I’d turned ten in early 1985 when my Dad bought home Way of the Exploding Fist by Melbourne House. It was without a doubt the first beat ’em up I’d played, the first of many in fact as it’s still a genre I love to this day. I was really excited, I’d loved games like Space Raiders, Horace Goes Skiing, Penetrator and so on but come on, this was fighting and what little kid didn’t want to be Bruce Lee?!
By this point Dad had also acquired a Kempston Interface, which plugged into the rear expansion port on our 48K+ Speccy and let you use a joystick. That’s right folks, up until this point we’d gamed entirely with the keyboard. Even with the Kempston Interface, things weren’t as straight forward as they could have been. My brother and I had an awful lot of fights when we played Way of the Exploding Fist because the Kempston Interface only allowed one joystick to be attached. With one player armed with a joystick and the other effectively emulating a joystick with keys:
It was particularly one sided when it came to two player. Like the majority of fighting games right up until the 16-bit console era, the diagonals with and without a button press did various attacks. Intuitive it was not, and this made it much harder for the player using the keyboard!
Sam sniggers slightly at the loading screen. He has a right to, it the chap does look like he’s forcing out a particularly solid poo.
Sam: can we play two player Dad?
Me: not really, there’s only one joystick and whoever uses the keyboard always loses.
Sam: the keyboard, how on earth can you use the keyboard in a fighting game?
I show Sam the instruction sheet and he wrinkles his nose in disgust. He’s played a bit of Street Fighter II and some Marvel Vs Capcom 3, so he’s well used to multiple button mashing. The idea of hitting a top diagonal to do a high punch is dirty to him.
Sam: this is going is be hard. Very hard.
3 minutes later a multitude of yin-yangs have been awarded to the CPU controlled fighter over about 15 games and Sam has managed about 3 half segments in total. Demoralised isn’t quite the word for it. I’ve not helped by repeatedly shouting “Hold the trigger down or the move doesn’t work properly!” about ten million times as he taps it rather than doing a longer hold, so the character starts doing a kick and then stops.
Me: Shall I have a go? It does look very tricky, I’d forgotten how few hits it takes to lose a game.
My first three games fair no better than Sam. Then I get lucky and make it across about three levels. Sam is unimpressed.
Sam: I like the one where you kneel down and punch them in the peanuts, that’s a good move but the rest is rubbish.
Me: I think you’re punching them in the tummy rather that the crotch but yes, I do like that one.
Sam: Why is it so hard? There are lots of moves but most of them are too hard to do. Can’t we set the difficulty level to easy?
Me: You didn’t really have difficulty levels back then, just “difficult”.
Sam: It looks a lot better than Manic Miner but still quite funny. It’s not very good graphics is it?
Me: That’s what you got on the Spectrum Sam. Even a letter you write in Word today is a much larger file size than Way of the Exploding Fist.
Sam doesn’t believe me so I have to fire up the laptop and open a blank Word document. Sam dictates- a combination of what an 8 year old considers edgy language (lots of poos, and something about his sister drinking out of the toilet). It takes a bit of cut and pasting but four pages of text exceed 16K. Sam is a little bit more impressed.
Me: Take Marvel vs Capcom 3, I think the PS3 install is about 1.6GB. That’s (grabs phone and fires up the calculator) over 100,000 times more data than Way of the Exploding Fist had to play with.
Sam: 100,000? Is that lots then?
Me: If you imagine that you had one of something..
Sam: (interrupting) Like the Lego Millennium Falcon that I want for my birthday?
Me: Yes, like the Lego Millennium Falcon you want for your birthday. Imagine that you had one of the Falcon. Then imagine the entire house being filled up with the boxes for lots of Falcons. That still wouldn’t be getting close to having 100,000 Falcons.
Sam: Can I have 100,000 Millennium Falcon for my birthday then?
Sam and I continue mucking around with Way of the Exploding Fist in single player for about half an hour until I have to admit it’s time for a little bit of two player action.
Me: You can have the joystick Sam, I’ll use the keyboard. Rumour has it nobody has ever won with the keyboard in a keyboard versus joystick battle. Will I be the first?
Sam: I will destroy you.
I win the first game, mostly due to Sam not holding the fire button down long enough for the move to complete. He’s not happy so we have another game, leaving the keyboard unused and with me guiding his hands on the joystick button to make sure he holds it long enough. I lose by being repeatedly punched it what Sam still insists are the peanuts.
Sam: Hah! You won’t be able to go to the toilet for ages after that. That’s one all, next game wins!
I however talk Sam into calling it a draw, and he claims the moral high ground, which saves me from having to consider whether I’m willing to throw a game or not.
Sam: Over all I think it’s a bit rubbish. It looks better than Manic Miner but it’s so hard. It’s silly we can’t use two joysticks and the joystick needs more buttons because having to go up and left for a forward jump is stupid.
Me: It’s a lot harder to control than I remember Sam, I have to say I like my modern controllers with all those buttons. But also I’d say it looked a lot better than I thought it would. There’s this thing us Speccy owners used to have to endure called Attribute Clash, and it’s almost entirely missing from ‘Fist.
So we’ve survived the competitive world of two player beat ’em ups for the first time, phew! Next week we’re going to attempt Batman- the isometric adventure game. I’d ummed and arr’ed over which isometric game to play- Knightlore, Head over Heels, or Alien 8 were alternatives, but since Sam’s been pestering me to play more superhero games, Batman it is and boy, is he going to be in for a shock!