Gaming Flashback: Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story
When I learned that Kulture Shocked would be featuring a month based on martial arts films, I jumped at the opportunity to do another crossover month with the Screening Room. As I went to work on a list of potential candidates for the month, there was one game that popped into my mind as a lock to be included. That game was Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, the 1993 tie-in to the biographical film of the same name.
It's hard to argue a game based on the legendary master of Jeet Kune Do. Lee was, and still is, considered to be one of the greatest martial artists of all time, but how do you create a video game based on such a prominent figure? The obvious choice and the one made by Virgin Interactive was to create a one on one fighter in the vein of the insanely popular Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II. While this was a fantastic idea, in theory, it's just a shame that the execution wasn't quite up to the task.
The game begins with a fight against a sailor at what appears to be a dance. Apparently the two men have a disagreement of which of them will dance with one of the young women in attendance, which lead to this brawl. The game isn't very clear about why exactly you're in this situation; the game just throws you into it. Things certainly don't get any easier from here.
At the default setting, the game feels incredibly slow. While the Super Nintendo's face buttons allow you two different punches and kicks; using the R button grants the player the ability to perform Lee's legendary quick punches and kicks. L cancels this mode, and when your Chi gauge reaches a certain level you can press both R and L to use Lee's Nunchaku.
Even after I learned how to control Lee, the game still felt a bit sluggish. Investigating the game's options allowed me to find the ability to increase the game's speed, which helped the gameplay a bit better, but ultimately the gameplay still felt off. Even with this aside, there is one greater obstacle to Lee's story that makes it even harder to enjoy, and that is the difficulty.
At the normal difficulty, I was barely able to finish the first stage. This led to the even more challenging second stage, which I was unable to complete without decreasing the game's difficulty. However, lowering the difficulty makes it impossible to complete the game, as it will simply end and send you back to the title screen upon finishing an individual level. The combination of the game's difficulty and stiff controls make for a frustrating journey, especially for those wanting to see the Lee's story through to the end.
The above problems are only the tip of the iceberg, as the game's presentation also leaves a lot to be desired. The game's music is utterly terrible. Featuring short looping midi tracks, the sound quality feels as if it were made using the sound chip from the original Nintendo rather than the SNES. Even attempts to capturing Lee's iconic screams sound more like a dying cat than the legendary martial artist, which is a shame since Mortal Kombat's Liu Kang didn't seem to have this problem.
The visuals are probably the only redeemable thing about the game. The sprite work is quite good for the time, especially among western developed titles. The backgrounds are quite beautiful, particularly the one from the game's first level, which is very vibrant and one of the game's better environments. The cutscenes are poorly pixelated scenes from the film, but they are of such low quality that it's sometimes hard to tell what they're meant to represent. I would almost recommend you shut off the cutscenes, just to save time, as the terrible quality and the game's lackluster effort to tell the film's story to make them a waste of time.
While this isn't the only video game based on the legendary Bruce Lee, he certainly deserves better than this mess. Lee left a legacy that left a lasting impact to this day, and his influence can be seen in fighting games today with characters like Liu Kang from Mortal Kombat and Fei Long from Street Fighter are loving tributes to the late Lee. Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story features sluggish gameplay and an awful presentation and can't be recommended this game to anyone. If you're looking for a fighting game on the Super Nintendo, there are far better choices on the system. Sadly, we'll have to wait for another day to find a great video game based on the life of Bruce Lee.