China Warrior occupies a unique place in the annals of video game history: In performing some research prior to writing this review, I learned China Warrior was the featured game in a television ad making a side-by-side comparison between the TurboGrafx-16, China Warrior's console, and an NES which was showing Kung Fu. It was an appropriate comparison, as the two games were very similar to each other. I don't remember ever seeing those commercials – find me someone who does – but I assume they showed the large, colorful characters in the Turbo game making Kung Fu look like a game designed for the kiddies. Who won the comparison contest? In the technical sense, Nintendo won because NEC's machine never caught on. But in the gaming sense, your favorite metaphorical bad guys of choice won. I've played both China Warrior and Kung Fu and they both sucked. If you're a Kung Fu fan who has never played China Warrior, I envy you. You're about to learn why you didn't miss anything.
In China Warrior, you play China Warrior. You really do, because that's all your character is called. A villain has taken over China, and it's your job to rescue your fellow countrymen from his tyranny by beating him down in a contest of good, old-fashioned, man-to-man fisticuffs.
I love it when a video game story tells me that a whole society hinges on my heroic journey because it makes me feel important. It makes the main character into a legendary hero if he makes it or a martyr who had the courage to stand alone against an impossibly powerful foe if he gets killed along the way. China, with the world's largest population and second or third largest land mass, would certainly seem like a society worth saving. (I mean this only in theory. I'm not making a political statement here, so I'll appreciate it if you keep your own political statements to yourself.) Unfortunately, my elation at the thought of having such a big country depend on me quickly went down when I saw what my fierce opponents were packing: Sticks, stones, and really not much else. I have to wonder what kind of country would have allowed itself to be taken over by an army of thirteen martial artists who could be promptly whipped by a group of white-belted kids from Downer's Grove, Illinois.
Thirteen is the number of bosses in this game. Oh, the game has levels and enemies all right, but they're filler material. The layout of the game is like this: You, the large dude at the left of the screen who holds a copyright-infringing resemblance to Bruce Lee, walk to the right. Along the way to far right of the level, you fight "enemies." Your non-boss enemies include things like rocks, snakes, nunchukus, and fireballs all flying at you from the right side of the screen with no apparent purpose or even an explanation of how they're being launched at you. I like to think the level bosses are standing there with some kind of cannon which they're just loading up with whatever is lying around. When the game really feels like giving you a jolt, it sends monks after you. Monks are generally regarded as peaceful people, and they hold to tradition in China Warrior because their method of attacking is to walk right into you. The green monks actually duck when they come onto the screen! One wonders if they're praying to you. The gray and green monks are easily dispatched in one shot. The orange monks are tougher by merit of the fact they can take three shots before going down. None of them go out of their way to engage you in formal combat.
Anyway, you punch, kick, and dodge your way to the very end of the level in which China Warrior tries to turn into a one-on-one fighter by presenting you with boss characters who actually look like they took some effort to create. You beat the boss and go on to the next level. You wash, lather, rinse, and repeat until the end of the game.
Oh, the problems, the problems….. This HAS to be the only time I've ever had trouble writing a negative review because I have too much to say. First of all, China Warrior freaking SCROLLS. You have a game in which you control a martial artist and the game impersonates a common shooter. When you try to move China Warrior around, all you're doing is controlling which side of the screen he's on. The only way to stop the scrolling is to duck. And since every attack or obstacle in the game comes at you from the right, the game becomes a rare game in which an entire button on the d-pad is rendered almost useless. The only time the right button comes into play is during boss fights. Other than that, just keep the main character about one-fourth of the way across the screen and you should be just fine.
China Warrior looks like Bruce Lee. The legendary Dragon would be insulted if he ever saw this game. China Warrior's arsenal consists of all of five moves, which is poor even though the controller only has two action buttons. You have a standard punch and kick, plus a ducking punch and two types of jumping kicks. Unless you're playing China Warrior specifically to amass a high score – in which case you would utilize every one of those moves to hit the targets which would have otherwise no chance of hitting you – you can get through the game safely on just the punch and kick, with the occasional diagonal jumping kick to knock off the orange monks in one shot. The ducking punch is useless at all times and the jumping kicks aren't the most necessary moves in the world, especially seeing as how they become useless during boss battles. The bosses knock you right out of the air and take no damage for doing it. For some reason, our brilliant designers neglected a sweep kick. A lot of enemies who attack you on the ground can't be hit even though the manual inexplicably says they can be defeated. But your sucking punch doesn't hit that low! A sweep kick would be the only attack which could hit those foes, but since you don't have one, those snakes in the grass are invincible.
It's the boss fights one would play China Warrior hoping to see. Once you've gotten through the fillers known as "levels," you get to take on the boss in a one-on-one sparring match. The boss fights increase in difficulty as you get further into the game, and the increase in difficulty is very well done. Each of the thirteen bosses is harder than the last. This doesn't excuse the fact that only the punch and kick are useful against the bosses. While the game is nice enough to give you a supply of special moves for the boss fights, those special moves are executed at random and so you have no control over them. And the frequency with which they show up leaves something to be desired. If the game grants you the privilege of using a special move during later boss fights, pray it hits because it may be the last one you see for awhile.
Well, I think that sums up the game. I can't figure out whether I want to give the graphics a high or low score. China Warrior and the bosses he faces are all very detailed and well-designed despite the palette swap here and there. The enemies are well-designed for the most part. It's just they're poorly imagined. How hard is it to design a fan or a boulder? Now that I think of it, I may be giving the artists too much credit. The boulders look more like tumbleweeds, the nunchukus remain straight like sticks while flying at you, and the whole game is bogged down by a serious lack of animation. China Warrior has ONE frame of jumping animation and about three frames on the basic punch and kick. Both flying kicks have two frames of animation. It's sad when a ducking punch is the most spectacular-looking move in a video game.
The sounds aren't much better. The music is extremely bland and many of your enemies make interesting sounds when they get hit. You could make a fun game of guessing how the next enemy will sound when it meets China Warrior's punch or kick! When you pick up the sounds of each enemy, you could turn it into a drinking game! (I'm being sarcastic here. I don't want this review to be used as a prime suspect in a DWI arrest.) Most of the hitting sounds don't sound anything like you would imagine them to.
China Warrior's controls are standard. I find it stupid that you have to jump kick the game's only power-up, a health-replenishing teabag, in order to collect it. The teabag floats up and down and since you scroll right past it, you have to time your kick in order to grab it because the kick will miss if the teabag is too high. As mentioned before, you have to duck to stop moving. The diagonal jump kick is almost impossible if you're using the standard Turbo controller. I only got it to consistently work using the TurboStick, a joystick controller.
China Warrior is not only bad, it is lazy and thoughtless. Only a masochist could enjoy it.