For someone who isn't particularly fond of, and definitely not very good at, fighting games, I sure seem to have a lot of them in my collection. At random, I've retrieved a loose copy of Electronic Arts' Budokan: The Martial Spirit for the Sega Genesis from a box in the basement. This was one of the company's initial, unlicensed releases, in an oversized cartridge with distinctive yellow tabs, reputed to work only on the early Genesis models. EA later joined Sega's licensing program, but this early release strikes me as somewhat experimental, a quick port from the PC/Amiga title to test the market waters.
Budokan predates the colorful, over-the-top antics of Street Fighter II and its imitators; it has more in common with Data East's Karate Champ, with the naturalistic animation style of Jordan Mechner's Karateka. The player is cast as a street brawler, encouraged to study martial arts by a mysterious stranger in a brief text introduction:
Suitably outfitted and transported from the mean streets to the Japanese Tobiko-Ryu Dojo, the player has the option of studying four martial arts disciplines -- bo (staff), kendo (sword), nunchaku, and karate. The player navigates the dojo by walking around the map, seeking training or joining the Budokan competition in the upper left-hand corner. This screen features understated Asian music by the legendary Commodore 64 composer Rob Hubbard; his contributions are sadly missed during the actual contests, which are silent aside from digitized grunts and impacts.
The controls are reminiscent of System 3's 8-bit classic International Karate -- while all 3 buttons on the Genesis controller are active, they all do exactly the same thing, so this is essentially an old-fashioned stick-plus-button control scheme. The D-pad provides most of the meaningful input, with jumps, blocks, kicks and sweeps all activated by different patterns of pad movement and button timing.
The graphics are nicely done, with detailed sprites and fairly fluid animation. But the game's 16-bit computer origins are evident -- most of the screen is static, with only the combatants, the stamina and ki bars, and some incidental animation visible outside the window moving at all. The game runs fine on the Genesis, but doesn't take particular advantage of its hardware.
One nice touch is the animated, transparent shadows -- I thought at first that the floor patterns were rigged so canned scan-line-based animation could be used, but the kendo training area isn't conducive to such tricks, and makes it clear that the game is displaying the shadow transparencies dynamically, a simple but effective trick not often seen on the Genesis.
Budokan is intended as a serious fighting game and is meant to be difficult to master. After each match, the game provides feedback about the player's speed, accuracy and choice of attack moves:
Budokan is a hardcore game in the classic tradition -- mastering its subtleties requires considerable investment of time and effort that modern players are likely to find unappealing. I found it entertaining for a little while, and appreciate its depth and naturalistic approach to the subject, but I wasn't motivated to take on the official competition against twelve increasingly difficult foes.
I find Budokan historically interesting because the computer and console markets were going through a shift in the balance of power at the time of its release. Electronic Arts was founded during the early videogame era, but focused on computers and survived the mid-80s industry crash. EOA (still the company's official logo abbreviation on this game's opening screen) began publishing console games with the Genesis, after licensing conversions of its titles to other companies for the NES, but was playing a conservative, rather tentative hand here. Ultimately, Budokan feels like what it is -- a computer simulation title masquerading as a console game.