Retrospective: Urban Champion

Block party.

Video game genres often end up having stock comments associated with them. You may have said some of these things yourself. "Of course, it isn't as good as Mario," works pretty well if you're talking about most platformers, for example. Then there's: "It's just a spread sheet, really," which is great for sports management sims and some of the weirder, more item-heavy RPGs. There's even: "My back is hurting. I can't feel my left leg," to bust out after a Kinect session. And for fighting games? For fighting games, the classic is: "I'd like to get into them, but they're too complicated. I'm not as clever as Simon Parkin."

For those situations, I even have a stock answer: "You should try Urban Champion. It's simple to understand and easy to master." There's one problem with this argument, though. Urban Champion is completely terrible.

Urban Champion is a game by Nintendo, and it occupies the same space on the company's CV that Firefox (the movie, not the browser) presumably does on Clint Eastwood's. You know they made it, but you assume they were very sick at the time, or very upset about something, and didn't really understand what they were doing.

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Urban Champion arrived in new 3D-ified form on the 3DS this week. Check it out! Or don't.

It is a brawler of precisely no finesse, an arcade-style experience with zero charm. It's also a sports game based around street violence - and not in the overblown superhero manner of Ryu and Ken and Chun-Li. Nope. No spinning bird kicks here: it's just two louts smacking each other into open manholes. The only reason the UK Parliament referred to a "Grand Theft Auto culture" rather than an "Urban Champion culture" during the recent riots was that even Keith Vaz was too sensitive to bring Urban Champion up again. It's really bad.

I'm not going to try to talk anyone into giving this game a second chance, then - but I am selfishly interested as to why I remember liking it when it's so obviously awful. And, rather fittingly, I suspect my reasons are every bit as awful as the game itself.

Firstly, I really do love Urban Champion because it's the one fighting game I can get my feeble head around. There are only four types of punches in Urban Champion (along with a block) and so, with nothing to remember, you can essentially succeed by sheer persistence. The idea of measuring your progress by tying it to how far down the sidewalk you've managed to knock your enemy actually strikes me as kind of smart, but there's nothing smart about my appreciation of the rest of the game's mechanics: I loved the game back in the mid-1980s because I could play it well enough to win it regularly - and because endlessly pummelling somebody was a strangely refreshing experience for a nine-year-old in a house filled with bigger brothers.

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