The man, the myth, and the legend that is Bruce Lee has played a pivotal role in inspiring some of gaming’s most popular fighting characters. It makes sense, too. Bruce Lee’s signature looks and flamboyant Jeet Kune Do fighting style are undeniably sick. Many efforts have been made over the years to do justice to the Bruce Lee legacy, but virtually all of them failed. Undeterred, Digital Legends and Indiagames have launched the latest attempt at getting a Bruce Lee game right. Does Bruce Lee: Dragon Warrior HD sport fists of fury?
Make no mistake about it, this game is an attempt at a serious, fully-featured fighting game. Dragon Warrior HD comes packed full of features that you’ve seen in several prominent fighters on traditional consoles. While most of your time will be spent in a surprisingly deep story mode, there are other typical modes like Arcade, Survival, and Time Attack to play around in.
Boards don’t hit back.
The game contains a story arc that puts Bruce Lee in a variety of interesting situations that are loosely tied together. You’ll run into punks on the street, learn from kung fu masters, and take down chumps in tournaments. Progressing through the story opens up new characters, fighting moves, stages, and artwork.
After each fight, you can select any of three different fight options on an overworld map, so after whipping up some dudes in a Survival battle, your next battle may be a Time Attack mission. The story is rolled out over five chapters with captioned images, and each of them has a different theme.
Key to any fighting game is the gameplay engine, and Bruce Lee: Dragon Warrior HD gets a lot right. You only have to use a virtual joypad along with two action buttons, kick and punch. Mashing away on buttons churns out cool combos, but there’s some depth you’ll need to tap into to be successful on the higher difficulties.
Enter the groin punch.
The Chi Meter (think of the Super Meter from Street Fighter 4) charges up over time from successfully landing attacks and executing counters. Using anywhere from one to three banks of Chi, busting out grabs and special moves will rack up serious damage. Besides the fact that it’ll deplete a good chunk of your opponent’s health, the moves have a lot of style. One thing that somewhat mars the gameplay experience are the lack of transitional animations, but more on that later.
Dragon Warrior HD has 10 total characters. For all practical purposes, you have Bruce Lee and nine other generic and forgettable fighters. Granted, Bruce Lee is supposed to be the star, but we couldn’t help but chuckle at some of the design decisions. For example, an African-American character dressed like a two-nickel pimp was doing a Ram Muay, the ceremonial dance made famous by Muay Thai fighters. Ummm… okay. On the plus side, each character has their own moves list, but the cool factor isn’t there.
To tell the story on visuals, it’s a tale of two different states. In screenshots, Bruce Lee: Dragon Warrior HD looks like the best looking game on the iPad. With views that are vibrant, sharp, and detailed, it’s not hard to get pumped about the eye candy.
Sadly, when viewing the game in action, several dings in the engine reveal themselves. In isolation, the game moves well. Triggering a canned combo or grab attack will initiate a smooth portrayal of authentic martial arts action. It’s the transitional animations that completely drop the ball. As a result, there will be moments where you’re scratching your head when you’re in the middle of a combo, only to find yourself dropped by a leg sweep that came out of nowhere, literally. Otherwise, the presentation and menus are polished and were just a few tweaks away from near perfection.
Fighting fans looking for a good first-gen brawler on the iPad will likely be satisfied here. This labor of love had a large amount of passion behind it, and the basics are here, along with an impressive cross-section of modes to dive into. Small missteps in the lack of solid transitional animations and the complete lack of multiplayer aside, Bruce Lee: Dragon Warrior HD is a fun and engaging fighter.