Oh yes, not only did we play a lot of Kaiser Knuckle, but we played it with a friend. Or perhaps victim is more fitting. We once again must thank Ultra Powerful Pal of Gaming Hell HokutoNoShock for playing several sessions of both Kaiser Knuckle and the other, surprise game we'll be seeing later via Fightcade 2, as well as checking this article before launch. Fighting game research is always best done with an associate, you know? Anyway, the other thing is that the emulation for Kaiser Knuckle seems to be mostly on the level with the exception of the music, which appears to be missing some instrumentation that's present on the official sound track of the game. There's also the high score table which doesn't seem to appear, ever, and we haven't been able to see a real board running to see what the deal with that is. So, you know, keep that in mind.
Also, shoutouts to the LordBBH stream / Discord crew who encouraged us to get this article finished!

It's Fighting Game Time again, and this time we meet with Kaiser Knuckle, the fighter that never stood a chance.

It was, of course, in the '90s where our story starts, because of course it was, where despite what you may have heard, there was no time for Klax, only fighting games. 1994 to be exact. which was, to put it mildly, a busy year in the genre, and that's even limiting our scope to 2D efforts and just in the arcades. Very busy. 'Super Street Fighter II Turbo' and 'the final revision of Mortal Kombat II' levels of busy. Capcom began the year with Super Turbo and Darkstalkers and ended it with X-Men: Children of the Atom; SNK released Art of Fighting 2, The King of Fighters '94 and Samurai Shodown II; and every other developer on the planet was joining in. We're not even kidding, the list includes companies like Atari (Primal Rage), Kaneko (Blood Warrior) and Psikyo (Battle K-Road), and total chancers like SunA (Best of Best), Mirage (Rise of the Robots, which had a disastrous location test for an arcade version) and Viccom (Fight Fever). It was even the year of the court date for Capcom U.S.A. Inc. Vs. Data East Corp, the famous Fighter's History lawsuit that ended in Data East's favour! It was a very crowded marketplace, is what we're saying, and that's not even talking about the home console scene, so developers were scrambling to make the next big thing in the fighting game space, something to take the crown from Street Fighter before Capcom made the third one that was totally going to happen soon, definitely not all the way in 1997.

Enter, from stage left, Taito! Not a name synonymous with fighting games at all, really. They'd dabbled in wrestling with Champion Wrestler and Ring Rage, a little boxing with Final Blow and Prime Time Fighter / Top Ranking Stars, and even a stab at Pit-Fighter with Violence Fight and Solitary Fighter, but the closest to an actual fighting game they'd done was 1992's Dino Rex, which is... It's no Jackie Chan in Fists of Fire, if you know what I mean. Their 1994 fighting game project though, Kaiser Knuckle, was going to tackle the genre with gusto. After all, not every arcade game has illustrations by Nobuteru Yuki (character designer for Angel Cop, the Record of Lodoss War OVA and later on Tail Concerto and Solatorobo), or voicework by Aya Hisakawa (Sailor Mercury from Sailor Moon and Yohko Mano from Devil Hunter Yohko). Hell, they even aired a commercial for the game on TV Asahi in October 1994! Add to all this some new innovations Taito were going to add such as five levels of attack strength and environmental effects that could turn the tide of battle, and the power of Taito's F3 system (a competitor to SNK's Neo-Geo MVS, with interchangeable carts), and it's fair to say they were clearly aiming to make a strong first entry into the genre, a move to let them join titans like Capcom and SNK.

It didn't happen. Which is why poor Kaiser Knuckle finds itself on Gaming Hell today.

Before we get started, let's look at that roster.

A total of 12 characters, 9 of which are playable, is only just below the average in terms of roster sizes around this era- Super Street Fighter II had 16, Mortal Kombat II had 12. At the very least, it has the excuse that all of its characters- who all have their own reasons for joining the Kaiser Knuckle tournament to win its grand prize of $10,000,000- had to be made from scratch, with no predecessor to build on top of (or, unlike Darkstalkers, had no mythological creatures to serve as a base). In any case, let's have a little look at our challengers, shall we?

