Knuckle Bash (1993) by Toaplan
System:Arcade
Game Type: Beat-em-up
Players: 2

Review by PrimeOp

Toaplan is mostly known for their shooters and the fun Snow Brothers. But some beat-em-up fanatics out there thank them for one of the more WTF-worthy brawlers that isn't Trio the Punch. Instead of the usual theme of rescuing a girl or warriors saving a kingdom, Knuckle Bash gives us something unique to fight for: the entire world of professional wrestling itself.

In this story, a group named the Mad Bulls have taken over wrestling and turned it into a cesspool of corruption unfit for the millions (and millions) of wrestling fans everywhere. So a small group of wrestlers take it upon themselves to beat the living hell out the Mad Bulls and purify the sports world. Unlike the usual monster-sized wrestlers usually seen in beat-em-ups, your starting line-up here is made of normal heavyweights with both usual and superhuman wrestling moves. Besides the usual tap combo, jumping kicks, grab attacks and throws, the two button control scheme allows for a decent amount of moves. You get dashing attacks by holding forward while pressing attack and jump. With the main three heroes, pressing jump and attack at once near an enemy snatches them up and uses them in a superhuman attack that costs a bit of health. You can block holding the Attack Button for a few moments and you'll need it for some of the cheaper bosses. Your heroes control with the crispness but, personally, I think the many uses of "attack + jump button" muddies the control scheme a bit. Luckily, it's not bad enough to make the game unplayable.
You'll definitely want a friend on hand to help with the beat downs since even the early drones are tricky opponents.
Knuckle Bash has a very strange charm for a few reasons other than the wrestling theme, SNK-like translation and well-done, disturbing art. The enemy cast is diverse starting with shifty, acrobatic guys in suits and ending with evil hotel doormen. And that's just the first stage! You'll run into an Adrian Adonis-like prissy wrestler, an evil football squad, an ape-like monster that gets delivered Creepshow-style and a final boss that's just too weird to describe. He may not be as left-fieldian as Growl's final boss, but the level of nasty detail on the man more than makes up for it. The sprite seem uneven with sets that range from fully-shaded goodness to animation cel style as if separate teams worked on the graphics. The backgrounds are a mixed bag because they have the same look of the plain sprites but have some interesting animations and effects (like the reflections in the hotel window).
That's an Elvis impersonator defeating a morbidly obese masked wrestler with the use of an energy guitar that's really made out of the victim's tag team partner. If you're looking for the crazy, this game has it.
Toaplan may not have been used to making side-scrolling beat-em-ups, but the design team knew how to work the formula while keeping things fresh. For one thing, you can choose which half of the game you want to start with and each one ends with bringing a boss over to your side. Each stage is broken up into smaller sections that are more like fighting game stages than side-scroller levels. Some of them have objects you can fight on top of or hazards that include a barbed-wire ring. Another thing that adds to the variety is how many of the drone enemies aren't constantly used throughout the game with many only appearing in one stage section. You even get some story scenes that lay out the plot even if only one character, Hayate the ninja, gets named on-screen. They even steer clear of many usual cliches. No Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior or Road Warriors bootlegs appear in the game, although a Japanese wrestling legend makes a surprise appearance. A comic shop that I go to had this in for a while and it got a ton of play because it's a decent game with a good amount of quirkiness. In other words, give the game a shot.
Here's Hayate, one of the characters that you unlock during the story. He also seems to be the only character to be mentioned by name in the entire game.

I wouldn't rank this up there with the top beat-em-ups but it's probably one of the better mid-grade games. The execution of the game is much better than most companies who weren't used to creating beat-em-ups. I'd say this is an above-average, but not perfect, example of the genre that's worth a try just for the fun of it. It's also proof that Toaplan was good at variety when they put their minds to it. Gameplay 6
Graphics 6
Sound 6
Control 7
Overall 6

Knuckle Bash and all related characters © Toaplan.

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