Import - While the game is currently available only in Japan, fans of the sport who are savvy in the ways of importing may want to think about importing what is by far the best iteration of the K-1 sport. The only consideration as to whether or not you should import this title rests on the fact that the game is fairly easy to master.
K-1 World Grand Prix is a wonderful interpretation of the sport of kickboxing for the PlayStation 2. You can choose from several different game modes, including exhibition, career, time trial, endurance, practice, and revival. While most of the game modes are fairly standard for a fighting/kickboxing game, including a tournament where you face all the fighters in a quest for the championship, there is one exception. K-1's revival mode sets you up with two specific fighters, one whom you have to face and one you have to control. These revival matches have simple objectives of sorts, like knocking out your opponent with punches in a certain amount of time. These revival matches force you to learn different fighters and their techniques, which helps you get more out of the game--more that you might not otherwise come across, since the individual techniques of the fighters go deeper than you would know just by selecting fighters at random in the game's exhibition mode.
The gameplay of K-1 is extremely rewarding, since it offers a great deal of easily executed moves and focuses on fierce action and strategy. The buttons on the face of the PS2 controller control your fighter's punches and kicks. Like in Tekken, each button controls a limb, which makes it easy and intuitive to string real-life combinations together. You can also modify these punches and kicks by holding the analog stick in a specific direction while pressing a button on the face of the controller to throw a punch or kick. The number of different strikes that you can perform is quite impressive, since you're just about able to perform any move that you see real-life K-1 fighters perform. One move that you can perform in the game--one that real-life fighters perform--includes attacking a specific region of your opponent's body in the hopes of disabling him. To help you do this, K-1 features a small icon near a fighter's health bar, which indicates the three damage spots: head, body, and legs. If you repeatedly attack one of these specific regions and your opponent fails to block properly, you'll begin to see the icon changing color, indicating that your strikes are damaging that specific region of your opponent's body. When the color of the region changes from green to yellow, you know you're doing damage, and when it changes to red, you're close to causing a severe problem for your opponent. For instance, continually kicking your opponent in the legs will eventually cause him to simply fall to the floor from the punishment. You can often just simply land a really good kick or punch that'll instantly send your opponent to the floor for a few seconds or for good. This damage system, while exciting, tends to make disabling a computer opponent rather easy.
Another plus in the gameplay department that gives K-1 some legs after going through the game's career mode with a fighter is that each of the fighters is very different from one another. Going through the game's revival mode and learning each of the fighter's nuances is almost key to enjoying the game after a few fights. For instance, Ernesto Hoost is great at delivering heavy roundhouse kicks to the head; however, Mike Bernardo's roundhouse kicks are a bit slower and tend not to work as well as his punches. Finding these strengths and weaknesses in each fighter is surprisingly fun, since the fighters are very different from one another. The one drawback to these differences is that some fighters are just naturally better than others, and as a result, some fights are extremely unbalanced. While you may look at these unbalanced fights as a challenge to overcome in the game's single-player mode, going up against another skilled opponent in the game's exhibition mode can sometimes become frustrating, depending on the matchups. The AI of the computer-controlled fighters is, for the most part, rather easy to overcome. You'll occasionally get a rough matchup and lose, but most of the time, you'll be able to simply overpower your computer opponent with your fighter's best moves, which, for a good number of fighters, is a roundhouse to the head. Landing a hard roundhouse to your opponent's head is one of the sweetest pleasures in K-1.
Visually, K-1 World Grand Prix isn't going to win any awards, but it certainly doesn't look bad either. The polygonal fighters in the ring look very detailed and a lot like their real-life counterparts. The textures used for the fighters' skin is especially good, which you can really appreciate when a fighter hits the mat and you get a good close-up at him. You can see moles and small imperfections that actually look really good. The animation of the fighters is also very well done, even though you can see the not-so-subtle transitions between the animations. The only major knock anyone could really have about the game's graphics is that the crowds are just awful, gray, barely animated cardboard-cutout-looking people.
In the audio department, K-1 has all the allure of a Japanese import, including a very excited-sounding Japanese commentator who really adds a heavy dose of authenticity to K-1 World Grand Prix. The sound effects and music in the game are also very authentic and do make a positive impact to the experience.
In the end, K-1 World Grand Prix is a terrific interpretation of the sport of kickboxing. In comparison with the previous PlayStation titles, K-1 for the PlayStation 2 easily beats them in every category. You can plainly see that the game simply has had a great deal of quality work put into it every step of the way. The game plays well; it has a lot of moves, and the graphics and audio presentation have been done very well. Whether or not the game sounds like one you should import is really a question of how big of a fan of K-1 you are and, of course, having the means to play Japanese PS2 games.