Shaolin is simple static screen platform game, with the emphasis on combat and collecting. It is a single load, and is for one player only. The game has no storyline as such, apart from being told to "take the role of an up and coming Shaolin Master", and the objective of the game is to attain the highest score possible; true heroes having their scores displayed at the end of the game. Most people will know Jon Wells probably quite well, I on the other hand haven't played much of his stuff at all, and was led to believe all he created was SEUCK games. I was pleasantly surprised when I began to learn this was no SEUCK game!
Firstly, once loaded, you are treated to a welcoming "Shaolin! Woo-haa!" sample on the title screen, proving immediately that my assumptions about Mr. Wells' talent have been vastly incorrect. It's a professional start and, once I get over my surprise, I find that I'm nodding away with the infectious title music. It has a real nice feel about it, and manages to invoke some Eastern flavour to proceedings. The title screen is fairly plain but functional, reserving itself to a colour cycling Shaolin logo at the top, some static text, and a little scroller, all in a nice "bamboo" frame. If we're being critical, which we are, the scroll on the title page is just a bit too small, area-wise, to be able to be read comfortably.
So let's get down to business. Leaving the title screen and entering the game presents you with a similar layout to the old Irem Corp./Data East arcade game Kung-Fu Master, although in this game the screen is static and you are confined to the one screen. There are three platforms; you begin on the middle platform but you can move between them by holding fire and pressing the appropriate direction and fire (either straight up or down, or diagonally up or down). Additionally, aside from walking left and right, you have these other moves at your disposal; jumping (either straight up and down, or diagonally), and the all important combat moves; flying kick (fire when walking left/right), low kick (down when facing the right way, or down and left/right to turn and kick), and punch (hold fire and press left or right). You'll need to master and utilise these moves fairly quickly too, because the enemy "henchmen" start flooding the screen from the very outset. And they are ruthless. There is no player lives or energy system involved here, one touch from the evil henchmen, and it's game over.
So what does the game entail? Well, basically it's all about hitting the henchmen for points, making sure you aren't going to run into, or land on them, and keeping an eye out for the flashing "idols" that appear in random locations on the screen. If you manage to collect these, they'll give you bonus points. As well as a "points" score, the game also records how many hits you've achieved, and how many idols you have collected. So that is the basic premise; keep fighting and collecting till you die.
The in-game music is pretty nice, much more oriental sounding than the titles tune and there are several nice sampled kung-fu type sound effects in-game too both of which are pretty well executed and really add to the atmosphere. The in-game graphics are also of a formidable standard, with decent use of colour. The background graphics mixing multi-colour with hi-res, and using some shadowing, and the sprites are pretty well defined; cramming a whole player/enemy character into one sprite with a fair bit of detail. There are a few different enemies, successfully attacking them will yield different points scores depending on type, but apart from that the difference is purely cosmetic - they all do the same thing.
And unfortunately this is where the game falls down a bit. There is no real challenge once you master the moves. It's pretty much a case of staying fairly central, and just whipping out the flying kick when the drone enemies approach; for the most part walking in one direction pressing fire periodically does the job. The only other thing you need do is look out for the bonus idols, and that's the game pretty much mastered. After this it's simply a question of improving your score.
However, I don't want to take too much away from this game, it was programmed in 3 days and is very polished for what it is. The presentation is decent, including a "master-screen" to display your achievements at the end of the game if you're good enough and a bit of thought has gone into it concerning the fact that you are confined to the one screen in the game. It would be all too easy to have used the same screen for the game each time you play, but instead the game seems to generate a new screen each time, or at the least has a few predefined screens to use. Although a small thing, it shows attention to detail in my opinion.
So, is it original? Hell no - take a look at the aforementioned Kung-Fu Master, or perhaps the Konami game Shaolins' Road because it's pretty much the same sort of stuff. That doesn't make Shaolin a bad game of course, but it's won't be winning any awards for its originality. Is it fun? Well, yes, for a while. It's not the sort of game that's going to be gluing you to the joystick for hours on end though, as it gets quite repetitive, and fairly quickly and there are several gameplay improvements would have increased its immediate lastability. But as it is, it doesn't stand up to more than 15 minutes or so at a time for me, although these are quite enjoyable minutes while they last. Not spectacular, more functional and solid.