Bruce Lee: the powdered drink, the "button masher" and the inevitable fan backlash

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 December, 2014, 4:15pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 December, 2014, 3:58pm

Bruce Lee Siu-lung would have turned 74  on November 27, and although the kung fu icon has been dead for more than four decades, he had a big week with the launch of Bruce Lee Instant Drinks and then, on his birthday, the release of a new mobile phone game for iOS and Android.

Already downloaded more than a million times, Bruce Lee: Enter the Game is, in essence, a sidescrolling “beat ‘em up” – a popular genre in the 1980s and '90s – that sees a digital Bruce punch, kick and nunchuck his way through the game. 

Lee’s hard-hitting moves are performed via swipes on a phone or tablet screen, and they’re mostly self-explanatory – a straight forward swipe is a punch, while a slightly upward swipe results in his trademark lightning-fast kicks. If you brush your finger up, then forward? That’s Lee’s jump kick.

Even during the peak of its popularity in the early '90s (with Capcom’s Final Fight leading the charge), “beat ‘em ups” were not known for their depth – the games were dismissed by critics as “button mashers”, a derogatory term for games that require little skill – and Enter the Game is no exception. While kicking butt with a digital Lee offers an initial visceral sense of joy, the game eventually becomes highly repetitive. It is, essentially, a “button masher” without the buttons.

What’s likely to inspire the most discussion is the consumerism behind Enter the Game. Last year, his daughter Shannon Lee was criticised by fans for licensing his image in an alcohol advertisement. And with not one but two products out for her father’s birthday, Lee junior will be in for more of a backlash.

In fact, it’s already begun. On December 2 the 45-year-old Lee appeared on popular social website Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything”, and quickly encountered a question about exploiting her father’s legacy.

She responded: “I know to a lot of people it looks like blatant consumerism but now that I have the opportunity to be able to control the messaging, I work very hard to do things that I feel are of quality and that my father would appreciate.”

In the video game world, Lee has been exploited, unofficially, by other companies for years. Dating back to the earliest of fighting games – from Double Dragon to Super Street Fighter 2 – Lee’s influence is obvious, if not completely ripped off (the latter game has a character by the name of Fei Long, which means “flying dragon” in Cantonese).

So if everyone else is doing it, why not keep it in the family?

Bruce Lee: Enter the Game is available free (with in-app purchases) from Apple’s App store or Google’s Play store.