still exists 21 years later at exactly the same location.
Whilst these much-lauded features look extraordinary on paper, the game fails to benefit from them in any way. Apart from the protagonist, the sprites utilise few frames of animation, move with all the grace of a three-legged, geriatric bulldog and suffer from dubious collision detection. Jerky scrolling certainly doesn’t help its cause one iota.
Blending digitised graphics and interstitial screen watercolour paintings with cartoons it transpires is exceedingly jarring and ugly, only serving to make one appreciate pixel art creativity all the more. Years of beautiful craftsmanship washed down the drain in favour of ‘progress’! Bleh.
– 68020-060 compatibility
– enhanced graphics and sound using optional fastram
– hires gfx (non-interlaced) with approx. 1000 colours on-screen
– dual playfield with HAM (digitised HAM backgrounds in second playfield and digitised objects in foreground)
– 50 FPS update, fullframe scroll and objects
– 22 CDDA soundtracks
– joypad/joystick auto-detection
– full game manual (English/German) in-game, as well on CD in text format
Music is of the bland, unobtrusive elevator variety, which I’ll struggle to remember in a week’s time. It gets slightly more interesting when it takes on an oriental lilt. There’s an option to disable it entirely, although it’s so inoffensive I don’t know why you’d bother.
“The levels are not plain areas, they are real mazes with hidden galleries and invisible platforms. You do not only have to find the exit, some entrances are blocked with keys and you need the right combination of keys to open them, so a little puzzling is also involved! At the end of each level, you are confronted with a huge (really HUGE) end boss. They are about the largest you’ll ever see! Of course you have to kill them before they kill you!”
To be honest it would be a miracle if anyone ever gets to experience these monstrosities (refer back to my earlier point with regards to key scavenging and losing the will).
For the record, opening a door with a key of all things isn’t ‘puzzling’. Maybe if you’d swapped the key for a mystical emu that casts a spell on the door to make it sprout wings and fly away, it might count. Unfortunately, that only happens in the version that plays out in my head whenever my eyes glaze over and I drift off into… what were we talking about again? Gun-toting kangaroos, really?
“So the concept is not new or original, platform games have been around for almost 15 years now. But what is really exceptional about Kang Fu is that we have succeeded in making it the best platform game for the new generation of Amiga’s, the AGA machines.”
First of all, stop inserting apostrophes where there shouldn’t be any! You keep doing that. This isn’t a car boot stall, it’s supposed to be a professional, printed manual. There, it’s nice to get that off my chest.
In 1996 it was possibly the only full-priced platform game released for the Amiga. Ruffian and Tin Toy Adventure were far better games and more reasonably priced than Kang-Fu. Optimistically slapping a £24.99 price tag on this abomination was plain GREEDy. Ah, now it all becomes clear. Hoho, bet they’ve never heard that one before.
Great Effects Development were, in fact, better known – and respected – for their Amiga file system replacement software, Professional File System (PFS), which went on to spawn two follow-up overhauls. What they were doing dabbling with gaming is anyone’s guess. Incidentally, Kang-Fu was later bundled with the second edition of PFS, so there was no escape even for non-gaming Amigans. Hadn’t we suffered enough after the Commodore crash debacle? Apparently not.
“The technical specifications are really outstanding, we managed to get upto 1000 colors on screen, in highres, and dual playfield! Of course a game has to remain smoothly playable, so it is fullframe 8 way scrolling on all Amiga’s, not only the A4000’s but also the 2MB 1200 and CD32. All this is done on a full size, 640 * 280, screen!
If this sounds too good to be true, then have a look at a couple of our screenshots. Keep in mind that the screenshots are small and GIF is limited to only 256 colors, so the actual game looks much better than the screenshots!”
No, it doesn’t, it’s just more colourful. Again, they may be impressive stats… for a tech demo, except this is supposed to be a fun game, not a multimedia slideshow. A demo hits the mark if it stops you in your tracks, making you wonder how it was accomplished, or even if the punchline simply makes you smile. This one’s neither clever or amusing.
Under development in Enschede, Holland for two years, unbelievably Kang-Fu was the culmination of ten developer’s handiwork. First previewed via non-playable video demonstration in July 1996 due to missed magazine publication deadlines, Kang-Fu didn’t get off to the most auspicious start.
It was finally unmasked in December 1996 to a dwindling chorus of crickets and windswept tumbleweeds, at least where the game-buying public were concerned. Surprisingly a fair few UK and foreign magazines put Kang-Fu through its paces, and more shocking still, some of them actually liked it! I suppose there’s always the possibility they’d just watched the 1978 comedy, Mathilda, got a bit confuddled and thought they were reviewing that instead.
