Developer: Konami Publisher: Konami Release: 12/17/93 Genre: Fighting
Konami established the fighting game genre with Yie Ar Kung-Fu alongside Karate Champ. Many of us older gamers loved it as it offered something different from what we were used to at the time and it would go on to inspire many copycats. But oddly Konami did not stick with the genre they more or less started and it would be Capcom who take the crown and run with it, creating the modern fighting game as we know it. In 1993 Konami would be the challenger instead of the champion with Martial Champion. But it did not make a splash as it was largely derivative rather than innovative. There was a single home port for the PC Engine CD and while decent it shows that Martial Champion was nothing special to begin with.
Martial Champion features a roster of ten playable characters from around the world. Sound familiar? These are an eclectic bunch with only some falling into established fighting game tropes. Jin is the closest to a Shoto clone. Rachael is your token femme fatale. And Bobby is a stand in for Guile. That being said they do have some unique designs in the bunch and some that would be copied in other games. Zen would do the Kabuki warrior thing before Kyoshiro in Samurai Shodown. Titi represented Egypt before Capcom would do the same with Menat in Street Fighter V. Hell Chaos debuted a Jiang Shi before Darkstalkers! Sadly the rest of the list is not as notable.
The controls and mechanics are a hybrid of Yie Ar Kung-Fu and Street Fighter. Martial Champion uses three attack buttons that correspond to low, medium, and high attack. It is different and takes some adjustment. Special moves use the familiar Capcom inputs but with specific buttons rather than each modifying the attack. Unlike most fighting games of the time each character only has one or two special moves at most. This is very limiting, especially as titles like Fatal Fury Special and Street Fighter 2 Turbo were upping the ante in that regard.
While many of Martial Champion’s features are derived from other games it did debut a few to the genre. Nearly half the cast have weapons that can be disarmed and used by other characters. SNK would crib this for Samurai Shodown. While cool in theory in practice it makes them even more limited than they already are. X-Men Children of the Atom made super jumping popular but Martial Champion was the first to do it. In the arcade it was necessary as both fighters occupied most of the screen but here I forgot it exists. One feature exclusive to this version are super moves accessible when low on health. This is another feature that would become standard for fighting games soon after.
In spite of these mechanics Martial Champion is bland overall. The game is slow and feels unsatisfying. There is only the basic making of a combo system so it lacks depth. The tournament mode features a ladder system in which you only face six characters before fighting the final unplayable boss. I suppose that is merciful considering how boring the game is. The final boss Shadow can use every special move in the game which sounds impressive at first. But in reality that only amounts to about twenty overall and he tends to favor four or five. Maybe if the gameplay were fluid this would have been an interesting game. But as it is Martial Champion is a jumbled mess of ideas that do not come together to make a good title.
The most notable aspect of Martial Champion was its huge sprites. They were comically large and took up most of the screen. Next to Art of Fighting these might be some of the largest sprites in a 2d fighting game. Unlike that game however there is no sprite scaling which means the screen felt cramped. The PC Engine version reduces the sprite size significantly by almost 50%. While that is disappointing it does wonders for gameplay, such as it is. Unfortunately that is not the only reduction. The animation is not as smooth on the characters and all background spectators are static. The backgrounds are completely flat as well. The music is redbook audio but the soundtrack was bland to begin with so it does not matter. The graphics were the one thing Martial Champion had going for it, take that away and you are left with this bland imitation.
Martial Champion is as average as it gets in the fighting genre. The arcade game was nothing special and this lesser PC Engine port barely meets that middling standard. While the system was not bursting with fighting games you can certainly do better than this. Konami did not whore this game out to every platform for a reason.