Urban Champion (NES) review
"In 1984, Nintendo was the luckiest company on the face of the gaming planet. With Atari taking a shameful nosedive into oblivion, Nintendo had a clean slate on all fronts. After moving the foundations of the arcade scene, Nintendo seized the opportunity to make a boatload of games that everybody could enjoy. There were games for the sports enthusiast, games for the new rising breed of platforming fans, and enough quirky small packages of miscellany to keep all gamers on their toes. "
In 1984, Nintendo was the luckiest company on the face of the gaming planet. With Atari taking a shameful nosedive into oblivion, Nintendo had a clean slate on all fronts. After moving the foundations of the arcade scene, Nintendo seized the opportunity to make a boatload of games that everybody could enjoy. There were games for the sports enthusiast, games for the new rising breed of platforming fans, and enough quirky small packages of miscellany to keep all gamers on their toes.
If motorbikes, men with balloons tied to their belt loops, and hammer-wielding Eskimos aren't your bag, however, there is a first-generation game filled with fisticuffs galore. That game is Urban Champion (Nintendo, 1984), the first video game attempt in the oeuvre of mindless punching and law breaking.
Your protagonist wears green pants (which I like to picture as cargo pants), a gray T-shirt, and below that, a blue long-sleeved shirt, but he may as well don a pink bunny suit and beat on a bass drum, because this nameless street brawler just keeps going and going and going. In order to become the titular URBAN CHAMPION, you must fight through a barrage of rival punks so repetitive that they can be justifiably described as endless. To prevail as the blue-haired guppy in a sea of green-haired sharks, you must use what you know and apply it to your seemingly hopeless situation. What is it that you know? Two punches - one a quick jab and the other a more powerful hard punch á la Ka Ge Ki - and two different defensive and offensive positions (high and low). Lovely.
You start smack dab in the middle of but one long stretch of downtown in the town your street punk has chosen to reside in, a noisy dystopia of endless snack bars, book stores, barber shops, and discount outlets. Immediately a green-haired rival accosts you. Your first battle is clumsy and somewhat tilted against you as you have no idea what to do in order to protect yourself. Watch and see that in order to win, you must bowl your opponent backward into an open manhole, a safety hazard this town seems to possess spades. A jab will catch him off guard while a hard punch sends him reeling backward onto his back, a technique you need to repeat successfully many times to advance. Opponents last for three rounds, and at the end of each trio of rounds is the manhole that you need to push your antagonist into. Once victorious, a fair maiden in the windows above sprinkles confetti upon your goofy grinning face. Sounds boring, but it can be a rush.
As if being shamed by green-scalped ruffians flexin' on your turf wasn't bad enough, there's the long arm of the law you have to dodge the grasp of. Every time a police officer passes, the two of you will set aside your differences long enough to avoid time in the slammer, and once he's gone, it's back to the fistfighting. Coupled with the gruff old men dropping flower pots on your head from above, it's enough to throw you for a loop and cut off the good strategy you had going.
And what a strategy that is! Through the first several (read: forty) rounds, it will suffice to just wail away at the guy's face with a consistent barrage of high straight punches timed so evenly you could set the atomic clock to them. If you want to mix it up a little bit with some low punches, just press Down to switch stances and start divebombing the guy's stomach. Down, Up, Down, Up! What a fun, repetitive strategy! However, knowing how to shuffle the cards up your sleeve actually becomes imperative starting at about Round 48. All of a sudden, the CPU decides to play smart, and the game loses the charming redundancy it held through the majority of the punching gloves, flags, trophies, and tiaras that mark your progress through the round triads.
Don't get me wrong - games are fun when the recipe calls for a pinch of hard. But Urban Champion is the chef that accidentally dumped all the oregano into the lasagna. When it comes out of the oven, you still have a robust, bold, zesty product in the pan, but perhaps too zesty. That lingering taste of the spilled oregano will ultimately drive you away from what would probably have been a passable, sumptuous four-cheese delight. The same thing goes for UC: once someone spills the oregano, the whole thing goes to pot. The dodgy controls and aged but pleasant mid-80's graphics are forgivable and even acceptable once you ease into the brawling mode. But after too much of a soporific execution that adds way too much spice way too late, you get the feeling that there's not much more that's useful or entertaining that Urban Champion can offer you.
It doesn't take a lot of time with Urban Champion to realize which open manhole or confetti shower will be the last one for you. At the end of the day, it's both a comfort and a bore to know in your heart that you are the URBAN CHAMPION.
Now for a snack, a book, and a haircut.
Community review by snowdragon (December 09, 2003)
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