Urban Champion

Developer: Nintendo
U.S. Publisher: Nintendo
Original U.S. Release: August 1, 1986
Virtual Console Release: January 1, 2007
Genre: Fighting
Format: 24-Kilobyte Cartridge

Based on: Hitting people, self-loathing, loathing Nintendo, hitting Nintendo.

Games | Nintendo Entertainment System | Virtual Console | Urban Champion

Article by Tomm Guycot | August 15, 2007

Many video games are founded on the principle of competition, and no genre personifies this better than the Fighting genre. Traditional fighters like Street Fighter II?, Soul Calibur, or Virtua Fighter require you to deplete an opponent's stamina until they are unable to fight. More party-oriented fare like the Smash Bros.? series has a simpler goal: knock your opponents off the edge of the screen.

While the modern Fighting genre is a varied and eclectic mix of gameplay goals and colorful characters, its origins lie entirely in a tiny speck of dust from the NES launch window. A speck of dust called Urban Champion. In this ancient specimen, one can see the source of both Street Fighter and Smash Bros. Players face an opponent on a 2D playing field and continue to attack until his stamina is depleted. They can then knock said opponent off the edge of the screen and (hopefully) into an open manhole of defeat. And, while these simple principles blossomed across the cosmos in the big bang of the mid-'90s, the fighting faithful credit intelligent design as the source of the genre's quality.

Because it certainly wasn't Urban Champion.

The game gives you two moves: pressing the A Button allows you to throw a slightly faster punch. It doesn't do a whole lot. Pressing the B Button throws a slightly slower punch, which knocks your opponent on his ass. There's not a whole lot of reason to use the first one. You can also lean backward. That is your entire move set, right there; no button combos, no special moves, no jumping. Your opponent is you with a different shirt.

Sure, there's more going on than two guys punching each other. Once in a while, a woman will drop a flower pot at you. Sometimes the cops will cruise past and you will be forced to stop fighting while you and your mortal enemy do your best to look innocent. This has no effect on the gameplay beyond wasting about three seconds of the clock.

Each area is about three screens wide, with a manhole on either end. If you manage to knock your enemy all the way across and into the sewer, you're treated to a victory celebration where a woman (the same one who tried to brain you with a clay pot) tosses some confetti. You then move on to fight the same guy in an identical looking environment for equally nebulous reasons. The best part of the whole proceeding is that if you're defeated, your opponent receives the exact same celebration you would have—same woman and everything. What's the lesson here? That the locals are so happy that the fighting is finally over that they don't care WHO wins, as long as their children can walk to school safely again. Violence -- don't play this game.

For the record, if the time meter does happen to run out, the cops pull up and arrest whichever hooligan is closest to his edge of the screen. Talk about justice. Either man could be a local hero. Either man could be a criminal. Whether you win or lose makes no difference at all in the pale gray world of Urban Champion, and that's the rub. The only true way to win is never to play it at all.

The VC version of Urban Champion is, quite unfortunately, identical to its NES counterpart. If the game looked shallow next to the likes of Pinball and Ice Climber back in 1985, it certainly has no business appearing alongside Mario 64 and A Link to the Past?. This is the only launch title that makes Orphen PS2 look like a good idea. If anyone ever tries to convince you this isn't the worst game of all time, hit him. With the B Button; no point in wasting stamina.

Images courtesy of VGMuseum