Get the gloves and the mouthpiece, because it's time for a virtual boot to the head! For what it's worth, K1 The Arena Fighters is the first (and probably the only) kickboxing game since Best Of Best Championship Karate for the SNES. So is it a worthy contender in an already-crowded fighting game arena? Well...
For those unfamiliar with the sport, kickboxing pits two opponents in the square-circle where they kick and punch each other until one eats canvas. K1 is true to the kickboxing experience: The action resembles a real kickboxing fight, and the eight combatants are based on real-life kickboxers. However, the game itself plays like many other fighting games. Fighters have powerbars (and special moves in some cases), and can select from four modes of play: one-player, vs., tournament, and team battle. K1 also offers normal boxing ring style backgrounds and non-arena backgrounds, including canyons, mountains, and other outdoor areas. The motion-captured fighters are incredibly realistic, and a video showing how the fighters were captured is displayed upon completing the game. Sounds good so far, right? But what about gameplay?
The controls are very simple. Only three buttons are used: one for punching; one for kicks; and a special move button, which executes one of the fighter's signature moves. Pushing up or down allows fighters to strike high or low. While the game is amazingly realistic, I wish that the producers had included another mode that was a little more arcade-friendly. Perhaps the ability to assign different moves to different buttons would help gameplay as well. As it stands, with just the punch and kick button K1 plays too much like Virtua Fighter. More than once I found myself pounding on the punch button after the match was over out of reflex. Simple fight mechanics aside, one of the cool features found in K1 is its flash knock downs. As in real boxing, walking into a right hand could send you (or in this case your fighter) to kiss the canvas. The whole flash-knock-down thing is a great idea, but it should be a bit more difficult to execute. As it is, it's simply too easy to land a lucky hit and send your opponent down for the count.
In the final analysis, K1 is a perfect game to rent for a couple nights. Play it with some friends, however, because as a one-player game it won't hold your attention for more than a day.