This is a very odd international release, format-wise. In 1991, French developer Loriciel/Futura produced Andre Panza Kick Boxing for the TurboGrafx-16, released in the US by NEC on the HuCard cartridge format. There were also versions from other publishers for the PC, Mega Drive/Genesis, NES and SNES, released in some cases as Best of the Best Championship Karate, without Mr. Panza's licensed image.
Andre Panza was not exactly a household name, even at the time, and his signature is featured somewhat less prominently on the title screen than his handlers might have hoped:
A version was also released by Micro World in Japan. But here's where this release deviates from the norm -- it wasn't a straight port of the Western HuCard, but was expanded a bit for the PC Engine Super CD-ROM format. As even fewer people in Japan had any idea who Andre Panza might be, he was replaced with a definite article -- the game was renamed The Kick Boxing, with a completely redone title screen:
This is one of those rare cases where I like the American box art better than the Japanese version -- the musculature is grotesquely exaggerated, but it's more colorful, and apparently features Andre Panza fighting himself in a battle of the hairstyles:
I suspect that the Japanese CD-ROM version was produced mostly because it was significantly cheaper to stamp out a disc than to produce a HuCard, given the game's presumably limited market. But the developer had to justify the expanded disc format somehow, so we are treated to a newly-added flick-frame "3-D" opening, and a dramatic flame-filled title screen with stirring Redbook audio music, before we get down to exactly the same gameplay.
The blonde, Schwarzenegger-esque boxer, with his eyes so heavily shadowed they appear to be gouged out, is even given a few lines of dialogue in accented English. He says, and I quote so as not to dilute the power of his stirring speech: "Hey, you! C'mon! Let's fight!"
Here's another oddity -- even though Andre Panza is no longer mentioned on The Kick Boxing's title screen or anywhere on the packaging, he still shows up among the other (fictional) boxers as the top-ranked opponent in-game, filling the Mike Tyson role as the ultimate champion to beat. Whether the license actually covered this Eastern appearance remains a mystery.
A tip-off here about this title's technical approach is that once the introductory pyrotechnics are past, the game apparently loads completely into memory and runs thereafter as a cartridge title. I draw this conclusion because a soft reset (SELECT + RUN on the PC Engine joypad) just returns us to the title screen, instead of going all the way back to the CD boot-up display. Once the game is running, the disc is used exclusively for high-quality background music, heard on the title screen and the victory screen. The game is otherwise silent except for the digitized punches, grunts, and referee calls, which sound quite a bit better here due to higher sample rates; there's also a new crowd noise effect, heard as each round begins.
The gameplay and nicely-animated rotoscoped graphics are identical in both versions. There's a training mode that can be used to beef up the player's boxer -- rapid button-pressing segments help build up Resist and Strength numbers, while hitting the bumpers quickly with high, straight and low kicks builds up Reflex stats:
The competitive kickboxing matches themselves are fun and challenging -- it takes stamina and a little bit of strategy to compete against the CPU opponent (two-player competition is also supported.) Positioning is forgiving, timing not so much, and it feels good to finally take an opponent down for the count:
If we win, we work our way up the rankings, with a bigger purse for the next fight:
And that's about it. Beyond the noteworthy technical and format differences between the US and Japanese versions of the game, Andre Panza Kick Boxing and The Kick Boxing are just a couple of halfway decent kick-boxing games. But there haven't been many "realistic" fighting games released over the years, and these polished little titles are worth looking at, if the genre appeals.
How is it I own both versions? Oh, right, this game is not in great demand, therefore it's relatively inexpensive. You might be able to buy a copy here or below: