Originally published at Examiner.com on February 18, 2014.
This was the last article I wrote for Examiner.com. Two more (at least) were planned, but never came to fruition. Perhaps this is the place to bring them into existence.
Either way, I’m done with Examiner.com forevermore.
– Randall Malus, 12/10/2015
There’s a terrible stigma that comes with a thing being called “classic”. To many, the word is synonymous with “unwanted”. Suggest a classic film, and all your friends will groan. Suggest playing a classic game, and all your friends will look at you quizzically. Suggest traveling to a classic event via bridge between the fourth and fifth dimensions, and your friends will have you committed–that is, they will if you don’t first put on your invisibility helmet made of cheese and fueled by grave dirt (as per leprechaun instruction), but even then the thing rarely works for more than a few moments so it’s not worth mentioning anyway. Yes, the common belief is that “classic” is “unwanted”. Somehow sub-par.
Urban Champion proves those beliefs to be 100% true.
It’s like Kitty Genevese, but with more testosterone.
It’s not that Urban Champion is a bad game, it’s just that it’s a confusing one. Confusing, some might say, in its simplicity. You play a gentleman whose whole point in life is, apparently, to meet other gentlemen (who look exactly like you) in front of buildings and beat them to a pulp. With punches. No kicks. Once finished, a resident of said building who has been watching the action will rain confetti down on you–or, if you happened to lose, onto your opponent. It apparently never occurs to the resident that police intervention might be required to handle the random outburst of violence that just broke out in front of their building, but I digress.
So, simple, right? Yes, but, as I said, confusing. Who are these people that the player fights? “Bullies”, states the manual, but that doesn’t explain their similarities to the player character. No, dear reader, they’re not mere bullies. They’re something more. What kind of “more” is the “something” that they “are”?
The answer is frightening, yet exciting in a boring sort of way:
They are all doppelgangers.
You see, I believe this game to be an NES adaptation of the classic (there’s that word again) German gothic novel by Hanns Heinz Ewers entitled The Student of Prague. In the novel, the titular student Balduin (or “Urban Champion” as he’s never referred to) makes a deal with the devilish Scarpinelli whereby Balduin sells his reflection for riches. The reflection steps out of the mirror and, over the course of the novel, harasses Balduin to no good end.
Of course, the major plot points of the story are lost on Urban Champion. There are no cut scenes, the city looks really basic (nothing indicating the fact that it’s Prague at all), and there’s nothing said of the student (the titular Urban Champion) being a pretty good fencer. That’s forgivable, though, since this is an early NES game–and they were a lot more basic back then. Heck, there’s so little of King Kong’s story in the NES adaptation entitled Donkey Kong that I won’t even bother writing an article about it (article forthcoming).
In addition to the obscured plot, the title itself is somewhat confusing. “Urban Champion”? Are we to take from this title that everyone who survives a single day in the inner city is to be considered a “champion”? While likely true, I have to wonder what being a “suburban champion” would entail. Would it involve complaining to one’s spouse about the stifling rules instituted by the development association in order to keep the tulpa living under the gated community happy? Can a person consider themselves a “suburban champion” if they leave a passive-aggressive note in their neighbor’s mail box because their neighbor’s driveway was poured too short and only has room for two cars but their neightbor owns three, and so one hangs out over the sidewalk slightly, forcing the person in question to–heaven forbid–step onto the apron and then back onto the sidewalk during said person’s morning jog (I know it was you, Cheryl, you tramp)?
Well, whatever is truly going on in the game, one thing is for sure: it is a classic in the purest sense of the word. So, the next time your father wants to dust off his phonograph player and asks you to watch an ancient film like The Fast and the Furious with a very much alive Paul Walker, be sure to bring up Urban Champion. He may just reconsider.