KO, Not OK.
I sat through a few Muay Thai kickboxing bouts while off roaming around in Thailand, and if it weren't for the prodigious amount of rum and Coke, I might have passed out from the sheer violence. Watching a guy lose a tooth to a fist is one thing, but watching the tooth almost land in your aforementioned drink after a knee to the mouth is another thing entirely.
Yet despite its overseas popularity, the sport never seemed to take off in
the States. Instead, mixed martial arts events like UFC
and Pride have appeased our bloodlust by offering
all kinds of broken bones, bloody noses and even the occasional chokeout.
K-1 actually dates back to 1992, making it the oldest of the popular martial arts circuits (the UFC started in 1993), but the event hasn't gotten much gaming attention with only a few weak offerings over the years. K-1: World Grand Prix is the first next-generation version of the sport, but it will also likely be the last. This is a lackluster brawler that's more in love with the fighters than the fighting.
And unless you're a big fan of K-1 already, you won't know who any of these
guys are. I recognized a few of them thanks to ESPN at 2 a.m., but for the most
part it's strictly hard-to-pronounce international fighters galore.
The gameplay is incredibly straightforward - punch, kick and knee your way to success in 3 to 5 rounds of occasionally brutal fighting. There's a stamina meter, a health bar and a little homunculus representing damage to either your head, body or legs. All par for the course.
But the fighting system is woefully unprepared to enter the ring. You can pull
off a few pre-set combos for each fighter by pressing the "Combo" button along
with an attack, but it's so dumbed down it feels cheap. There's also a "KO"
button that throws a big shot when coupled with an attack button, but these
aren't very interesting and the different fighters don't have many unique attacks.
No quarter-circles? No actual button combos? No alternate stances? No fun.
The thing is, you won't really need much of that, as you can do remarkably well with some strategic button-mashing from start to finish. The AI has a hard time when you mix it up, and you can basically go undefeated by alternating between low and high attacks until your thumbs hurt.
K-1's sluggish control could use a healthy application of KY. Considering how fast and brutal the sport is, you'd expect some quick moves, ducks and dodges. If you moved like this in a real fight, you'd literally get your head punched off.
There are plenty of modes in K-1, but all roads lead to the same stale fighting. Grand Prix lets you fight for a while until you win the title, Exhibition lets you set up matches however you see fit, and basic Time Trial and Endurance modes crop up for good measure. There's also a Revival mode that lets you relive famous rounds in K-1 history, though they sure don't look very memorable when you watch the accompanying videos. Nice body blow, Jorgen.
game's most notable mode, Champion's Revolution, is one of the worst Career
modes I've ever seen. There is no option to create a fighter; rather, you just
take one of the K-1 guys through the Grand Prix mode, beefing up stats along
the way by engaging in boring little training sessions. I suppose this could
have been tolerable, but after about 6 or 7 fights you'll reach the Championship
tournament, after which you take on fighter after fighter without going back
to the stats screen to buff out your guy. So essentially the interesting part
ends after fewer than 10 fights, leading to a shorter career than the Dell
Plus, it's just not hard enough. I beat the Grand Prix mode in about an hour and a half on my first try. I completed Champion's Revolution in the same time without losing one fight. I beat 21 straight opponents in my first shot at the Ironman endurance mode. You can up the difficulty, but the standard level should have been far more challenging.
K-1's delivery is also less than stellar. Though the framerate is fine and the animations are decent, the backgrounds are cheap and there is no damage modeling whatsoever. No blood, sweat, or teeth - just the occasional cheek bruise, unless that's just a smudge on my TV. I'd love to figure that one out for you, but there's no instant replay aside from a short repeat of the knockout punch.
As this is a Konami game born in Japan, the music is mainly canned heavy metal thunder. The ring announcer speaks so slowly, I swear he was an extra in "Awakenings."
Konami is also known for their hidden modes, and K-1 certainly supplies the bonus material. You can unlock a few videos for every fighter, as well as a cute but still boring mini-game called "Robok," which is just a Rock 'Em Sock 'Em version of the standard fighting game using little blocky robot guys.
The K-1 tournament might be a big hit internationally, but this game cannot hold its own against the likes of Tekken, DOA and Virtua Fighter, not to mention the soon-to-be-classic Soul Calibur 2. Diehard fans of the sport who already know these fighters' names by heart will probably get some kicks out of it, but the rest of you should just kick it to the curb.