Review by Mars Hottentot

Reviewed: 01/10/04

D3 budget MMA game packs real power and potential!

Published by D3, created by Hunex / Daft inc., Simple 2000 Series vol. 42: THE Ishu Kakutougi (or Kakutou Waza) meaning 'Different Variety Status Fight Skill' (basically 'Mixed Martial Arts') is an inexpensive 'budget' title released in Japan on Dec 16th of 2003.

First off, I'd like to say that this game presents Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in the same way that early UFC presented it. That is to say, there is only one character that could be considered a 'Mixed Martial Artist' as we know them today (ie. Vanderlei Silva, Mark Coleman, Kazushi Sakuraba etc.). By and large, 'THE Ishu Kakutougi' has captured the 'Golden Age' of combat sports by pitting experts of particular styles against each other, rather than the cross trained 'MMA fighters' we've grown to associate with UFC, PRIDE, Pancrase, KOTC etc. So, instead of two guys who know a little amateur wrestling, jiu jitsu, and kickboxing or whatever, 'THE Ishu Kakutougi' has a KICKBOXER fighting an AMERICAN PRO WRESTLER, or a MUAY THAI EXPERT versus a JIU JITSU specialist. You get the picture?

Secondly, I want to be clear that this is a 'BUDGET' game. It's part of the long running 'Simple Series' in Japan (some titles which have made it stateside like 'Kickboxing', which can be found in any department chain for ten bucks). This means that it's not deep in the options / mode department, has a limited roster (ten fighters), no 'Create-A-Fighter', and little in the way of bells and whistles. In short, 'THE Ishu Kakutougi' won't be toppling the Two Towers of 'Fire Pro Wrestling' or 'King of Colosseum'.

That said though, I would like to say that this game succeeds in most every way on the level that it has been presented. And in that, it's a strong game and MUCH better than some of the other MMA titles that were released around the same time.

GAMEPLAY -7 out of 10-
The gameplay is simple, but deceptively clever. A combination of strategy, momentum, and even a bit of button mashing is thrown into the mix. the basic controls are as follows:
SQUARE- Punch, X- Kick, O- 'Tackle' / Counter, TRIANGLE- Special, with the shoulder buttons being L1 & R1- High Block and L2 & R2- Low Block. The fighter is moved by the D pad only. Each direction has a corresponding strike and 'Tackle' (a takedown or grapple, depending on which fighter you are using). The Special moves are only available when your Burning / Fighting Spirit is above 4 (on a scale of 0-9). Also, the Specials are 'somewhat' specific to which fighter you are using. For instance, the Shoot Fighter and MMA fighter both have an Armbar, but the Shooter has to have a special to use it, while the MMA fighter can slap it on at any time. Some are exclusive, like the American Pro Wrestler's Power Bomb or the Swimsuit Idol's launching uppercut. All of the fighters also have a Counter that, again, is style specific. This is achieved by pressing the D-Pad away from your opponent while pressing the 'O' button. Some fighters have a 'Counter Special' when in the Stand and Down position, which is very annoying to get trapped with, but much fun to do! Okay, all fights start with a stand up with a massive flurry of strikes, although sometimes your opponent will tackle you immediately which, depending on who you are fighting, can really be a bad position to be in, and this is the Stand and Down position. If your opponent is down you can use a Special to either put a submission of some sort on him or, if subs aren't your fighters forte' , a mounted punch. This is when the button mashing / momentum meter comes in. When in or performing a submission or mounted beatdown, a yellow bar at the bottom of the screen appears which a little graphic on either side prompting you to 'MASH!'. If performing, your button mashing will slow the bar down (sometimes it will even stop for a millisecond), which is good for subs (more on that later) and inflicts more damage. If suffering the beating / submission attempt, mashing the buttons will make the the bar go down much more quickly. Between two players, this is hilarious to watch, believe me. One of the really surprising things about 'THE Ishu Kakutougi' is the fact that strategy REALLY does matter (at least until you master the game). What works to beat the Boxer won't beat the Karate expert, and works to beat the Swimsuit Idol definitely won't beat the Kickboxer and so on. Another cool thing is that you can BREAK LIMBS!! If you apply an Armbar, or kick at a leg long enough, a little graphic will appear showing either a hand or a foot with a lighting bolt and some flashing 'breaking' animation. If you do this five times, your opponent will submit! FUN!
My only beef gameplay wise would be a few minor things - ultimately, it's too easy, though not as easy as you'd think. The move set is shallow, but of course, I knew that before I bought the game so it's a fairly petty gripe. The game is set to win by either K.O. , T.K.O., or decision. If you knock someone down, they are down to the count of 9 every time by default and will get up until you knock them down the required amount of times for that match. Again, petty gripe, but I'd prefer to struggle to rise, or at least have some suspense in wondering 'Will he..or won't he?'. Plus, the decision is cheap. It ONLY counts the last round. Let's say you knock your opponent on his butt four times over the course of the previous two rounds, but he comes back and knocks you down once, and at the bell has more life / energy than you. He wins. that's because only the last round counts and THAT is the games biggest poo poo. And considering that, it still doesn't drag the game down because IT JUST MAKES YOU FIGHT HARDER! The engine is great, and with some enhancements could really shine in that it will appeal to both arcade and simulation fans.

