The early days of the Nineties fighting game boom were very strange. Despite the fact that Street Fighter II had shown the standard conventions that would eventually be adopted by the wider genre, developers were still trying new things with the genre. Knuckle Heads from Namco is an excellent example – a brief look at it would convince you that it’s any old Street Fighter clone, but there’s actually a lot that it does differently.
For example, Namco’s game controls quite unlike any other fighter of the era. You have two attack buttons and a jump button (imagine that!), and you must charge attacks for a considerable time in order to access medium and heavy strengths. Why has this system been adopted? Well, to free the up and down directions for plane-switching, as in Fatal Fury. But even that has a differentiating factor, as fights in Knuckle Heads take place on two planes for a reason: up to four of the game’s six fighters can participate in each round! This naturally makes for a chaotic experience, and it’s easy to see why it didn’t quite catch on.
It’s a nice looking game though, and the music is pleasant enough if largely forgettable. The exception is an incredibly incongruous rave anthem backing up the Norway stage – it sounds like it’s from Ridge Racer. In any case, this is worth a look if you ever get a chance to play it. It’s not going to tear you from your favourites, but it’s certainly an interesting historical curiosity.