C64 vs Speccy Bruce Lee

   31/08/2010 at 20:54       Tom       4 COMMENTS.
 - Bruce Lee, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Retro, 8-bit

Fighting was something that Bruce Lee was good at. It was the very thing he was famous for, so I thought it apt that I write my first “which version is better” article, Spectrum vs Commodore 64: A fight for the (30-something) ages. A quick warning – I am very much biased in favour of the Spectrum. Old fan boys die hard. I do not promise impartiality, although I shall try my best.

So Bruce Lee on the Spectrum, or Bruce on the Commodore 64 – which is better? Well there’s only one way to find out…


First, a little context. The Bruce Lee game was released in 1984, and was not based on any of his movies in particular. Or if it was, I must have missed that particular film where he fought a sumo wrestler and ninja at the same time as collecting lanterns and avoiding laser death traps. Both the C64 and Spectrum versions are credited to the same 3 guys - code by Ron J. Fortier, graphics by Kelly Day and music by John A. Fitzpatrick. The game was originally released on the Atari 8-computers before being ported over to the C64, with the Spectrum following in the same year.

It’s a great fun game, but very simple in it’s mechanics. Bruce basically has to collect all the lanterns from 20 screens with an evil wizard waiting on the 20th screen. A ninja with a sword and a green sumo wrestler are looking to stop him. As Bruce you have two moves – a punch and a flying kick. Defeating the ninja or sumo only temporarily stops them as they will respawn. The environment is also dangerous with traps that must be avoided. The two player mode was also worth a laugh with a like-minded friend. You could either take turns as Bruce, or the second player got to control the sumo. Since the sumo could hurt the ninja it meant you could help or hinder Bruce.

The first thing you’ll notice when comparing the games is the graphics. The C64 version looks very much like the Atari version, with plenty of colour but a lower resolution increasing the blockiness of it all. The Spectrum version goes it’s own path due to the weaker graphics capabilities, the characters are black and white, with a lot less colour in the environments. This does actually work in favour of the Spectrum in parts, with the Spectrum version being less blocky and the C64 version being a bit too colourful for the game’s own good. When there are so few colours available, things tend to get a bit gaudy. The animation seems pretty much identical, and if there are any differences I haven’t been able to spot them.

Gameplay is essentially the same on both formats. However, the Spectrum version runs faster and as a result feels a lot “smoother” to play. The C64 version can feel almost like the game is taking place underwater, especially with the speed of which Bruce Lee falls. Putting the C64 emulation into NTSC provides a speed boost, although it still doesn’t quite match the flow of the Spectrum version. Of course, if you’re one of those freaky people who still play using the original machines you’re not going to be able to do that.

Strangely on the C64 version, the sumo loses his ability to climb ladders, and the ninja doesn’t climb in either version, so if you manage to get them trapped at the bottom of the screen you can go about your business at the top without issue. However it would seem on the Spectrum the enemies are not as keen to attack, get near the C64 bad guys and you’re more likely to get a good shoeing. What is weird is that the climbing animation is definitely in the game on both versions for both characters, as you’ll see it when they go onto the “lift” areas. A coding issue then I would assume.

The sound of both versions is certainly nothing to celebrate. The C64 obviously holds the advantage, but it’s not a good showcase of the SID sound chip. In fact, quite the opposite – I find the music in both to be quite painful. Thank goodness it’s saved for the title screen. Sound effects only during the game itself, and again the C64 comes out on top with a higher quality of sound effect compared to the Speccy’s sparse blips and bleeps.

No matter which version you choose, you’re looking at a game that’s still a lot of fun to play. It doesn’t fall within the 8-bit trap of being insanely difficult, and has some good and imaginative level design. I would say the Spectrum version edges it due to the speed issues on the C64 but there’s definitely an argument there for the C64.

These days if you want to play Bruce Lee, and your C64/Spectrum has gone the same way as my goldfish (no, not down the loo) then you’re looking at going down the emulation route. World Of Spectrum and Lemon 64 are excellent resources as ever, but of course emulation can be a legally grey area. You can also play it as part of the C64 iPod/iPhone emulator and there is a rather fantastic looking remake available as well called Ultimate Bruce Lee if you wish to keep a completely clear conscience. You good Christian you.

Which ever version you choose – don’t forget to make “comedy” Bruce Lee sound effects yourself…


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