GRAPHICS -7 out of 10-
The characters are AWESOME. They are walking that line between realistic and cartoonish, and HEY! very little anime influence! The roster is as follows (I'll give a name if I know it, my Katakana is okay - my Kanji, not so good): Ron Hart- the Kickboxer (Peter Aerts?) , Ivan- the MMA fighter, Damudo- The American Pro Wrestler (who is a cross between Steve Austin and Bam Bam Bigalow), Muaricio- The Jiu Jitsu expert (a Gracie clone, Royler I think), Mago- The Muay Thai expert, The Japanese Pro Wrestler, The Shoot Wrestler (definitely a cross between Nobuhiko Takada and Masa Funaki), The Karate expert, The Boxer (whose name slips my mind), and the 'Swimsuit Idol' a (kick)boxing babe in a bikini! They are all great to look at, large and vibrant. The ring is also very well done, the four ropes move when leaned upon, the mats (four to choose from) simple and colorful (even a PRIDE style analog is represented). The arena is simple, no big deal, with the audience split up with a flat unmoving crowd in the stands, and a functional 2-d, two frame action crowd on the floor. The arena is fairly dark, so they certainly don't distract or detract from the overall look. There are some slight collision detection issues concerning the ropes sinking into your fighter or your fighter sinking into the ref (who only shows up to count you while you are down and at the beginning of the round), but again, not a big detractor and completely ineffective in terms of gameplay.

ANIMATION -8 out of 10-
Being that there aren't many moves to do, the programmers really went to town to make what moves they did use look great. Punches look like the have weight, really upping your pulse when your opponent is handing you a beatdown. The Special are KILLER. The Armbar actually looks like the arm may break, the Triangle choke looks ... chokey? There are no moves those familiar with MMA or wrestling games haven't seen before, but the way that they are presented is very nicely done and great to watch.
Oh yeah, no entrances, if that means anything to you.

SOUND -6 out of 10-
The sound... well, during the matches it's crisp and clear, it just limited. They actual fight sounds aren't at issue. It's the vocal sounds. Not only are there only two sound bytes for each fighter, some of the sounds they chose are RIDICULOUS. The Japanese Wrestler goes 'DUH!'. And if that isn't what he's saying, whatever he IS saying is still said in a 'DUH!' voice. The American Pro Wrestler sounds like he's going #2. Really. But really, who cares. I laugh at the 'DUH!' every time, and that's a good thing.

REPLAY -7 out of 10-
Well, if you want to open the Swimsuit Idol, you have to beat the game with every character (this isn't a spoiler as you can see her, and she's on the box - you just can't use her at first). I don't know, personally, I played 'THE Ishu Kakutougi' for two weeks straight before I finally popped something else in. For the amount I paid (in the area of 35 bucks- and that was imported from CHINA!), I definitely feel I got MORE than I paid for, and will certainly be pulling it out from time to time in the future. Playing with two players who know the engine is a blast and adds life to the game as well.

OVERALL -7 out of 10-
The fact that this game has pulled off so much with so little should be applauded. I just hope more of you out there take a chance on a game which, while not a tour de force in the realm of FPD or KOC, is a real winner. Hopefully, it will catch on and warrant an expanded sequel with a deeper moveset and, maybe, a CAF. I can't say enough good things about this game, I was surprised and glad for it!

Rating: 8

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