Insert Disk collects Budokan for the Sega Mega Drive / Sega Genesis.
Today’s retro game review is Budokan for the Sega Mega Drive / Sega Genesis. This retro gaming classic attempts to recreate the excitement of the Budokan tournament in Tokyo. The game is based around the martial arts of Karate, Bo, Kendo and Nunchuku. Budokan has aged quite a bit since its release but still worth a second look for the retro gaming enthusiast.
Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. I thought that I’d take a look at a classic martial arts game today. It’s a game that many will know quite well and have played in their youth. We’re heading over to Japan to pick up all of the action in Budokan, the martial spirit. 1989’s Budokan was released on numerous platforms of the day, I’m taking a look here at the Sega Mega Drive /Sega Genesis version of the game.
The game focuses on an upcoming tournament at the Nippon Budokan arena in Tokyo. There is a back story in which you enlist yourself in to the dojo and your sensei will give you some rather generic words of wisdom. Before you enter the tournament you should practice on the 4 martial arts skills. Karate, Bo, Nunchaku and Kendo. To do this you use the courtyard as a central hub. Firstly Karate, this is classic unarmed combat. You can choose to practice or spar and also choose your opponent. I’ve chosen to spar against Sankyu. To win the match you will have to manage your stamina and ki. Moves such as jumping and energetic moves will decrease your ki, blocking attacks increases your ki. The more energy you use the more your stamina bar will drain. With low stamina it becomes increasingly difficult and slow to perform moves. The match ends when one player is out of stamina.
Instantly it’s clear that managing the stamina levels are key to success. I’m a little impatient and just want to get on and give Sankyu a good hiding. Unfortunately the game really isn’t set up for this. Instead it forces you in to a rather more methodical style of play. At the end of each match you’ll receive a commentary on how the master felt you performed. Usually quite critical about the amount of stamina I wasted. Next up is the Bo. Essentially a big stick. The Bo suffers from the same issues as the karate discipline. It’s slow, methodical and just a bit lacking in occasion. I have to admit giving Sankyu a good poke in the face is amusing though.
The Kendo discipline is a little better than the Bo. It still has all the hallmarks of slow deliberate game play but does feel a little more responsive. Last up is the Nunchaku discipline. Personally I found this to be the most fun of the 4 disciplines. It’s still slow but it does feel more like a proper fighting experience. I have to say that I did enjoy this one as I got to smack Sankyu round the face with my weapon, then crack his knee caps in and then go back to caving his head in.
There is a 5th option which is to spar with your choice of weapon. Of course I give myself the Nunchaku and Sankyu no weapon at all. Predictably he gets the thrashing of his life time. Sankyu very much, may I have another. At any time you can enter the temple for advice from the master. Most of his advice though is to go away and practice. Practice is one thing but what about the meat of the game? Well you can hop on the train to the Nippon Budokan arena. There you will face your opponent. I’m up against Goro Suzuki. His bio does let you know he’s a bit weak at karate, you have the option of choosing a weapon to face him. The competition is far more difficult than Sankyu who’s now recovering in a hospital somewhere. It’s at this point in the game that you have to start playing the way the game wants you to. You have to conserve energy and be tactical with every more. In my opinion this is where the dilemma in Budokan comes in. If the player waits their turn patiently, builds up their stamina and ki there’s a good chance you’ll win. However, in practice this makes for a very dull experience. You’ll be standing around for a good portion of time. On the other hand if you try to play this one as a more traditional fighter you’ll be out of stamina in seconds in which case you’ll still then be left standing around as you are too weak to fight. Either way something just doesn’t add up here, the game has some good ideas and mechanics in theory. The execution though tends to lead to a less than thrilling experience either way you try to play the game.
When facing Goro, if you can bide your time and keep him at arms length then there’s a very good chance of taking him down. Round 2 you’ll face Eiji who comes armed in full Kendo gear. I personally find him quite easy to take down. With the computer opponent using a slow deliberate style such as Kendo it can be fairly one sided if you go for one of the faster disciplines such as Nunchuku. In round 3 you’ll meet Jimmy (no really his name is Jimmy). Jimmy looks very much like he’s just been out with the boys on a stag-do and overdone it a bit on the shots. His style is very much that of someone fighting in a pub car park at the end of the night. His general tactic is to just relentlessly mow you down with punches. The frustrating thing here is that there seems to be a lack of game balance the game wants you to be slow and deliberate to counter his moves and build up the Ki meter. On the other hand though if you don’t have the time and stamina to fight back Jimmy will be all over you. Ultimately it’s this lack of balance that lets the game down in the long-run.
There are a couple of variants of the game for the Sega consoles. I generally prefer the artwork on this UK edition featuring the samurai. However, the cartridge itself uses the artwork from the North American release. The game packaging itself is solid and you’ll have few complaints. In terms of price here in the UK look for a complete price of under £10. You should also be able to secure a North American version for under $10.
Budokan is certainly a well-known game to 90’s gamers having had such a wide release. Sadly it’s aged quite badly in several departments. The graphics hold up reasonably well but the sparse sound effects and deliberately slow game play mean that the game is certainly an acquired taste. For my money I’d say that you can find better martial arts games in the same era, at less cost and receive more fun. For those that enjoy a slower paced and methodical style of game play though then I dare say that Budokan can still deliver. If nothing else it’s clear that this game is a knockout with Sankyu.