(VA: Kazuki Yao)

A karateka from Japan who just
wants the prize money and the attention of women.

(VA: Ryoutarou Okiayu)

A mixed martial artist from
America, he needs money for
an operation for his
motorbiking girlfriend Sara.
(VA: Hideo Ishikawa)

A ninja from Japan who enters
the tournament to become the
master of his ninja clan.

(VA: Yasushi Horibata)

A Chinese assassin, he has to
pay off the criminal group he
works for to finally leave it.

(VA: Saeko Shimazu)

A Taiwanese swordswoman,
she hopes the tournament will
help her find her parents.

(VA: Aya Hisakawa)

An Amazon with animal friends,
she wants to buy a new costume
for the Rio Carnival.

(VA: Kazunari Tanaka)

A boxer from America who
wants to try to become the
heavyweight champion.

(VA: Andrew Holms)

An American dancer who wants
to further his dance career by
entering a fighting tournament.

(VA: Hisayoshi Ogura)

A mutated human from
Germany created by General,
he wants to become a normal

(VA: Hisao Egawa)

The first boss. A judoka from
Russia searching for his lover
Tanya, split apart by civil war.

(VA: Ryu Kuzu)

The second boss. An Aztec
warrior wearing a stone mask
who has no memories of
his past.
(VA: Steve Yamashita)

The final boss and organiser of
the tournament. What plans
does he have for this world...?

These are the warriors who will stake their reputations upon becoming the one and only Kaiser Knuckle!

Righto, with the character introductions out the way, what does Kaiser Knuckle do to distinguish itself from its contemporaries? The key word here is 'try', but it does a couple of things. By far the most important for our purposes is that it has five levels of attack strength. As well as Light, Medium and Heavy Punches and Kicks, pressing Light and Medium of the same attack together performs a Super Punch / Kick, and Medium and Heavy of the same attack together gives you Extreme Punch / Kick. This isn't a completely unheard-of idea, as SNK's Samurai Shodown from a year earlier used this to replicate a six-button layout with just four buttons, but this is a little different, as it offers you a whole ten standing basic attacks to choose from!... Well, for most characters. Kazuya and Barts definitely get the full ten standing normals, but some like Marco and Boggy reuse attack frames but with slightly altered damage or different timing on the animation. On the plus side, almost every attack changes when used up-close, much like Galaxy Fight although the property changes aren't quite as severe. Really though, this kind of system worked in Samurai Shodown because that was a slower-paced game, where you wanted those third attacks for single strikes to decimate your opponent's life bar. Kaiser Knuckle isn't that kind of game though, with its faster pace, and so while the system at least functions (well, mostly- it's so easy to whiff) it feels unnecessary and awkwardly implemented, and having five strength levels is maybe too much- it's very easy to forget exactly what each strength level does, and the fighting game brain is much better at remembering three levels of strength, I suppose. Sometimes less is more.

The flaws with the Super and Extreme attacks really show themselves when it comes to special moves. As with other games, the properties of special moves change depending on the strength of the button used, but Taito really had to stretch some of them to make them work with five strength levels. As an example, let's look at Barts' Moonsault Smash (charge Down, then Up + Kick), his flash kick. Moving your way up the strength levels raises the damage, height and distance covered, although Super trades in height for distance compared to Heavy. The differences between them are really slight though, where this could've been used to innovate- really change up the properties of each strength variant for more utility. This almost happens with Barts' Aura Cannon (charge Down, then Up + Punch), his fireball, as he has a wavy fireball, a straight one, and two at once, but those first two both come with minor variants too, instead of doing something really different. Not helping matters is that you'll often 'whiff' the input for Super or Extreme, giving you a different special move strength level... And you may not even be able to tell at first brush! It says a lot that not only were Super and Extreme attacks removed from the upgraded version of the game which we'll get to later, but the special moves were altered a lot to make each strength variation a lot more different- Taito knew this was an issue with the game, even at the time.