Regardless, post-Commodore collapse, GREED struggled to find a UK publisher. That would explain why their one and only game was available solely via mail order from Clogsland, and the outro-teased sequel never materialised.
Only one of these scenes was taken from the game. I’ll give you two guesses.
“Overall, the graphics and the animation in particular are really good. From the main movement of the kangaroo sprites to the animation of drinking and picking up objects, you will be really impresses (Oops! Typo alert). The enemies are equally as good.
The presentation is excellent and there are a great number of options available. The introduction sequence explains the game well, and is accompanied by lots of gratuitous pictures of kangaroos in various fields. Which is nice.
The only problem is the playability. It’s certainly not as good as it should be, although the graphics more than make up for the slight glitches. At times there can be too much on-screen at once, causing major confusion, and it’s very challenging. You’ll have to be a platform master to finish this one.
If you fancy giving your CD32 a new lease of life, you won’t go far wrong with Kang Fu. It’s certainly one of the better platform games to come out over the last six months.”
80% – Amiga Computing (November 1996)
Andy Maddock. There, named and indeed shamed. What on earth were you smoking? I know it was approaching the season of goodwill and all that jazz…
Over the salty pond we know as the North Sea the reviews were even more extreme. Extremely, positively suspect. You’ll find the references on GREED’s own web site. *Psst* they likely made them up themselves.
“Graphically Kang Fu is a complete mess, as you can see from these screenshots. The green, purple and brown colour scheme is like a visual equivalent of smelling salts. If that wasn’t enough to give you a raging headache then the jerky sprites and scrolling are sure to finish the job. Despite all of this I still managed to glean some fun from this rather sad little game.
Maybe it’s just the universal appeal of a platform game that won me over, or maybe it’s my love of marsupials that is to blame. If you’re not so fascinated by kangaroos and would rather retain the sight in both your eyes, this is probably not for you. However, interested parties should contact the address above as at the moment it has no official UK supplier. By the way, it’s not CD32 compatible, which is a shame.”
60% – CU Amiga (December 1996)
A CD32 game that’s not compatible with the CD32? That would be ludicrous even by GREED’s standards. Maybe Mark Forbes didn’t read about the shoddy workaround in the manual.
“This is THE machine for gameplay, everyone knows that and there can’t be any excuse for software of this lamentable standard appearing in the latter half of 1996. If it had appeared in 1986 it would be forgivable (it still wouldn’t score well, but at least you could appreciate what they were trying to do), but nowadays it looks and plays like a joke.
The only really good thing is that the game comes from Holland. From this address in fact: Kang Fu, ALTER Interservice, Hagegracht 68, 7607 EE Almelo, the Netherlands. And hopefully just having to write that out on an envelope will prove to be too much effort, so you won’t bother. Especially when you stop and remember that you’ve got to write a cheque out as well and put that in the envelope as well.
Maybe Great Effects Development will get it all right in Kang Fu 2 (which would have to be a completely different game if it were to score any higher than this lamentable effort), but if that ever comes into the office when we’ve got some good Reader Games to look at, guess which one’s going be waiting ’til last?”
20% – Amiga Format (December 1996)
See, I said that, the bit about 1996. What are the chances? Andy Smith is a pro who got paid for this gig so he knows what he’s talking about. Told you so, told you so.
If any of this seems overly harsh, you only have to glance around at what else was available on other platforms in the same year to put it all in perspective. 1996 was practically the space age of the future to a gamer emerging from the dying embers of Amigaville. Highlighting some notable releases there was Duke Nukem 3D, Civilization II, Super Mario RPG, Resident Evil, Warcraft II: Beyond the Dark Portal, Quake, Super Mario 64, Command & Conquer: Red Alert, Tomb Raider, and Diablo. When you’ve finished crying we’ll continue.
For any die-hard Amigans still clinging to the misguided notion of a corporate saviour crawling out of the proverbial woodwork, there was Kang-Fu; a game that would only run following a clunky CD drive bodge, one of four potential ways to execute the disc depending on your configuration.
“Turn on CD32 and insert CD, but WAIT until the music has played before closing the lid. The game will boot automatically once the lid is closed. The game otherwise will not boot due to a CD32 bug, which will not free system memory as it should.”
If you can launch it at all – real and emulated Amigas struggle even today – you’ll wait an eternity for it to load into memory. If it finally does, you’ll really wish you hadn’t wasted precious time that could have been put to better use… baking a kangaroo pie, for instance. Bring back Top Banana, all is forgiven!