Review: 3D Classics: Urban Champion (3DS eShop)

3D Classic, huh? Well, they're half right...

You really have to feel bad for the team assigned to updating Urban Champion. After all, it's not a game that's very fondly remembered; in fact, you're unlikely to find many positive reviews at all, even from when it was new. It's also a stretch to say that it set the framework for fighting games to come; it seems more likely that later fighting games ignored the low standard set by Urban Champion and started afresh. And we're glad they did.

So spare a moment for the poor development team here, two and a half decades later, that suddenly finds their names attached to this project. It's a battle lost from the start. Short of building a whole new game — which would sort of defeat the point — there was no hope of redeeming this one.

And yet they did a fantastic job. We mean that. There was a great deal of effort put into 3D Classics: Urban Champion, and it's difficult not to appreciate the work they did. Sadly, however, as its core, the main game is absolutely terrible.

Let's start by talking about the game itself: you punch. We are now finished talking about the game itself. That's really all there is to it. You roam the streets punching differently coloured clones of yourself, eventually knocking them into — or being knocked into — an open sewer. Every so often somebody will drop a flowerpot out of a window, or a policeman will drive by and interrupt the fight, but, well, that's it.

The game loops endlessly over three screens, none of which are really much different from any other. Variety may be the spice of life, but it's the bane of Urban Champion.

You can throw two different kinds of punches. The slower kind is more powerful, and the faster kind is weak. Either action is stiff and sluggish, and you'll find that strategy is not your friend — the game doesn't react quickly enough to what you do, so don't bother thinking things through too much. Just mash the buttons and hope it ends quickly.

The 3D Classics version, however, does have a few more tricks up its sleeve. Sadly though it's nothing that affects the gameplay.

For starters, there are now ranks, or "grades." Instead of just endlessly looping stages, there will also be title bouts — which unfortunately don't play any differently — in which, if you win, you can raise your rank. This is a welcome addition to the game in the way that it's attempting, at least, to provide the player with a sense of accomplishment that the original game lacked. And, to a point, it works: we played through about 50 rounds of 3D Classics: Urban Champion just to see what kind of rank we could get, whereas on the NES it's an effort to play more than three or four.

The game will store your highest rank, so that the next time you play — if there is a next time — you can try to beat it. It also offers a save game feature, which quite presumptuously assumes that there's something in this game worth saving.

Additionally, there's the 3D effect. You may be thinking that this doesn't qualify as a separate feature, but we disagree. The game features the same simple background depth added to 3D Classics: Excitebike, but it also features an entirely separate camera option, buried in the options menu. Turn it on and instead of the screen just scrolling horizontally the game's camera will swivel to follow you, resulting in a pixelated world being viewed from intriguing diagonal angles. It's actually quite lovely in its own way, and something we'd love to see more of in future 3D classics. It must have taken a good deal of new work to create this throwaway option for such a throwaway game, but we're happy the developer took the time.

Unfortunately, none of this improves the core experience of Urban Champion in any way. The team deserves accolades for expending a great deal of work on a game that didn't really deserve it, but all of these changes amount, simply, to nice touches and nothing more.

There is also a two-player mode, which requires both players to own a copy of the game. It's probably smarter just to play alone, though, rather than admit to anyone that you spent money on this.

We didn't expect much of 3D Classics: Urban Champion. In that way, it surpassed even our wildest dreams. Ultimately, though, this updated version just goes to show that you can add some depth to Urban Champion, but you can't make it any fun.

Conclusion

The 3D Classics versions of Urban Champion does everything it can to give you new reasons to play Urban Champion. Unfortunately, Urban Champion wasn't very fun in the first place, and the last thing we wanted was a reason to play it again. No amount of additional polish — impressive though that polish may be — can help this one. It's easy to appreciate the effort, but we certainly wish it was effort made toward updating a superior game.