Genre : Fighting
Release Date: July 10, 2003
Buy 'K-1 WORLD GRAND PRIX': PlayStation 2
I will freely admit that any fighting game that does not involve fireballs tends to lose me fairly quickly. I grew up under the impression that "fighting game" meant fireball traps, dragon punches, lightning kicks, super moves, desperations, an occasional fatality, and my friend Greg beating me handily every time while using only one button (Blanka's crouching short).
So when Rainier told me I was to review K-1 World Grand Prix, I was a little on edge about it. Me and "realistic" fighting games don't get along, largely because I really, really suck at them. I played a lot of UFC on Dreamcast, and got my head handed to me every time, which means I break out in a cold sweat at the very mention of the phrase "submission hold."
K-1's not bad, though. It's based on a Japanese fighting league that I've never heard of before now, featuring fighters from around the world. It can also boast the same realistic feel as UFC, which is only helped by the uber-detailed character models. When you land a punch and sweat flies off the other guy, and his retaliatory haymaker leaves a welt on your cheek that's obvious for the rest of the fight, you know the graphics have got some power in them. The guys look real, the crowds are cheering in Japanese, the lights are bright, and the announcer just won't shut up; it's a surprisingly faithful recreation of a night at the fights.
The gameplay is built around strikes, with only a token nod to grappling. The roster includes a variety of boxers, kickboxers, and karatekas, all of whom are based off of the real fighters in the real K-1. Pick one of them, and you'll have a fairly varied, realistic moveset at your disposal. You can duck and sway away from incoming attack, display somewhat lame taunts, hold down R1 as you punch or kick for a character-specific "KO Move," and block just about anything by holding down L1. Individual strikes don't tend to do a lot of damage, but they definitely add up if a string of them connect or if a KO comes in at just the right time.
There are a lot of gameplay modes: Exhibition, the highly addictive two-player mode, which you can use to put on one-on-one bouts, team matches, or one-night eight-man tournaments; Grand Prix, the one-player "arcade mode"; Time Trial Fight, which is exactly what it sounds like; Iron Man Fight, which is usually called Survival in other games; Champion Exhibition, where you train up a fighter's abilities until you take a shot at the title; and Revival, a mode that allows fans of the real K-1 to reenact several famous matches, but is more literally a Challenge Mode, giving you a match to win and a handicap.
I'll admit that I got my head pretty much caved in at this game. K-1 can be played as a button-masher, just as with a lot of boxing games, and that approach will get people wins. That said, it's also slow-paced enough to allow for a more cerebral approach. Once I got the idea that, yes, blocking is a good idea, and maybe I should do more of it, I started managing to pull out a few victories of my own. The addition of several moves you can pull out coming out of a block, like a spinning backfist, adds to the strategy. If you're serious about the game, you'll quickly learn defense, and the button-masher's winning streak will end with a screeching halt.
I'll hesitantly suggest that it appears that the character balance could be better—Mark Skelton in particular has a really vicious left, and seems to get KO blows for free all the time, regardless of whether you were pressing R1 or not; also, the slower characters, like Mirko Cro Cop, tend to be lunch meat—but for the most part, the roster's well-rounded. The differences between characters are frequently somewhat subtle unless you're a martial-arts wonk, but they're there. The boxers' kicks are pretty weak, whereas the kickboxers can punt your head clean off your body.
There's not much else for me to say about the game. It's a realistic brawler that actually manages to get and keep my attention, despite its lack of anything besides brutal-looking hand-to-hand combat. If you like that sort of thing, K-1's got enough play modes and fighters to keep you entertained for a good long while.
It could have benefited from, say, a create-a-fighter mode, especially if you could unlock fighting styles that aren't represented in the existing characters (the game mentions kung fu a lot, but there don't appear to be any actual kung fu fighters in the cast; I know that kung fu doesn't exactly lend itself to tournaments like this, but still, it'd be cool), but what's here is good. If, like me, you would've been more interested in UFC if it wasn't so frequently a "big sweaty man grinding my face into the canvas while simultaneously dislocating every joint in my lower body" sim (damn you, Tito Ortiz), K-1 provides a solid alternative.
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