Karate come from China, sixteenth century, called te, “hand.” Hundred year later, Miyagi ancestor bring to Okinawa, call *kara*-te, “empty hand.” Many year after that James Matson bring review of Budokan for Amiga. All Village rejoice.
Pretty much everyone on the Retro Domination staff loves a good retro fighting game.
Most of us are just a hundred hand slap away from getting the Street Fighter 2 roster tattooed on our back (or in the case of Daz, on his left butt cheek) and it’s rare you’ll hear a bad word around the office about SF2, Mortal Kombat, King Of Fighters or any of the retro fighter ‘greats’. One thing these fighter giants have in common however, is that they don’t treat the concept of martial arts, well, very seriously.
When was the last time you went to Karate class and had someone hurl a giant blue fireball at you for example? Or spun through the air upside down? Or ripped the spine out of their opponent before holding it up to the onlooking audience. If any of those things are happening at your local martial arts centre, then you probably need to find a new martial arts centre.
Budokan: The Martial Spirit takes a different approach. Gone are the flashy costumes, superhero back stories and just-what-did-you-do-with-the-laws-of-physics special moves. What you’ve got is one martial arts guy dressed in his unassuming karategi and a mission to take on rivals at the titular Budokan or indoor arena. The start screen is fairly modest, featuring a tiny version of your fighter character and an overhead map with a number of buildings you can visit to train or fight. Training buildings will allow you to practice solo or against a sparring partner in a number of specific disciplines, namely Bo staff, Nunchaku, Kendo or Karate.
Each style has different moves or weapons involved (the Bo staff, the Kendo sword, fists and feet for Karate for example) but all fights rely on carefully balancing two main attributes; stamina and ki. It’s here that Budokan becomes a more strategic game than your average flashy retro fighter. Ki (the power behind each hit) is decreased by performing tough physical movements like jumping around the screen, and increased by performing defensive blocks. Your stamina acts as health and can be sapped by hits from your opponent. As your stamina decreases you can feel the effect in your character as he moves more slowly around the arena and is slower to react. The balancing act of Ki combined with the timing required to accurately deliver – or defend – blows means that Budokan rewards thinking and punishes the button masher.
There are no super hurricane missile punch of a thousand Donkeys here folks. It’s sticks, fists and grace all the way.
Once you’re comfortable enough with sparring in the different disciplines, you can take your fight to the main arena. Here you’ll face off against opponents – each with their own short bio – for points in a competition setting. The opponents gradually increase in difficulty until progression is barred for all but the most adept fighter. Interestingly when Budokan was first released back in 89/90, reviews ranged from fair to poor. The game was torn a new one in some cases for its apparent bland gameplay and unrealistic portrayal of weaponry.
In the Amiga version at least, the multimedia aspects of the platform are unfortunately barely utilised. The graphics aren’t much to write about (hence why we haven’t written much about them) and the sound is perfunctory at best, but we think Budokan is worth a look for the simple fact that it treats martial arts with a scrap of respect many other retro fighters failed to do. You can – with a tiny bit of imagination – get swept up in the Budokan arena competition, and begin to take your progress through the rounds as seriously as though you were right there, on the mat, fighting for a championship.
If you need a fighting game to be full of flash and sparkle, then Budokan isn’t for you. If you’re interested in a semi-serious martial arts simulator that rewards you for patience and skill however, Budokan might just be the game to chew up some time in-between spinning a monkey drum or listening to Keisuke Miyagi tell war stories.