Reviewed: August 13, 2003
Released: July 8, 2003
As more and more fighting games come out the genre is quickly becoming more complex. In the old days we simply had boxing, then we delved into the world of ultimate fighting with the UFC games and now comes Konami with K-1 World Grand Prix.
K-1 is a unique hybrid of boxing and ultimate fighting that combines kickboxing and other various martial arts fighting styles. Fighters wear gloves making K-1 a bit more civilized than UFC, and the entire sport has more structure and guidelines. While K-1 is still getting its foothold in the USA there is an almost cult following in Japan where the players and the sport itself rivals the fame and popularity of American baseball and football.
As resident sports writers here at GCM I generally pride myself on knowing a bit about every sports game I review, but I must confess I went into this project blind. Normally the sport sells the game but in this case the game actually sold me on the sport and I started seeking out televised K-1 events. Unfortunately, aside from one pay-per-view event there simply isnít a lot of K-1 coverage, but this shouldnít deter anyone from playing this excellent game.
Iím a firm believer that fighting games are best shared with friends, but K-1 has a surprising amount of single-player content that isnít typical of the genre. You can explore the Trial, Career, and Revival modes and browse through the Fighter Museum and watch clips of your favorite fighters in the ring. The career mode, or Championís Revolution, is a fairly lengthy tour of duty and the Revival mode allows you to recreate famous bouts from K-1 history.
Fighting games are only as good as the controls that make your fighter fight. The Dual Shock is put to excellent use by combining the traditional control styles of many other games, so whether you are a novice fighter or a seasoned expert you will be punching and kicking like a pro in no time.
The face buttons handle your punches and kicks and are mapped to left and right limbs giving you precise control over each. The shoulder buttons handle blocking, combos, power hits, and the occasional taunt. The combo system is refreshingly simple and doesnít require complicated sequences of buttons. You merely hold down R2 and press any of the four face buttons to launch the combo for that particular fighterís limb.
Combos vary from fighter to fighter and limb to limb and not all fighters can do combos with all limbs. This makes the game easy to learn and simple to play, but experienced gamers may find this detracts from the overall value. Since combos donít play a huge part of my fighting style it didnít bother me at all. I found it quite convenient to unleash an impromptu combo without having to look up some sequence of buttons.
One thing I discovered after countless matches against my friends is that players who choose to rely on combos will generally succumb to the player who can skillfully insert those single-hit punches and kicks. Button-mashers simply canít compete with someone who really knows how to play this game.
K-1 is a bit faster than boxing and a bit slower than UFC. Youíll dance around and use a bit more strategy than you might in the ultra-violent UFC games, but the kickboxing and limited martial arts will end a fight quicker than a typical boxing event. At least the fights last long enough that you can actually learn the fighters and their abilities and gain some fighting skill.
Fighting games are generally limited in the amount of scenery and atmosphere available so we rely on the artists to put their efforts into the fighters. K-1 World Grand Prix is probably one of the best examples of any fighting game on any system to recreate real life fighters in stunning lifelike detail. Assuming you know the fighters in the first place you will certainly recognize their virtual counterparts right down to the last bead of sweat.
Since I played the game before I saw a real K-1 event I had no idea how ďrealĒ the overall presentation was, but after seeing my first fight the other night I can say that Konami has done an impressive job of recreating the entire K-1 experience. The arenas are a bit sparse and the crowd is cast in dark shadows, but the camera work is flawless and frames the action tightly enough that you seldom have to worry about extraneous details outside the ring.
K-1 certainly doesnít have the following of the WWF and all of the glitz and showmanship associated with that sport. Fighters donít have theme songs or ride into the ring on Harleys while grunge or heavy metal plays on the PA. Instead, you have plenty of good old-fashioned generic guitar rock, and while it might not fit with what Americans think of as normal, Iím sure this is pretty standard stuff for the Japanese culture, and K-1 is a game and sport more heavily rooted in that country.
After a few hours of listening to the music it started to slip into the background so I ended up turning it off entirely. Now the sounds of kicks and punches were amplified to the point where I would instinctively cringe with nearly every blow. Even the more subtle ambient ring noises were more defined and helped to immerse everyone playing and watching. The authentic sounds combined with the amazing graphics could easily fool anyone walking by that you are watching a real K-1 fight.
The career mode is quite lengthy and there are plenty of other modes to explore and even some unlockable bonus games. You can expect 20-30 hours of original fun in the solo modes. Of course the true staying power lies in the multiplayer mode and there are countless hours to be had provided you have fight-loving friends. While the computer AI of the fighters is admirable, nothing beats real human interaction.
K-1 World Grand Prix is basically creating yet another unique niche in the fighting game genre. Part boxing, part martial arts, and borrowing on gameplay elements from several existing games, K-1 is accessible to anyone with the patience to learn the intricacies behind this unique style of combat.
Personally, I enjoyed this game better than Rocky, UFC Tapout 2 and any of the wrestling games currently available. In fact, I would go as far as to say K-1 World Grand Prix is my current favorite fighting game on any system. Itís realistic, but more importantly, itís fun, and you wonít find a better game to pop in your PS2 the next time you have friends over.