The other unique mechanic consists of an interlocking system that ties together the POWER meter below each player's health bar and, weirdly enough, elements of the stage backgrounds. You won't be building up the POWER meter for super moves (called Final Secrets here), as you can only use those when your health meter is critical and flashing. Instead, the meter builds up only as you take damage, and once it's full, the next special attack you successfully land will do more damage, destroy the background and either electrify or set on fire an extra part of the arena (not on the boss stages), uncovered by destroying a wall on either side of the stage (except, for whatever reason, Boggy's stage). Each character has an affinity for electricity or fire, and if standing in the appropriate element, certain special moves will use new sprites and be strengthened, usually through the obvious fire and electricity effects.

It's visually impressive- the electricity and fire fields use transparency effects, and the arenas get absolutely trashed with a lot of detail put in- but to be honest, the system feels really superfluous. At the very least, landing a special attack with the POWER meter full does definitely give your attack a helpful boost, and the destructible walls are an interesting feature, both temporarily preventing corner traps when destroyed and making the arena larger, up to twice its normal size when both walls are demolished. However, the fire / electricity thing feels shoehorned in, like Taito figured they had to put some kind of weird gimmick in and just went with anything. It's not something you can necessarily put into your game plan either, seeing as the majority of the element fields are behind walls, and there's one set element per stage (usually the element for the stage's assigned character) so if it doesn't match your character (which it probably won't if you've been challenged- the stage you fight on will always be the home stage of the new challenger) you won't get any benefits. Benefits that aren't particularly worth it either, just mild attack boosts and different animations for some moves. It's really undercooked, is what it is.

It's such a shame, because presentation-wise, Kaiser Knuckle does a smashing job. While a few of the character designs lean in to genre staples, such as the shirtless karateka, the ninja, the Amazoness, etc., there's a couple of more unique ones in there too, in particular Marco who attacks by throwing his head and spitting arms out of his mouth (he's a collection of corpses, basically) and Gonzales, a rarely-seen Russian judoka. They all look great too, with plenty of animation- not as much as SNK's later Neo-Geo work, but enough to make them look good- and the general aesthetic is very vibrant and colourful. As mentioned, the damage you can do to the stage itself is also really impressive, with individual chunks of the floor being destroyed by certain attacks, and eventually the stages just look completely trashed, something you really didn't see in other fighters at the time. Finally, the music is fantastic, composed by ZUNTATA mainstay Yasuhisa Watanabe (also known for Gun Frontier, The NewZealand Story and Metal Black) with the themes for Barts, J. McCoy and Liza being particular stand-outs. Even the voice samples are memorable, with some, including Barts' "GO AHEAD!" and the final boss' "I AM A PERFECT SOLDIER" becoming in-jokes among friends. So, in terms of production values, this is spot-on, bringing with it a certain charm, it's just a lot of the fighting mechanics feel very poorly-conceived, as if Taito felt that had to add something, anything to the game to make it stand out, but didn't really think those choices through.

... But even so, Kaiser Knuckle has a certain reputation amongst retro fighting game aficionados.

Normally we'd save this sort of thing for our Extended Play section, but it's such a crucial part of the game, we must address it now.

If you've heard of the game before, it's almost certainly because of its true final boss, General.

He is a perfect soldier, and one of the most infamous last bosses in any 2D fighter.

Clearly inspired by Colonel and Mad Sarge from Hokuto no Ken / Fist of the North Star, General is a fearsome military leader with a powerful moustache and his own personal satellite. What level are we talking about when we talk about General? Rugal Bernstein shudders at the very mention of his name. M. Bison has strictly forbidden all Shadaloo operatives from talking about him. He probably goes out drinking with Geese Howard on the weekends. Most players may not even see General when they beat the game, as he only invites the most powerful fighters to his outer-space headquarters for the final death match. You need to reach and defeat the game's second boss, Azteca, without using continues at any point up to him, without being challenged by another player, and have at least six straight victories (conceding no rounds to the opponent), as explained on the Kusoge Wiki page for the game. It was long-documented that you needed 900,000 points to make him challenge you, but we looked into this and it just seems to go hand-in-hand with getting straight victories, as they give you 30,000 bonus points each. In any case, failure to do so means you'll be mocked by the General and booted out of the game after defeating Azteca- you get the staff roll if you meet the straight victories requirement, but there's no ending, just enter your name and get the hell off the machine, nerd.

