By Mark Nobes

Although this wasn't the first martial arts fighting game of the 1980's, it was, in my opinion, one of the best, and superior to both Karate Champ and Kung-Fu Master, which were also released in 1985.

Featuring gorgeous character animation and digitised speech (although its very crunchy), combined with a wide variety of realistic moves, The Way Of The Exploding Fist was almost the perfect beat-em-up in the mid eighties. In fact, this game set a new standard for this type of game, and surely influenced many games that followed it, such as International Karate and the 90s Street Fighter series.

The game was first developed for the C64 by Beam Software, a team consisting of Gregg Barnett, Bruce Bayley, Neil Brennan and David Johnston. It was published by Melbourne House (you can see the Commodore version in the video clip above) and then, after becoming a huge success, it was quickly ported to other systems including the Amstrad CPCZX Spectrum, BBC Micro, Acorn Electron and Commodore 16 Plus/4.

The programmers did a pretty good job with all of the ports, and they all have excellent playability. However, the sound effects, music and graphics are quite different for each one, and some versions feel a little rushed.
Karate champion Jeoffrey Thompson was signed up to promote the game, although he wasn't well-known enough to have his name used in the title! A bonus round where the player is charged by a bull never made it to earlier C64 versions or the ZX Spectrum version.
The Way of the Exploding Fist was a chart-topper in the United Kingdom during the Autumn of 1985 (for around two months), and became the best-selling video game in that year.
The game was later published by the budget label Mastertronic, for their Ricochet series.
The Way of the Exploding Fist, C64 cassette case (Melbourne House)


Graphics aside, undoubtedly, what makes this martial arts game really shine is the gameplay, which features an array of realistic moves - an impressive 18 in total! These include flying kicks, leg sweeps, roundhouse, blocks, somersaults and low punches, and they are all animated beautifully. Add to this some gorgeous backdrops and digitised sound, and you have a very impressive game.
The control system is complex, but once learned it makes the game a joy to play. Fans of scrolling beat 'em ups may not enjoy this as much as games like Kung-Fu Master, as it plays like a one-on-one karate tournament, which involves moving your way up through the ranks from novice to Tenth Dan. This is a more serious game, which requires skill and discipline and choosing the right moves, rather than repeatedly bashing your button in a mindless manner. 
The player can choose from playing against the CPU (AI) or another player. It's a game that can take its toll on your joystick, in a similar way to other action sports games such as Daley Thompson's Decathlon.


With its snow-capped mountains, buddha statue and Chinese tower, the graphics are excellent and most (but not all) versions feature a different backdrop on each level - these looked particularly good on the C64 due to its superior graphics capabilities, with other versions looking rather garish, although nicely drawn.
Apparently, around 200 different sprites were drawn up to give ultra-realistic animations for the fighters. Of course, the game looks antiquated to the modern gamer, but back in the mid 1980s, the animations looked pretty amazing on all ports of the game, although run smoothest on the C64. There is more flicker on other versions, but not to the degree where it destroys the gameplay.

Most people are in agreeance that the best-looking version of the game is on the C64, but that doesn't mean the other ports are bad, and they did a really good job with the ZX Spectrum version considering the its more limited capabilities.

The most disappointing aspect of the Amstrad CPC version is that it has only one backdrop. Nonetheless, the animations are still excellent.

Screenshot of the gameplay from the C64 version. The detailing and colouring is top notch.

The Way of the Exploding Fist ZX Spectrum gameplay screenshot
Due to the limited colour palette of the speccy, we have a garishly pink mountain (as does the BBC Micro version). Nonetheless, the detailing is very nice.

Sound Effects and Music

All of the ports sound very different to each other, but the C64 is the winner here, which has, by far, the best soundtrack, which isn't as bleepy and irritating as on other versions. The sound effects are also great, although the digitized sound is very crunchy, but this was the 8-bit era!
The ZX Spectrum has no full soundtrack (just a jingle) and although not great, it does feature two sound effects, one for the fighters blows and another for when a fighter falls to the ground. This version certainly claims second prize in the sounds department.
The Amstrad CPC port features an oriental jingle rather than a full soundtrack, and there is just one sound effect - an awful clicking noise! It's definitely the worst version when it comes to sound.
The BBC Micro music is also quite nice, although quickly becomes annoying playing in the background. There is just one simple "crunch" sound for the fighter hits, which is disappointing.
The Commodore C16 Plus/4 also has a nice soundtrack, although it becomes very annoying after a couple of listens. There are no sound effects, which is a shame.
Overall, the ports lack the finesse of the original C64 version, in all departments.

Critical response and Awards

Most computer magazines of the time were very positive about the game, with Crash awarding 92% for the ZX Spectrum version, and Sinclair User awarding five stars. Computer Gamer was a little less enthusiastic about the Amstrad CPC version, giving four out of six stars, but that's still a decent score.
The third annual Golden Joystick Awards ceremony (which started in 1983 and is still alive and kicking) gave it their prestigious "Game of the Year" award. Knight Lore was awarded the title in 1984.
The Daily Mail wrote "Spectacular, startingly original epic, most televisual game I have encountered.
Popular Computing Weekly described the game as "Quite simply the best program". Back in the 80s, games were sometimes described as "programs" in the more serious computer magazines, as a game is, essentially, a computer program. The game also won the Popular Computing Weekly "Game of the Year" award.
Way of the Exploding Fist, Amstrad CPC screenshot of gameplay

Amstrad CPC screenshot

Way of the Exploding Fist. BBC Micro gameplay screenshot

The BBC Micro version looks not too dissimilar to the Spectrum version, although with coloured sprites.

Way of the Exploding Fist for ZX Spectrum. Cassette case, Mastertronic Ricochet