Not all games were created with the same purpose. Sometimes a storyline is not needed, or characters with depth or complicated level design. Sometimes just gotta take off the gloves and punch your friend in the face. That’s what Urban Champion is all about.
When I was growing up and wanted to experience some great cinema I would search through my father’s shelf of films on VHS. My siblings and I had a lot of wacky comedy and animated films on VHS. But if I wanted something a little more sophisticated, a little more “grown-up”, I would watch some of my dad’s classics on VHS such as “The Godfather” series, “Raging Bull”, “A Clockwork Orange”, “Pulp Fiction”, “Apocalypse Now” and many others and among them was a film called “Lenny”. I just assumed “Lenny” was one of those masterpieces of cinematic history which everyone has to see, considering its company on the shelf. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that “Lenny” isn’t really considered a cinematic masterpiece, it is deemed a fine film for sure, starring Dustin Hoffman as legendary comedian Lenny Bruce, but it doesn’t rank high, or at all, on any of the “best films of all-time” lists out there. Nevertheless, when I watched it, I felt that “Lenny” fit right in with those other masterpieces and it never occurred to me it wasn’t generally thought of as such and it’s still one of my favorite films to this day. This is how I view the game Urban Champion.
This was one of my favorite NES games as a kid. I didn’t have the patience to play the classic linear platform games, but Urban Champion was fun and easily accessible. I lumped it right up there with Zelda and Mario, not knowing it was a pretty forgettable game with no sequels. In fact Nintendo even smugly announced on Twitter they won’t be making a sequel of Urban Champion. When I researched the game on the internet before writing this review, I was shocked at the terrible reviews it has. Gamespot called it “about as boring as it can possibly be”, while IGN called it “god awful”. I don’t really care what the hoity-toity raining-into-their-nostrils gaming elite says, Urban Champion is fucking awesome.
The game is a fighting game, one of the first of its kind. But we’re not talking about no fancy tournament of martial artists with spiky hair and convoluted backstories. If you want to be the Urban Champion you better be ready to fight bare-knuckle in the streets. Basically the opposing players start on each end of the street and meet in the middle, the target is to punch your opponent to the end of the street. After doing that two times, a manhole appears at the end of the street which will be the final resting place of your opponent if you manage to punch him towards it. In the final round the music changes to a cool and menacing bassline indicating that shit is about to go down, or considering there’s a manhole there, down into shit. A humiliating way to lose and a glorious way to win, and you even get showered with confetti when you win as you flex your muscles, being the sexy Urban Champion that you are. That’s it. It’s simple. The two guys even look the same except one has blue hair, the other has green hair. There’s no backstory, there are no multiple levels, there are no complicated moves you need to memorize. It’s just straight up fisticuffs.
The controls of the game are simple but dynamic. There’s a quick weak punch and a slower strong punch, using the buttons. You can dodge or guard using the pad. The game is all about gaining ground and edging your opponent towards the end of the street. Every punch you swing costs stamina, once stamina reaches zero you become very weak and roll backwards with just one hit. This makes for a great ‘sudden death’ type of atmosphere if it’s a long round and both players reach zero stamina. If there’s a manhole on both ends of the streets (indicating a final round) and both players are at 0 stamina, the game gets really intense and I must applaud the creators of this game for managing to create an experience which can still be riveting more than 30 years later. Once in a while a cop car drives by which basically jump-starts the round, with both players forced to go on the opposite end of the street, whistling innocently. A great inventive twist which adds an element of randomness to the game. Me and Egill have had some great dramatic duels against each other playing this game, even though it’s simple, two advanced players can play it very tactically which gives it good lasting appeal.
If you don’t want to play a long game, going from level to level and just want to play against your friend head-to-head, there are few games that compare to Urban Champion. It’s easy to pick up, people that aren’t avid NES players will quickly get into a groove and most of all it’s really really fun. Isn’t that why we play games anyway? For fun?
Lasting appeal 8
Is it fun? 9
Overall 8,5 a very entertaining game
Bonus: Take a look at the original booklet of the game