Multiplayergames’ Digital Dojo: Budokan – The Martial Spirit

Welcome back to the Digital Dojo.  This month we are venturing into the realm of weapons with Electronic Arts’ 1989 Budokan: The Martial Spirit.  Budokan was fairly advanced for its’ time and was released on the Amiga, DOS, Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, and ZX Spectrum.  Out of those platforms, DOS did the best, as it supported the AdLib Music Synthesizer Card as well as the Roland MT-32 MIDI synthesizer module for stereo music and boasted 256-color graphics.

The game starts with you as a martial artist in training.  Through shadow fighting (basically just doing strikes in the air) and sparring with an instructor, you learn Karate and how to use a bo staff, nunchaku (traditional spelling), and a shinai (for Kendo).  Once you feel you have enough skill in these areas, you may enter the tournament at the Budokan in Tokyo, Japan (this is a real place, originally built for the Judo competition in the 1964 Summer Olympics).  This tournament pits you against other fighters who use weapons you were trained with, and other weapons you can not access.  This would create an unfair advantage in the real world, but the programmers did not seem to care.  It is not really the weapons fighting that adds the detail to this game anyway, but rather how the fighters react to physical activity.

Tracking two primary elements during a match are vital: stamina and ki, Your ki is how hard you hit and it is affected by your fighters activity.  Blocking strikes will make ki go up, while throwing strikes will make it go down. As in the real world, the bigger the move, the more power it takes to perform it.  This ties into your stamina, which once exhausted, ends the match.  These “real world” effects on your fighter also makes the game more fun to play because it prevents button mashing.  If you do so, you exhaust yourself quickly and bring about your own demise.  Instead, players must take a more planned approach to their play if they wish to be the last one standing.

Planning is also important for overall tournament victory because you are only allowed to use each of your “classes” a certain number of times.  While this feature may not be very realistic, it does work to keep the game more challenging.  This way, you can’t take a weapon like the bo staff with a long reach and just walk through the game to an easy victory.  Instead, you must use what you fight best with for the tougher fighters, or find what works for each opponent (this is a good strategy for real life tournaments as well).

To get into the martial arts validity of the game, let’s start with the basic concept: entering a tournament where you may fight someone with a weapon, when you do not have one.  In my 13-years of training, I have never heard of a sanctioned event like this; maybe it exists in some sort of underground fight club, but not normal tournaments.  Weapon versus weapon is a possibility when it comes to tournaments, just not with all the weapons in this game. A few of the weapons are actually bladed and therefore potentially deadly.

In-fact the only weapon in this game that I would really consider a training/ tournament weapon would be the Kendo shinai.  This weapon represents a sword, but is made out of bamboo, and even in Kendo matches (think Japanese fencing), fighters wear padded armor to keep themselves safe from the strikes.  Without armor, it wouldn’t take long for a fighter to buckle under the impact.  The bo staff and nunchaku both appear to be in their natural wood forms, which would be extremely dangerous to use for sparring, especially in the nunchaku case.  One strike from a nunchuk can easily shatter bones and possibly kill if targeting the head. The weapons used by your opponents (the ones you can not use) are equally dangerous because two of them are bladed.

One weapon is the naginata, which is a bo-like weapon with a curved blade on one end.  The other appears to be a combination of two weapons:  part kama, which is a small hand held stick with a curved blade at the end, and part chain whip, which is a chain with a metal spike.  This combo weapon, I believe, is made up for the game.  Kamas are used in pairs, and while they may have rope attached at the bottom so they can be manipulated like nunchaku, I have never seen one with a chain whip at the end.  Chain whips are a weapon all on their own, so chalk this weapon up to game fiction.

In game weapon use is also quite poor, which is surprising since they are such a big part of it.  I don’t know if this is because of a lack of knowledge from the programmers or a lack of technology to portray them properly.  All the weapons are limited in the number of strikes they can do, and while I wouldn’t expect a game from this generation to show all possible strikes, it should have more than the few these weapons showcase.  The shinai and bo staff have the best detail as they show a proper grip difference.  When the fighter was on the left of the screen he fights left handed (left hand over right for sword, and left palm up for bo), and when he was on the right side the grips are reversed to show a right handed fighter. This is impressive detail and does show some knowledge of the weapons.  The tonfas (a computer used weapon) are the most disappointing of the bunch, and probably should not have been included in the game.  This weapon relies heavily on manipulations or spins to performs its’ strikes, and my guess is the technology of the time was just not capable of doing what it needed to show this weapon properly.

The real world location, stamina, and ki concepts of Budokan are the only aspect that have a good martial arts base. The lack of available strikes for the weapons, and the ridiculous notion of blocking weapons with your arms without damage puts this game in the gutter for martial arts believability.

Here ends the lesson.

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