Monday, January 27, 2014

NES Replay: Urban Champion

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: June 1986
Before the NES, Nintendo made little handheld LCD games called Game & Watch. They were very simple games that would have a player do something really basic. For example, one game had the player walk back and forth while avoiding debris falling from above. Another had the player throwing balls in the air and catching them. Like I said, really basic games.

Even though they were simple games, they were wildly popular. They were so popular that it appears that Nintendo started wondering if they could release them as full-blown NES releases. Obviously, they would have to have better graphics and maybe add a few extra features, but with a few tweaks, an NES port of a Game & Watch game would be just as popular, right?

The problem, though, is that players had different expectations for old-school LCD games (like the Game & Watch series) and NES games. An LCD game was cheap, only costing about $15-20 on average. They were far closer in spirit to arcade games, but stripped way, way down. This was fine, since the games were so cheap.

The expectations for a home game were much, much higher than an LCD game. A cartridge was at least $40 each, if not more. Trying to translate a Game & Watch game into something that could be played on the NES would have been a disaster. Certainly, Nintendo would never attempt something so foolish, right?

Well, they did. Urban Champion was a port of the Game & Watch game called Boxing. Boxing had an alternate title of Punch-Out!!, but bears no resemblance to the game we know as Punch-Out!!

The gameplay is painfully simple. You stand in front of a building. You fight another character who looks exactly like you, but colored a little differently. (This was called palette-swapping, and was fairly common for when you wanted to make another sprite but didn't have the room to make a brand new one.) You throw punches at the other player and try and back them up against the edge of the screen. You can throw a strong punch or a weak punch, and either aim at the head or the body. Win, and you go to the next screen. Then you fight the same guy. Do this three more times and you win. Then you begin again.

If you play Urban Champion for five minutes, you have seen literally everything it has to offer. There will be no more changes to the gameplay. There is no end. To paraphrase 1984, this game is a fist hitting a face forever.

To be fair, fighting games were still in their infancy. No one really had a clear idea as to what a fighting game was supposed to be yet, so this seemed as good of an idea as any. Plus, while Urban Champion's single-player is boring, even modern fighting games are more fun with a second player.

Even with those bits factored in, Urban Champion is a terrible game. The controls are sluggish, which makes throwing a punch feel like you're sending your player an email in which you're explaining the need to form an exploratory committee vis a vis throwing a punch at your opponents torso, if they're not too busy. Your character just moves too slowly in general, since he advances and retreats way too slowly.

Even when Urban Champion tries to do something cool, it falls flat on its face. From time to time, a woman will pop out of a window above you and drop a flowerpot that can stun you. Now, I've tried to line it up so that it hits my opponent instead of me, and I swear that the flowerpot goes through the opposing player no matter how careful I am.

Finally, sometimes you'll hear a siren, and both players scurry back to their sides of the screen and look nonchalant while a police car rides by. After the car passes, they meet in the middle again. It's funny the first time, but then you realize: I was winning the fight. The game basically reset the fight for no good reason. That was the last straw for me.

You would be hard pressed to find anyone who sincerely likes Urban Champion without reservations. It's a terrible game and should be avoided. At least the music is good.

Final Rating:

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