1: Urban Champion

Genre: Slice of Life

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Year: 1986

Basic Idea: Your life will never be the same.

Review:  I have never been more inspired by a game.

Remember the end of the The Breakfast Club, where Judd Nelson is walking across the football field to “Don’t Forget About Me?”  When he pumps his fist in the air, that’s how I feel every time I load Urban Champion.  A simultaneous rush of excitement and melancholy–every time.

Like everything John Hughes accomplished, this game has layers upon layers.  What initially appears to be your typical street fighting game is really about the quest of two misunderstood young men to find their path in life.  Many feel that the character’s identical looks indicate that they are twin brothers, fighting through a sibling rivalry.  If one looks deeper, it is obvious that they merely represent how society views all street thugs: worthless and no different from any other.

This is accentuated by several other subtle touches.  Notice how each area looks the same, other than a palette swap and the names on the building?  This represents how for the life of a poor urban citizen, the days and places run together as they struggle for food and shelter, sometimes resorting to fighting each other for resources.

It’s unfortunate this is the only part of these men’s lives we get to see, but it’s really the most heartbreaking.  Imagine Boyz N the Hood in a video game, only more redemptive.  The controls aren’t the greatest, but how else to better represent these men’s struggles than to show how little control they have over their destiny?

Also notice how the bourgeois middle-class occasionally tries to throw flower pots during fights?  This is a painful reminder of how most of society treats those less fortunate, not knowing that they could be one tragedy away from being in the same position.

Finally, one “wins” this by knocking their opponent into a sewer hole.  Talk about gut-wrenching, that despite the depths of sadness of these men’s lives, they still have farther to fall if they’re not careful.  Even when one arises victorious, it’s just another reminder of the real costs to society.  Confetti is thrown on the winner by the middle-class apartment dwellers, a pathetic reinforcement of behavior, equating their struggles to that of a cockfight.

Sure, there are more modern games like Street Fighter II that have better graphics and more “moves.”  But for a pure, stripped down view about what it’s really like to be a street fighter, look no further than Urban Champion.

8 thoughts on “1: Urban Champion”

  1. Wow. My heart bleeds (with you!) for these unfortunate fellows. Such an inspiring tale for struggling white males raised in the projects of suburban Coon Rapids, MN. I think we’ve all learned something special from this.

    1. This is an inside joke between Beau and I. When the list started, I told him that this (terrible) game had to be #1 or he’d be in trouble, so he wrote this to make it sound cool, when it’s really, really not.

      I figure the real #1 will be up tomorrow morning.

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