The concept is simple; you take two fighters and let them beat themselves up. The concept is actually so simple that it’s interesting how much variety we’ve seen in fighting games. Fighting has gone extremely far since the very first arcade titles, with games like Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter and Tekken. Countless companies have tried to get their piece of the pie, releasing games that are easily comparable with the major titles. The Gameboy Advance hasn’t seen too many terrific fighting games yet, mainly because of limitations in the hardware. Now that the console has existed for a while developers have become more efficient at utilizing the existing hardware, resulting in generally better games.
Black Belt Challenge is a game that tries to have graphics on the level of the SNES (or even better for that matter), with the depth of games we’ve seen on the PSX and PS2. In many ways it succeeds, but it does fall short in some of its features.
The goal of the game is to collect the lost pages of the Book of Zero. When complete it will give the owner the ultimate powers, and who wouldn’t want that? When choosing players you must make up your mind whether you want to be good and use the power to eradicate evil, or if you want to be evil and take over the world. The plot isn’t especially intriguing, and I would’ve liked to see better narration as you progress in the game, but at least the gameplay is fast and great.
Normally you can choose between eleven interesting and unique characters, and with secret unlockable characters there should be plenty to choose from. Each of the characters have cool special moves, but they’re not especially easy to stumble across when playing, so it would be wise to search the net if you want to be especially good. Also, some of the characters are much easier to win with than others, mainly because they attack faster and cover more when attacking. They do however, look great, and unlike many other Gameboy Advance fighting games the characters are big and very nicely drawn.
Each of the characters also have their very own level, which suits them extremely well. Like in Street Fighter 2, the levels aren’t “frozen”, so you’ll see people moving a bit, cannon balls being fired, and much more. To create even more uniqueness over the levels they chose to include plenty of background tunes, each specifically made for individual level. The overall theme fits the techno / pop genre, except the menu tune which is more of a 70s pop kind of tune. Such a great selection isn’t something you see every day, and with a good selection of sound effects on top of all that; Black Belt Challenge is easy for the ears to like.
If you ever want to sell a lot of fighting games it’s important to have plenty of modes. Regular Arcade fighting can get boring after a while, so to increase replay-value the developers also included VS, Survival, Challenge and Training. Most of these should be familiar to gamers, but Challenge is the one that stands most out of the crowd. In Challenge you’re challenged to do specific things in a fight, such as finishing your opponent with a special attack, defeat two enemies with only one health bar etc. The challenges get progressively harder, but the reward also gets progressively better. At first you’re given five gold coins for completing a challenge, but later you’re given a whole lot more. You might be wondering what you need gold coins for in a fighting game, and the answer is pretty simple: you get to unlock pieces of a gallery! Big deal? Maybe not, but it is actually fairly fun. The first pieces of the gallery only cost 200 gold pieces, but the final ones cost 600. The artificial intelligence is fairly good, but those who have played a decent amount of fighting games before will most likely choose the hardest difficulty. There are however, a few bugs. For instance, if the enemy is crouching very close to you then you can just do punches until the time runs out, so if you have done more damage than the opponent then you will in fact win. Secondly, some of the attacks make the opponent jump backward and bounce back off the edge of the screen, and in some cases you can just keep doing this until you have won. A few bugs aside, the AI should challenge both newcomers and veterans to the genre.
And, if you get tired of fighting against the AI then you can easily link up with a friend and play a game of VS.
Black Belt Challenge offers better looking graphics than most fighting games on the Gameboy Advance, a very nice selection of music and sound effects, plenty of characters and moves to master, and a decent selection of modes to keep you going. The story could have had more depth, the moves could’ve been better, the AI could’ve been optimized, and the characters could’ve been more balanced, but it ends up being a solid fighting game that any fan of the genre should be pleased with.