Bruce Lee: Quest of the Dragon Review

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Publisher: Universal Interactive
Developer: Ronin Entertainment

Platform: Xbox
Reviewed on Xbox

Play Bruce Lee as he undertakes the mission of rescuing his kidnapped father and retrieving the stolen Golden Relic, a powerful marital arts artifact. As Bruce, you'll fight through various stages and waves of enemies, triggering cinematic cut-scenes used to advance the game's adventure elements. When you defeat enemies, you'll pick up tokens that you can use to purchase extra health, attack power or new fighting moves to use on your hapless opponents. The fighting moves are taken from Jeet Kun Do, the fighting style developed by Bruce Lee himself. But don't plan on battling your friends – Quest of the Dragon is a single-player-only game.

Rob de los Reyes

The real heartbreakers aren't the worst games you play. The games that are truly awful come and go with a slight curse for your wasted money and susceptibility to impulse buying. The ones that hurt – the ones that hit you where you live – are the ones that show flashes of skill or beginnings of great ideas only to fail to reach the promise that seems so near. Such, alas, is Bruce Lee: Quest of the Dragon. Even where some splendid work is initially visible, it is quickly submerged by half-finished thoughts and poorly executed ideas. Quest of the Dragon isn't an abysmal game. It's worse – it's disappointing.

It is a marvelous idea, a Bruce Lee game. At his best, Bruce Lee, the actor and martial artist, could seem like a video game character – capable of doing things no real person could do. That said, he's a problematic hero for us in the first decade of the new millennium. We like our heroes a bit flawed, a bit self-effacing. Lee was neither of those things. He was arrogant and haughty, always in control even in (temporary) defeat. Though it may be blasphemous to say so, one could be forgiven for wondering whether Lee would have been able to change with our vision of heroism or simply would have faded from the forefront. Still, the smart money would have to be on Lee. We're probably poorer for not having him for movies today, but at least we have him for movies then. And Bruce Lee then could be – should be – an excellent subject for a video game today.

Unfortunately, only half of what made Bruce Lee so distinctive makes its way into Quest of the Dragon. Lee developed his own style of martial arts called Jeet Kun Do. Without getting into the technical merits of the style (something I'm not qualified to offer anyway), the obvious features of Jeet Kun Do are its speed and grace coupled paradoxically with a street-fighting brutalism. This much of the Bruce Lee magic stands at the forefront of Quest of the Dragon. All of the fighting moves are mapped onto your Bruce Lee avatar via motion-capture sessions with one of Lee's own students. The introductory sequence is tantalizing in this regard. The fighting moves really do look splendid and smooth.

Once the game starts, however, it all falls apart. The static artwork is vibrantly colored and interesting to look at, but the animation stutters like a nightclub strobe light. High kicks take twice as long as they ought while Lee stretches out waiting for graphics issues to resolve themselves. At a stroke, all the grace and fluidity of Jeet Kun Do is lost. Worse, the graphics problems mar your ability to navigate the central conceit of the game – fighting multiple enemies at once. Playing Quest of the Dragon, it's easy to see what the designers were thinking. And they had the right idea. Unlike the one-on-one fighting of Mortal Kombat, we were going to get one-on-many fights, with combat moves specifically designed to handle them. In addition, while the left thumbstick moves you around, you can use the right thumbstick to poke out a quick jab in any direction should the enemy crowd get a little too close. There's a certain gratification in that condescending little move. Once the stuttering starts, however, you lose the ability to time your movements in a way that maximizes their effectiveness in a crowd. The fights are still manageable, but the "wow" is sucked out of them.

The other part of what made Bruce Lee so special on screen, and the part that tends to linger in your head long after watching his movies, was his almost inhuman intensity. That intensity manifested itself both in his trademark high-pitched battle cries and in the facial expressions that suggested Lee had transported himself to a place of greater power than most of us could imagine. The cries are captured in part here, but there seem to be only two or three tones. They become annoying in a way they never were in the movies. Completely absent, however, are Lee's facial expressions. Lee was often stoic, but he was never as soulless as this game avatar. Probably, gaming technology just isn't advanced enough to convey Lee's focused and furious expressions, not even in Blizzard-style cut scenes. That's an explanation, but it isn't an excuse.

Maybe there's a point at which it should be admitted that certain grand ideas will have to wait for another day and newer technology. Maybe that should have been admitted here. Without the ability to deliver slick fighting action and an avatar with even a thimbleful of Lee's vibrancy, the rest of the game design, successes and failures alike, are scarcely worth mentioning. In the end, Quest of the Dragon is playable and even enjoyable at times, which is more than can be said for many titles released in the market these days. But it isn't enough to say for Bruce Lee.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on August 7, 2002 10:21 PM.

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