If you want to look at a year where interesting and revolutionary fighting games appeared, this is it. Super Street Fighter II Turbo. Tekken. The King of Fighters. Darkstalkers. Killer Instinct. I’m not going to spend an entire article listing ’94 fighters, but that should give you an idea of what was happening in arcades at the time.
Battle K-Road also came out in 1994, completely lost in the sands of time. This game was a little off-brand fighter from Psikyo, a company that would go on to be known almost exclusively for shmups like Gunbird and Strikers 1945. Where other games were vying to be ever more extravagant, Psikyo waved their hand solemnly and said “No. We want a more respectable, realistic game.”
Look, man. It was 1994. They didn’t know better.
Now, that alone isn’t really a reason to dismiss Battle K-Road. It’s easy to see why a sales pitch like that could have worked. Battle K-Road was an attempt by a small company to make something different in a new market.
Nearly everything about the game defied contemporary convention: quarter circle forward inputs produce dashes. Characters employ 3D-esque commands for inputs, where every directional input with a button produces a different attack. Though holding down-back blocks low, it does not make your character crouch. Each attack must be blocked either high or low–there’s no universally-safe defensive option. Every character has the same command for special moves: hold down a button to charge, then release. All bold, but deliberate, choices by a team that really wanted to challenge the genre.
The end result, however, was an ambitious game with a shoestring budget. Of the 14 characters, 7 are actually just head-swaps. Animations were mostly sub-par at best, even for it’s time. Character designs are not just bland, they are aggressively and intentionally lacking in personality. (The notable exception being the final boss, Mr. Bear. K-Road came out in January–it must have really chafed Psikyo when Kuma appeared in Tekken in December.) Battle K-Road‘s biggest sin, however, is its most defining mechanic: the wake-up game.
Or, well, the absence of one.
Mikado playing the game in January, 2016.
If this is your first time watching Battle K-Road matches (provided, of course, by the fabulous Mikado Arcade) then you’ll find the experience jarring. You aren’t imagining things: the round really does restart every single time someone gets knocked down. I imagine this decision was made to make the game seem “more real,” as though a referee stepped in to check on the downed opponent.
Instead, Battle K-Road artificially kills momentum for players and brings the match to a brief, grinding halt for spectators. Fights seemingly drag on forever. An already simplified, poke heavy game gets made even slower for the sake of realism. It’s almost like Psikyo forgot they were making a video game.
There have been all sorts of complaints about wake-up mechanics over the years, ranging from games that reward being knocked down too much, to not at all. Everyone here has likely experienced option selects in Street Fighter IV, and heard some sort of frustration about their dominance. Likewise, I remember years ago being told Soul Calibur 2 had no wake-up because you could Guard Impact from the ground. Boy, I wish I had known about this game, then. I could show them what it means to actually have no wake-up game at all.
I think the idea of completely removing the downed state from a fighting game is not even entirely awful, and would absolutely appeal to someone. (Read: not me. I’m playing devil’s advocate.) It has to be executed in a way that both makes sense and works well. Battle K-Road‘s choice makes sense for its world, but is just awfully executed in-game.
Mikado playing the game in December, 2016. Technical difficulties resulted in black and white footage… but I imagine Mikado thought “Eh, it’s Battle K-Road. No one will care.”
Because of this, it’s not surprising that Battle K-Road is little more than a novelty talking point these days. It’s a bit of a shame–even though Psyiko almost entirely exited the fighting game market afterwards (only attempting one more entry: 1998’s The Fallen Angels), their courage in trying to stand out so much in a saturated field is admirable. Risk-taking and defying convention is something a lot of new companies fear. Instead of being remembered fondly for some of their brazen mechanics, though, Battle K-Road is a cautionary tale. Be creative, but also be mindful of what your game design decisions do for the game itself.