Our Andy (UKNESBoy) sets out once more to prove the rest of us at Arcade Attack know nothing about the NES (this is true) by digging out Urban Champion, one of the first games on the console and a “street brawler” produced by Game Boy creator Gunpei Yokoi.
Yep, it passed us by too! Ha ha!
With the upcoming release of Streets of Rage 4 ready to quench our thirst for violence and street brawls, it is hard to think of times before franchise like Streets of Rage and Final Fight that brought this type of gaming to the home consoles. So what did gamers in the 80’s do without having to pump 10p’s into arcade machines and enjoy all the trappings of a proper dust-up without leaving the comfort of their own home? Well, if you had a NES and this was 1986 then you have been taken by a particular title that was released at the start of the library and had an image of one guy punching another guy so hard he falls down into an open manhole cover – ace! What could go wrong with a game set against this? (errrrrr – Ed) The game in question today is Urban Champion, so is it more urban-decay or a game fit for champions?
Urban Champion was released as a black box title on the NES in 1986 and even before putting the game in your console, the box art depicts a scene of two guys fighting in the city against a night-time background of buildings and streetlights, setting the scene well for what lies ahead. Being a fighting game you may have thought the idea was to deplete someone’s energy reducing it down until they take their final breath but Urban Champion it works slightly differently. Although there is a stamina meter, you have to fight your opponent (just the one in this case), from one side of the screen to the other. If you manage to do that, you get the visual pleasure of your opponent rolling backwards (which I cannot recall ever happening in real life, though if it did happen that would be brilliant!)
You have to defeat your opponent twice, and on the third attempt you have to knock them down into an open man-hole. Do this and you get a confetti party coupled with upbeat jaunty music which makes it all worthwhile….
Thrusting the game into the console with such gusto and turning it on, as per standard with the early black box you head straight into the main menu with punchy upbeat (albeit short) music. You get two gaming modes to choose from – game mode A where you play against the computer, or game mode B with which you and your local co-op chum go head to head in the battle for supremacy.
If you do choose game mode A, then like most games the computer starts off easy enough for you to get to grips with the game and its nuances but getting beyond the later rounds is a challenge in itself. You need stamina, strength, a well-placed montage akin to Rocky (ha ha! – Ed) and the determination to succeed. Or just good reflexes and luck. You may notice you do have a timer to complete the round in, akin to more recent fighting games of 99 seconds, and energy points of 200. The way it works, for example, is that if you are dealt a light punch you lose 4 stamina points, with a heavier more powerful punch losing 10 points. However, at points the police may also catch you fighting – if they do then both of you get taken to opposing sides of the screen to then resume battle. This is all fine and well but does get annoying if you’re about to punch your guy into the next world only to be caught by police and to be split up to start proceedings all over again, with less time to finish the battle and less stamina.
Controls-wise, it seems a bit more convoluted than the standard NES game. The A button does a light punch that is quick but not powerful, where as the B button does a slower yet more powerful punch. If you press up on the d-pad to do a head punch and pressing the down button alongside A button does a punch to the body. This is good because it ensures variety can be had and not just button bashing a single button to try and win. Graphics-wise, as noted previously the game looks good set against the backdrop of city skylines and the night sky with the pastel colours making everything look serene and calming. This is in stark contrast to the bloodied violence you encounter in the game!
What you will notice though, like an episode of Scooby Doo, is that in the background of the shops start repeating themselves from the food shop to a discount place to the book store. The colours and detail are nice but not spectacular which isn’t the worst aspect of a game but you do want something pleasing on the eye when beating seven bells out of someone (we see where you’re going with this – Ed). The character you are controlling isn’t the most sartorially-excellent which does put a dampener on proceedings somewhat (blue tops and green trousers don’t make good bedfellows especially when you finish the ensemble off with purple shoes) but hey if anyone was falling into a deep dank sewer then maybe this is what should be worn?
Looking back at this game, how does it fare up given it was one of the earliest games on the NES library? At the time, it was a good introduction to fighting games and the fact it was one-on-one makes it more personal rather than beating up non-descript punks all over the place. Time however has not favoured this game well and it was common to see reviews of the game especially when released on the virtual console noting the game was bland with clunky slow controls.
Though this is true, it still deserved a place in the virtual console library and worthy of your time even if more for curiosity than anything else. The main thing is to take the game as it was back then, a simple and basic one-on-one fighting game that with the pastel colours does look nice but whose controls are not as tip-top as they could be. Do grab a copy if you can, it isn’t that expensive in gaming stores or on your favourite auction websites just so you can stick on multiplayer mode and laugh heartily as you punch an opponent down a manhole. Hopefully this should prevent the need to do this in real life but you never know…
All screenshots taken from Moby Games.