Bruce Lee: Dragon Warrior [$4.99 - iPhone / iPad] is an officially licensed 3D fighting game featuring the iconic martial arts star Bruce Lee. The game was released on the iPad almost two months ago to some user complaints of serious AI deficiency and control issues. Those issues have been mostly resolved in an update issued for the iPad version in conjunction with the release of the updated game for iPhone and iPod touch. The result is a visually striking fighting game that leans towards the casual side, with a core combat functionality that likely won't appeal to some hardcore players. It still remains a fun affair, and has a wealth of content and a stellar presentation that makes it well worth checking out.
Right off the bat, you'll notice that the graphics are incredible. There are 10 fighters in the game, each one distinct and well designed. The character models are colorful, although not highly detailed or complex. They end up looking marvelous in motion though, thanks to the game's excellent animations. The movements are fluid and lifelike, and each character has a ton of personality with their different facial expressions and fighting styles. There are only 5 different locations to fight in, but they are all richly detailed and beautifully rendered in 3D. There are small details such as leaves blowing in the wind or birds flying about that bring the stages to life, and each one can be played during day or night increasing the variety somewhat. All these elements work together wonderfully to create an experience that is visually top-notch.
The meat of Bruce Lee is the Story mode, although there are Arcade, Survival, Time Attack and Training modes present as well. Strange for a fighting game, there's no sort of multiplayer functionality at all, although there is a Versus mode against the CPU. Unlike most fighters, there's actually a fairly captivating and cohesive plot underlying all the action. The different story segments are told via text and comic book style character art. You'll start out as a young Bruce Lee, trying to make a name for himself partaking in street fights around Hong Kong. You're noticed rather quickly by a member of a local martial arts school, and after proving your worth by beating him in a fight, you are invited to study there. This springboards you into the storyline, and lets you enter Tournaments and compete against rivaling schools in addition to street fighting as you evolve into a martial arts master.
You progress through the game by choosing from a collection of events on an overhead map, one of which is always the next step of the Story mode. The others are various types of challenges, such as survival matches, one-on-one fights, time trials, and more. Experience is earned as you progress, and playing in these non-story related events can net you some extra XP. All kinds of rewards are unlocked as you level up from experience, like new characters, levels, and artwork. But most interesting of all is the ability to unlock the different offensive moves of your opponents. An option called the Style Editor allows you to swap out your default special moves with ones you've unlocked through play. Mixing and matching the different attacks provides a simple but enjoyable level of customization with your own character, and is a really nice aspect of the game.
The actual fighting gameplay mechanics are where Bruce Lee is hit or miss. The controls work well, with either a d-pad or analog stick for movement and single punch and kick buttons. The methods for different moves are simple combinations of directional inputs and/or attack button presses. The system is easy to execute with touch screen controls, but still contains a decent amount of depth. A special Chi meter fills up as you fight which let's you pull off special attacks or finishing moves, some of which zoom in on the action and give you a closer look at the punishment you're dealing out. There are plenty of moves and combos to learn, and a decent computer AI to compete with.
It's the makings of a solid portable fighting game, but the one oddity that sticks out is the way the game queues your button presses. Commands that are input will still carry out even after you've been knocked down and get up, or are furiously trying to perform a different move. Many fighting games allow for command queueing, but the way it works in Bruce Lee is funky and can be disorienting. You can learn to work with it, and there's a certain rhythm to the fighting that once learned alleviates the queueing problem to an extent. Based on the impressions in our forums, some players are having more difficulty with it than others. In my experience, it's caused me to lose a match here and there, but never derailed my enjoyment or ability to progress.
Despite these shortcomings, Bruce Lee: Dragon Warrior is a high quality and entertaining (albeit casual) fighting game. There is a lot of content to unlock, a competent AI to play against, and plenty of modes to keep you busy for quite some time. It's not as deep as Street Fighter IV, but is much more so than the similar Blades of Fury. As a result, if you crave a highly precise and complex fighter, this may not satisfy you. It's also really disappointing that there's not any sort of multiplayer present. Still, it works exceptionally well as a single player game and offers a lot of entertainment for the money. The game is available for $4.99 for either the iPhone or iPad versions which, aside from the iPad's upscaled graphics and the iPhones slightly easier to wield form factor, are virtually the same.