This would be hard enough in any other game, but even the normal CPU AI in Kaiser Knuckle is, on first brush, pretty tough! To get the no-continue clear, you need to learn exploits for fighting certain characters, to make the AI act in a certain way, fall for particular tricks, or just stop them from murdering you. This is true of other fighting games, sure, but it's very apparent here, and trying to fight 'normally'- that is to say, like me, a certified fool- will just get you beaten, badly. As some examples picked up from LordBBH and Macaw45's videos on the General Challenge, Kazuya can be baited into fireball wars which he won't win if you're playing as Barts and using his Extreme Aura Cannon, you need to avoid going for throws as the AI almost always gets them instead of you, and Wulong usually follows up a ground fireball with a jumping attack that can be countered with Barts' Moonsault Smash. Even then, you'll need to keep winning matches without conceding any rounds, too. In other words, even before you reach the final battle, it is a long, hard road you face.

To be upfront- we can't make it to General legitimately. We used savestates after we won against each character.

That's even having a rough idea of the AI exploits thanks to videos of other people pulling it off.

If you are good enough to do it properly, we are in awe of you.

When you do catch his attention as a worthy foe...

You are welcomed to General's personal satellite, to do battle!

Now die.

So what is it that makes this fight so difficult, so infamous? A lot, really. General's main tools against you are his projectile, his throw range, his teleport and his slide. The projectile the stuff of nightmares, either a full-body-size attack that ploughs into you, or the hellish Contra spreadshot as you can see above. If it's done full-screen, you can just barely fit through the gap unscathed, but that's very unlikely. His grabs are nuts, as the range is way longer than you think it is, and he can grab you pretty much whenever he likes. His teleport, well, he uses it with abandon, being invincible during it, even using it to lead straight into a grab! Finally, his slide isn't quite as lethal- because it counts as a normal, it doesn't do chip damage on block- but he uses it a lot and it hits multiple times, so if you stop blocking a little too early, he can still nail you with it. Add in the facts that he never stops going for you (often getting some cross-ups in the process!), his normal attacks are incredibly fast, his movement speed is much greater than yours, he always knows the right distance to stay away from you, and that pretty much everything he does is safe for him, and you a brutal, brutal final boss fight on your hands. Even taking a single round from General is a cause for hype.

It seems that the AI was known as a problem at the time- according to legend, Taito actually advised arcade operators to change the game difficulty to the easiest setting just to offset the brutality of both the normal AI and General himself. Not that it really helps, mind. We'd absolutely love to find magazine coverage like from Gamest or something, but in lieu of that, we have to look in the age of the internet to see when General truly established himself as the hardest 2D fighting game boss. One of the earlier pages we can find about him is this Japanese site that goes into a lot more detail about exactly what makes the fight so hard, and there's also Tougeki Spirits Vol. 12, an Arcadia DVD from 2009 that has a spotlight on players versus CPU bosses, including General, as well as videos like this one from the 2010s. It's probably fair to argue that he really got attention thanks to the Mikado arcade in Takadanobaba, Shinjuku, Tokyo. They ran an event in February 2014 pitting their players against General, in what they called 打倒ジェネラル, usually translated as The General Challenge. Footage from that event is shown above via Nico Nico Douga, and you can also see it on NND itself. They've done several repeats of the event since, in particular one player finding an easy, consistent pattern with Wulong to defeat him, but in any case, Mikado seems to be where General earned his place in arcade game infamy on a more widespread scale. Either that or him becoming a meme in MUGEN / SaltyBet circles. One of the two.

And again, to be upfront, we cannot defeat General. He is a perfect soldier, after all, and we gave it an honest try!

But after sixty attempts, sometimes you gotta know your limitations, you know?

However, here is friend of the site and powerful arcade fighter LordBBH defeating the General Challenge!...

After thirty-three continues.

It's rough.

... Then, a few years later, with the Wulong tech in hand, he went on to reach the General and defeat him on a single credit.

