Games That Time Forgot: Jet Li: Rise to Honor (2004)
Hey, has anybody seen Jet Li lately?
You wouldn't know it from the "Expendables" trailer and the extremely low profile he's keeping now, but five years ago Jet Li was put forth as the Next Big Kung-Fu Crossover Star. His graceful yet explosive style had him pegged as the heir to the mantle worn by Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. He'd starred in a slew of Hong Kong action films in the 1990s and was poised to break through to American audiences, thanks to parts in "Lethal Weapon 4" and "Romeo Must Die."
Though it was only five years ago, in 2004, the idea of bringing full-scale cinematic production techniques to a videogame still got folks excited. So, of course, somebody somewhere decided that building a videogame around Li would probably be a surefire way to ignite his popularity.
Jet Li: Rise to Honor got the same kind of commitment from its star talent that a feature film would receive: In addition to voiceover work, Li worked in a motion-capture studio with fight choreographer Cory Yuen for six weeks so his moves could be uploaded into the game. To put that into perspective, six weeks is long enough to do principal photography for a movie. But Li put his time into a game instead.
Moreover, when Rise to Honor came to the PlayStation 2 in the fall of 2004, it wasn't tied to any movie release. Instead, it tried to be its own feature film. The plot -- about a shootin'-and-kickin' undercover Hong Kong cop who comes to the States to protect a mob boss' daughter -- resembled much of the fare Li made his name on. It even premiered at the famed Sony Metreon theater in San Francisco with Li in attendance.
The cinema-centric ideals impacted the technology, too, as Rise to Honor played out with no discernible load times, thanks to early iterations of streaming-disc technology. No breaks for loading during gameplay meant more fighting and immersion in the story. If you wanted to revisit sections of the game, the levels were presented in a DVD-style menu, with little video clips playing in the preview panes.
But cinematic aspirations aren't the only reason you should remember Rise to Honor. The game also garnered attention for its control scheme. The vanity project differed from most games by virtue of the way it used the right analog stick. Tapping the stick in the direction of the swarming enemies doled out punches and kicks in Li's signature style. The push-to-attack mechanic did make it feel a bit like you were the one doing the attacking, too.
Don't be surprised if you don't remember any of this, though. Rise to Honor's ambitious movie-like presentation tried to mask flaws like an all-too-quick story mode and shallow, repetitive gameplay. That ballyhooed right-stick action often felt imprecise and didn't work well in the boss fights.
Nowadays, we're all used to using the right analog stick for doing all kinds of things other than controlling the camera. You can swing a golf club with it, mow down a quarterback, or switch targets during a gunfight. Hell, EA reconfigured the whole Fight Night franchise to work around right-stick punching. And, it's become nearly impossible for a mass-market Hollywood project to come to light without attaching its stars to a game as well.
When Rise to Honor hit shelves, both its control scheme and existence as a star vehicle were big gambles. True, it wasn't a good-enough game to get great returns, but it helped pave the way for the experimentation and deal-making we take for granted today.
Check out more Games That Time Forgot.