Writing on video games by Steve Hernandez

Monday, June 12, 2017

How Taekwon-Do breaks its own rules

Developer: Human Entertainment
Publisher: Human Entertainment
Platform: Super Famicom
Release date: June 28, 1994

*Note: This game was only released in Japan and only supports two languages, Japanese and Korean.

Taekwon-Do is a fighting game that attempts to replicate the competitive side of Taekwondo, a martial art that emphasizes kicks. It does this by having the player select from a roster of fighters and participate in bouts held in an arena. Further, the game adheres to a set of rules that resemble the ones used in a real Taekwondo match. However, the best moment is when the game breaks those rules to surprise the player.

In contrast to other fighting games such as Street Fighter and Tekken, Taekwon-do is more grounded in reality. The fighters don't have crazy attacks or extravagant combos. Their movesets comprise punches and kicks that are assigned to the four face buttons of the controller. The directional pad is used to move, jump, and dash forward and backward. Holding the L button lets the player stand on one leg to perform other attacks. Lastly, holding the R button combined with the D-pad allows the player to strafe on the mat in eight directions. The proficiency of a fighter is determined by the amount of points that are allocated to six stats: attack, defense, speed, stamina, technique, and balance. The last stat is especially noteworthy because it is uncommon in other fighting games. A fighter with low balance is more likely to trip over themselves after dashing or jumping. As a result, they become more vulnerable to being knocked down.

A bout consists of a single two-minute round where you and and your opponent earn points by landing strikes on each other. One point is earned for striking the torso, two for striking the face, and three for a successful jump attack. You earn five points for knocking down your opponent or if they leave the mat. You win a bout by either scoring the most points, knocking down your opponent five times, or by knocking them out. You can also incur penalties by dashing away from an opponent twice in a row and by leaving the mat. This is the set of rules that the game adheres to in every bout. 

All of that changes when you reach the final bout of the game's tournament mode. Your opponent here is Yuh, an arrogant, brown-haired fighter in a dark purple gi(dabook). From the start, there is something unusual about this bout. Typically, you and your opponent simultaneously approach the center of the mat and bow to each other. But in this instance, Yuh isn't anywhere to be seen. Seconds later, he marches to the center and, without hesitation, delivers a powerful kick that sends the referee flying backwards and crashing into the scoreboard. Yuh then rushes you with a flurry of strikes as the HUD blinks and is replaced with two red and yellow meters, each one labeled "power". Yuh's assault of the referee makes a clear statement to the player. This fight will only end in one way: by knockout.

Not only is Yuh your toughest opponent in Taekwon-Do, he is also the most talented. He is an "all-around" fighter with near perfect stats. His fighting style combines constant movement with a high volume of strikes. Even when notably exhausted, he'll continue to throw everything he has at you. This doubles as his weakness: Yuh is so relentless that he wastes an unnecessary amount of stamina. That amount is represented by the power meter. It depletes when you take damage or perform a strike, but slowly refills when you're static or moving.

Like the scoreboard, the rules are now broken. The player and Yuh can take the fight outside the mat. They can still lose balance, but cannot be knocked down until their power meter is empty. There are no penalties and the point system and time limit are no longer in effect. The usual three ways to win a bout are now reduced to just one. Lastly, there is no referee to pause the fight. It's a unique and surprising end to the game. Yuh's disregard for the rules makes him the most memorable fighter on the roster. The exclusivity of the power meters give the bout a sense of finality. With just one kick, he turns what was supposed to be just another bout into a showdown that ends up being the best moment of Taekwon-Do.



  1. the spammy rushdown when his health is low. i could not stop laughing.

    1. Haha yeah, the AI gets real desperate when its losing.


Blog Layout Designed by pipdig