He earned that pop-off at the end- "Hardest fighting game boss, huh?". As expected of BBH!

So that was a pleasant distraction and all, but... What does it mean for this review? Ultimately, nothing. As we said, if you know about Kaiser Knuckle at all these days, it's almost certainly because of the General fight. I say almost because, well, that's not how I found out about the game! Back in The Day™, Nintendo Magazine System would report on things happening in Japanese arcades from time to time in their Gary's Gossip section, and one of the old issues I have lying around had a single tiny screenshot of Kaiser Knuckle with a very brief mention of what it was about (and they got the number of characters wrong, saying there were only eight). Alongside the mention of Chase Bombers, another Taito arcade game, this somehow caught my attention, as screenshots in old games magazines can do. Sometimes, games like that can turn out to be little gems, but that's not the case with Kaiser Knuckle. It was released at a time when fighting games were everywhere and so Taito felt the need to stand out by adding ill-conceived gimmicks, which is a shame. It stands up well against its contemporaries in terms of production values and presentation for sure, but that's not where Kaiser Knuckle really needed the attention. It needed it in the nuts and bolts. Alas! If only there was another revision that fixed these problems, eh? We can but dream, maybe...

For being a fighting game from the '90s from a newcomer to the genre, Kaiser Knuckle is awarded...

In a sentence, Kaiser Knuckle is...
A textbook example of throwing all the ideas at the wall and keeping all of them.

... See, the last line of that paragraph was a joke, and our story's not over yet. Taito tried, twice, to salvage Kaiser Knuckle.

The first is one that I can only find vague mentions of on JP Wikipedia and a tweet from ARCADE_LAB.

That would be Kaiser Knuckle EX, a very simple upgrade that did nothing but lower the CPU difficulty of the game.

This was apparently location-tested but failed and was never seen again.

... Until it was reworked in December 1994 into Dan-Ku-Ga, and welcome to the second, surprise review in this article!

Seeing as one of the more immediate changes is giving all stages and characters new palettes and adding Gonzales and Azteca, two of the three non-playable boss characters, to the normal roster (not even Taito could get General playable, such is his power, his overwhelming strength) you might think Dan-Ku-Ga is some sort of quick and hasty upgrade of Kaiser Knuckle with little else added. However, there's quite a bit more than that going on here, with a lot of the game being retooled in order to fix the damn thing. Let's begin with the changes to the single-player mode, which appear as soon as you coin up, offering a selection of three modes. Normal and Professional are the normal versus CPU mode with different difficulty settings, but there's also a Practice mode which is not the easiest setting- it's an honest-to-God training mode! You're given a limited amount of time to practice against a motionless dummy, with your moves listed in the corner and flashing up when you successfully perform them. Once that time's over, you get to battle against a CPU opponent whose fierceness can be adjusted on the fly. This sort of thing would not appear in arcade fighting games for at least a decade, so it's genuinely surprising to see Taito, a name hardly synonymous with the genre, put such an ahead-of-its-time feature in an unreleased game.

The CPU AI has also been toned down considerably, whether you're playing on Normal or Professional, which makes playing by yourself a considerably more palatable consideration. The strict patterns from Kaiser Knuckle won't really work, but generally the enemies are less aggressive, less likely to get priority on throws, and block less. They do eventually start getting rough with you, but not nearly to the same extent as the original release. Additionally, the bosses have seen changes in when you fight them- rather than fighting all three in a row, Gonzales shows up as the sixth opponent, Azteca is still the eleventh opponent, but now you always fight General no matter how many times you continue or how many rounds you concede... And he's a pushover, honestly, on the default settings at least. He still has all his fearsome tools at his disposal, but absues them far less often (especially his three-way fireball) and, much like the other AI opponents, is generally less aggressive. If anything, he's nerfed too much, Liza and Azteca gave me way more trouble than him in this version!

Needless to say, the Dan-Ku-Ga version of General is not the proper one used for The General Challenge.

