Skip to main content

Urban Champion: The first and worst NES fighting game

Urban Champion was the first fighting game to arrive on the NES. (The launch title Kung Fu, though it influenced the fighting genre, is a beat-'em-up.) Within months it was surpassed by a port of the popular arcade game Karate Champ, because Urban Champion is just bad.

The word primitive does not do this justice. Urban Champion has even less depth than Tennis, Soccer, Pinball, Golf, and Baseball, and those are all very bare-bones affairs. The game is just two palette-swapped fighters punching each other until one is pushed into a man hole. B throws a hard punch and A a light punch (barely faster). If you hold ↑ while punching, the blow is directed at the head instead of the torso. Holding ↑ or ↓ without attacking blocks the head and the torso, respectively. There is no kicking, jumping, throwing, or special moves. There is a stamina value at the bottom of the screen, but I have no idea what it indicates.

The "champions" move back and forth along a multi-screen street reminiscent of Hogan's Alley. When you fall down, you roll backwards. One fighter will eventually roll off the screen onto a new one. After this happens a second time, a manhole appears at the edge. Instead of rolling off the screen again, the fighter will fall into the hole and lose. Weirdly, even if you fight your way back to the previous screen, the manhole follows you! In other words, it's a best-of-five match where each screen is a round.

The gameplay in Urban Champion feels random. Until round 20, I was able to win by continuously throwing strong punches! After that, the algorithim controlling the other fighter must have changed. I couldn't predict the computer's actions, so moving backwards or blocking seemed pointless. Just move toward him and keep punching until you win or lose! Making it to higher rounds presumably requires figuring out new patterns for defeating the computer. The game doesn't have points or high scores, but just tracks how many rounds you go. Apparently Nintendo considered this a sports simulation and not an arcade-style game. Street fighting is a sport, right?

Occasionally someone drops a flower pot from a window, which can hit you on the head. Rarely a police car drives by, and the two fighters look innocent until it passes. When you defeat your opponent, a person throws confetti from a window (just like in real-life street fights)! Then you start again, ad nauseam. Or you turn it off.

The two-player mode must be more enjoyable because at least then you can compete against a friend. It's still a meaningless button-masher, but head-to-head competition could provide some thrill. Some internet commenters insist this is a good game. They must have played it young, probably against their brother, because only the rose-tinted glasses of childhood memories could save this game.

The game's sole saving graces are its graphics and sound, which bring some of that 8-bit charm. Still, even these are nothing to write home about. I did not enjoy Urban Champion and doubt I'll ever play it again. Weirdly, Nintendo has a lot of faith in this game, as they went to the trouble of doing a 3D remake of it. Unsurprisingly, it was poorly reviewed.

Grade: F

Gameplay: Not fun; barely a game (6/20)
Theme: Generic, uninspired concept and characters (12/20)
Controls: Controls are functional, but frustrating (9/15)
Difficulty: Too easy, little challenge (12/15)
Graphics: Good-looking, if a bit lackluster (12/15)
Sound: Music and sounds are generic and repetitive (9/15)

Linked Reviews
"It's rubbish, and we'd rather take to the streets and pick random fights than play this again."
— Thomas Whitehead, NintendoLife, 2/10

"Sluggish controls and redundant gameplay end up making the game more a lesson in futility than any type of engaging gaming experience."
— Corbie Dillard, Virtual Console Reviews, 2/10

"It's competently produced, but the game is a little too simple to be very fun to play for long."
— Pat Contri, Ultimate Nintendo: Guide to the NES Library2/5

"Urban Champion is an experience best left in the past."
— Jeremy Parish, NES Works

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Release date: June 1986
Genre: Fighting


Popular posts from this blog

Mysterious Murasame Castle: Non-stop ninja frenzy!

The Mysterious Murasame Castle is a bit of a lost treasure. It's a frenetic samurai-and-ninja game set in feudal Japan. The real mystery is why Nintendo didn't bring it to the West (until 2014), where I'm confident it would have been a hit remembered alongside Ninja Gaiden . Look familiar? This game is a sort of fraternal twin to The Legend of Zelda . Both were made from the same game engine, and it really shows. They both launched on the Famicom Disk System in early 1986, taking advantage of its save feature. However, whereas Zelda is an open-world game with nine dungeons, The Mysterious Murasame Castle is stage-based. You control Takamura through four pairs of two levels each: an above-ground section followed by a castle. The ninth and final stage is the titular Murasame Castle. Although there are branching pathways, stages are mostly linear, like the dungeons in The Legend of Zelda. The Mysterious Murasame Castle Famicom disk The main gimmick of the game is that, wheneve

Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts: 30th anniversary

Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts is an SNES-exclusive sequel to Ghouls 'n Ghosts, itself a sequel to Ghosts 'n Goblins . Like its predecessors, its claim to fame (or infamy) is being ridiculously hard. Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts follows the formula of Ghosts 'n Goblins to a tee. You control a knight named Arthur who must rescue Princess Guinevere by battling endless hordes of monsters and demons: Zombies, Ghosts, Weredogs, Bats, Red Arremers, and even Mimics (the D&D monster that disguises itself as a treasure chest). He picks up various weapons along the way but can only hold one at a time. Some of them (especially the torch) are worse than the throwing spears he begins with. Three new weapons are the crossbow, scythe, and tri-blade. The crossbow is good because it shoots two arrows at once, at about 45 and 30 degree angles upward. I avoid the scythe because Arthur can throw only one at a time and the ability to arc it downward by holding ↓ does not compensate for this. The

Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels: Mario misstep

Given the enormous success of  Super Mario Bros. , Nintendo naturally wanted a sequel. It seems they wanted it so bad that, to quote Dr. Ian Malcom, they "were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should." Super Mario Bros. 2 landed on the Famicom Disk System in June of 1986, a mere nine months after the original. In English it was later given the name The Lost Levels since it was never released on the NES. The prematurity of the sequel shows as soon as you boot the game. It looks almost exactly like the original, down to the same title screen (with a 2), same sprites, and same backgrounds. There are a few visual tweaks, such as new ground tiles and faces on the clouds, trees, mushrooms, and moving platforms. The game has no new power-ups or enemies (except more aggressive red Piranha Plants). There are a few new elements, but they aren't very good. The Poison Mushroom hurts Mario (or Luigi); Super Springs propel him far ab