“If he were still alive, Bruce Lee would be celebrating his 75th birthday. We take a look back, in pixels, at the Bruce Lee computer game.
Although only in the public eye for a few years of his lifetime, Bruce Lee left a cultural legacy so rich, it’s hard to even know where to begin in looking back at it. So I thought I’d start at the beginning.
No, not the famous story of how he was born in the hour of the Dragon in the year of the Dragon and went on to become the most influential and revered martial artist of the 20th century. Instead I’m going to look at the less well-known (and altogether more trivial) story of how he first entered my life.
I was maybe five or six years old when Bruce Lee appeared to me as an 8-bit sprite. Two arms, two legs, a head; a crude white shape on a plain black backdrop, only a pixel or two away from Jet Set Willy or Hen-House Harry. He was the titular hero of Datasoft’s Bruce Lee game for the Spectrum 48k (and systems like the Commodore 64), created and programmed by Ron J. Fortier with art by Kelly Day.
If you’re not of a certain age, the graphics probably look primitive to the point of being unplayable but, back then, a big part of the fun was using your imagination. Spectrum games had simple stories and even simpler visuals but they were like portals to whole other worlds for kids at the time.
Quite often, all you had was the box to help you get an idea of what the little sprites were really supposed to look like and the Bruce Lee game had a particularly striking cover painting. Whoever this ‘Bruce’ character was, he was clearly a badass, from his smouldering stare and bulging muscles to the way he was kicking the crap out of ninjas and dudes with green skin.
The backdrops of ancient temples and mountains were enticingly exotic too. As a kid whose only prior exposure to any kind of Chinese culture had been the local restaurant, these images didn’t just spark something in my imagination, they set it on fire…”