We had to mention the changes to the AI and General because of his notoriety, but the real changes are in the mechanics, with a lot of the gimmicky stuff removed entirely to tighten the game up a bit. The Super and Extreme attacks are now gone, making the game a more traditional six-button fighting game, and many of those attacks were either removed for being redundant, or reworked into what we'd call in modern fighting game terms a command normal, such as Marco's Extreme Punch now performed with all three Punch buttons and J. McCoy's Super Punch being changed to forward + Heavy Punch. This is a definite improvement- you're no longer fumbling the inputs and getting the wrong strength, nor are you juggling ten different attack strengths in your head, and the ones they kept as command normals are generally the more useful ones, using motions you'd properly associate with them like down-forward + Heavy for Lihua's slide. Additionally, moving down to three strengths means most special moves have been reworked significantly, changing their properties and making all the variations feel far more unique. To go back to Barts, all three versions of his Moonsault Smash now have the same vertical coverage but vary wildly in their horizontal range- the Light version just goes straight up, while Heavy covers about half the screen, and his Aura Cannon now has three unique fireballs (wavy, straight, double fireballs) with speeds adjusted accordingly. This is a much more sensible system, and dramatically improves the feel of actually playing the dang thing.

Mobility has also been tweaked, with a couple more options available to each character, specifically back dashes and pseudo-double jumps. Originally only Gekkou could back dash, but now this is available to everyone (although one thing I noticed when playing versus a real opponent, the game could've done with a forward dash too to making getting in a little easier) but the new jumping system is the most interesting. If you successfully land a normal attack while in the air (not a special move), you can jump again in any direction and attack again (although you can't land a strike and jump again, you only get one). You can even use the follow-up attack for a dive or even a special move! As well as giving you more options in the air, this combines with players who've been struck in the air being able to act on the way down to create a potential situation of back-and-forth up high. It's a neat little system change, and again one that makes the game a little more playable, giving you more mobility options, something we in particular really appreciate in fighting games (see also: Vampire Savior).

(A couple more notes, from a proper fighting game person, are over here if you like.)

All these changes make the game feel like the game it was supposed to be in the first place. Shorn of its obtrusive and half-baked gimmicks, it's a pretty solid fighter that adds some interesting wrinkles (mostly the mid-air combat stuff) that it does well. It didn't need the extra attack strengths or the fire / electricity stuff, the true fighting game was inside all along! Well, something like that. If I were to compare it to any of its contemporaries, I would probably pick Fighter's History Dynamite / Karnov's Revenge, Data East's Neo Geo effort that's become quite a favourite of mine. Both are fairly close to the Street Fighter formula (after Dan-Ku-Ga dropped the gimmickry of Kaiser Knuckle), but while Dan-Ku-Ga experiments a little with stuff like the POWER meter (as it still gives you the attack boost in this version) and its mid-air mobility, Fighter's History Dynamite focuses on executing a Street Fighter-style experience with only four buttons and even improves on it in my eyes (specifically doing away with random dizzies, using a rather clever 'weak spot' system instead). I generally prefer FHD (it's become a mainstay, and is referred to by friends as 'the best Street Fighter II clone') but Dan-Ku-Ga shows another way to mostly stick to SF's fundamentals and add interesting little foibles that, unlike in Kaiser Knuckle, actually work well.

It seems that not even this managed to salvage Kasier Knuckle, sadly. There's not much information about Dan-Ku-Ga out there, but according to a translated tweet from Tsukasa Kado this was given a location test like Kaiser Knuckle EX and failed again, so it was never mass-produced. This explains why there's only a Japanese ROM for it (although with cheats in MAME, it can be forced into English mode), why there's a few mising bits (Gonzales and Azteca don't have icons on the character select screen, the intro might be a placeholder) and why it was undumped for a while. It's a shame really, because it's a much better game than the original Kaiser Knuckle! Despite Taito clearly putting a lot into the original game, it never got as big as they obviously wanted (why would they try and fix it twice otherwise) and so there was never a contemporary home port, not even on the PS2 Taito Memories sets, and almost no references to it in further games beyond Barts' theme, Splendor, being included in Namco's Taiko no Tatsujin 11. Maybe had Dan-Ku-Ga done better on location test- or, better yet, been the first revision- it'd be more well-known beyond its infamous final boss, and may have even got a contemporary home port. Fortunately it would eventually- as in 28 years later- get more recognition due to both games being included with the Taito Egret II Mini (more on that later) but still, it's a sad fate indeed for Taito's only real attempt at a 2D fighter, but hey, they had a bit more luck with 3D ones. How about that Psychic Force, eh?

For fixing something that was definitely broken, Dan-Ku-Ga is awarded...

In a sentence, Dan-Ku-Ga is...
Kaiser Knuckle but good.

And now, it's that time, folks!

Before we get started, shout-out to the Mizuumi Wiki folks who have a work-in-progress section for Dan-Ku-Ga.

Somewhat more complete is the community Google Doc with learning the ins-and-outs of each of the characters.

There's also Dan-Ku-Ga Battlegrounds, a tournament series run by Polar_Bair. There's a Discord community for it too!

Learn to fight and become the One True Kaiser Knuckle!

Now, where things get a little confusing with this game is in regional differences, so let's do that now.

In the US, the game was retitled Global Champion, which is almost as generic a title as Martial Champion, so it probably didn't do Taito any favours selling it overseas. Anyway, I'll put my hands up and say I was confused about these regional differences myself- when I first played Kaiser Knuckle, it was the World version, as that's the parent ROM in MAME. When I moved on to try Dan-Ku-Ga, I noticed a lot of differences and, like many, assumed they were made for Dan-Ku-Ga. Not so! Dan-Ku-Ga is based on the Japanese version (although you can force it into English with MAME cheats, revealing most of it is translated) which had these changes made. Adding to the confusion, the World version is still called Kaiser Knuckle, while only the US version got the Global Champion retitle, but both the World and US versions are the same in terms of these changes. For clarity, then, we'll refer to the Japanese version as Kaiser Knuckle, and the World and US versions as just Global Champion. Are you following me?

We'll start with the things changed from Kaiser Knuckle to Global Champion.

The character select screen images for Kazuya, Lihua and Liza- just their faces, basically- were redrawn for Global Champion.

(Roll your mouse over to see the change from Kaiser Knuckle to Global Champion.)

At the end of a match in Kaiser Knuckle, a medic will rush on-screen to check the defeated opponent.

They'll then give one of a few different diagnoses, which you can see translations of over at Mizuumi.

All of this was cut for Global Champion, probably because it felt a bit morbid- some diagnoses straight-out say the losing player is dead!

Bits of text used in the attract mode intro and after General is defeated were left out of Global Champion completely.

(Click the images to see all of the text shown.)

Additionally, one other bit of text is changed- the POWER meter is called the CRUSH meter in Kaiser Knuckle.

Also gone from Global Champion are character intros that you see before your first match against the computer that explain their reasons for entering the tournament.

All these intros end with the amazing image in the middle there- put up a poster of that and I'd sign up!

(These were removed from Dan-Ku-Ga entirely, which is strange as it seems Gonzales has an unfinished intro in Kaiser Knuckle.)

Finally, voice differences on the versus screen before a fight!

Lihua and Kazuya are silent in Global Champion, but have things to say in Kaiser Knuckle (Lihua says "Kakugo wa ii?")

J. McCoy's unique Japanese line on this screen is replaced with Barts' 'HEY, COME ON KID' in Global Champion too.

However, Global Champion also has two notable exclusive features in the Test Menu not in Kaiser Knuckle, of importance to arcade operators.

Well, OK, there's also new options to disable the background music if you really want to and also a general game speed setting (distinct from the Timer Speed option, this lets you alter how fast the game itself goes), and Global Champion specifically has something missing from the World version of Kaiser Knuckle, the option to change the number of credits needed to continue, but the important ones here are Trigger Mode and Blood settings. These options allow you to set the game as either 6 Trigger (which is the standard three punches, three kicks setting used for Kaiser Knuckle) or 5 Trigger. This mode reworks the controls so that Buttons 1 and 4 are now Block buttons, 2 and 5 are Light Punch and Kick, 3 and 6 are now Medium Punch and Kick, and pressing both Punch or Kick buttons at once uses Strong Punch or Kick. Switching Blood on adds comically over-the-top blood spurts to almost every attack, complete with out-of-place squelching sound effects.

If all that sounds a bit familiar, then it's pretty obvious what Taito was going for here- they were planning on eating Mortal Kombat's lunch, by offering Global Champion as an easy conversion for any MKI and II cabs out there! The fact that it's only in versions sold outside Japan really hammers this home (although apparently it can be activated in the Japanese version with emulator tools) so I'm surprised that I've not been able to find sales materials advertising this fact. While it would make sense from an operator's perspective if their old MKI machine was on its way out, it does mean that Super and Extreme attacks are no longer possible, and the universal dive attack can no longer be performed. If anything, it makes it feel even more like Samurai Shodown I & II, having to press two buttons for Strong attacks, but again, not suited to this type of game. We highly recommend trying the higher Game Speed settings though, if you want something that goes like the clappers!

Incidentally, forcing Dan-Ku-Ga into World or US modes makes all the above changes to it too.

However, switching Blood Mode on will result in the blood using a slightly incorrect palette, looking glitchy.

Next up, it's a '90s fighting game, which means there has to be a weird pervy secret!

This was something we saw referenced on the Kusoge Wiki then corroborated with slightly more info on the Nico Nico MUGEN Wiki. At first we thought it was a cheeky fan edit for a version of Lihua made for MUGEN, but no, it seems this is a real thing, although while a method is listed for Kaiser Knuckle and reprinted here, we could only get it working in Dan-Ku-Ga. So, have a Lihua mirror match and make sure it goes to the third round. Performing Lihua's Final Secret, Shinkuusen (half-circle back, down-back, up-back + Medium Punch + Heavy Punch) with the round timer nearing the end (Kaiser Knuckle) or at any point (Dan-Ku-Ga) results in a 1 in 8 (Kaiser Knuckle) or 1 in 4 (Dan-Ku-Ga) chance of the animation for the super changing very slightly...

... So that you get a single-frame glimpse at Lihua's panties.

This is what you get when, like us, you decide you have to document everything about a video game. Everything. Even the pantsu.

So... What about that home port?

28 years later in 2022, both Kaiser Knuckle and Dan-Ku-Ga would finally make it home as part of the standard 40 games included in the Taito Egret II Mini, a plug-and-play tabletop arcade cabinet full of classic Taito games. The emulation here seems pretty on-point although using the right power supply helps to reduce input lag across the board and there's only one version of every game inlcuded, so while you can set menus to be in English you can't do the same for in-game text. This also means you can't do stuff like make the game five-button or add blood, but that's fine. Of course, the main draw here is Dan-Ku-Ga, released properly for the very first time. Taito were initially worried that the game would not be in a fit state to be rereleased but it turns out it was in a releasable state with only minor changes- Gonzales and Azteca were given icons on the character select screen instead of just being black boxes and the high score table works now (although I'm still not sure if that was an emulation bug). In addition, you get pop-up cards to place on the cabinet that include apparently new (or at least newly-unearthed) art for Dan-Ku-Ga, the included soundtrack has a few Kaiser Knuckle songs and a remix of Kazuya's theme, plus the AmiAmi-exclusive bonus for pre-orders was a keychain of The General's fireball poses. It took nearly three decades, but Dan-Ku-Ga finally got the respect it deserves, bless.

To cap things off, there's some interesting stuff on the Japanese flyers for the game.

So this is one of the flyers, stitched together from the scans on The Arcade Flyer Archive, and you can click it to embiggen it. For a start, this flyer has all the character artwork done by Nobuteru Yuki (he's even credited on the flyer itself) which you won't actually see anywhere else, sadly. More interestingly, two of the character names are different from the final game- Lihua was originally Leehoa, and Wulong was at one point Uooron, although these are less name changes and more differently romanizations of their names.

While there's no shot big enough to see Wulong's name, you can see here that Lihua was Leehoa in the game itself at some point.

There's also this other flyer which also has another romanization for Wulong- Bu-Ron.

... We don't have to review Dino Rex now, do we?