KNUCKLE JOE is an obscure arcade action fighting game developed SEIBU KAIHATSU.
Like many arcade games from the mid 80's, KNUCKLE JOE suffers from a frustrating difficulty setting and low production values.
There certainly wasn't a shortage of arcade fighting action games back in the 80's. The earlier ones that came around 1985 in particular were noted for their punishing difficulty, imprecise controls, and just overall cheap design.
Probably the best example of this would be the hit arcade game「SPARTAN X」 (also known as「KUNG-FU MASTER」) which demanded nothing less than perfection from players.
Still, I think you would have it very hard to find another arcade action fighting game of that time as poory designed and as blatantly cheap as KNUCKLE JOE.
Unfortunately I wasn't able to find much release information and impressions about KNUCKLE JOE, which leads me to believe it was given a very limited distribution. Not surprising given the abysmal quality of the title.
In KNUCKLE JOE the player assumes control of the bare-chested and bare-footed bad-ass「JOE」who's come to a city where the「devil's grew in power」.
The introductory screen might give you the impression that the game will take place in a cool post-apocalyptic setting out of the likes of HOKUTO NO KEN. However the stages really don't look any different from an ordinary American city, which is disappointing.
The stages themselves aren't truly side-scrolling neither. The screen does scroll a bit to the sides but the experience is essentially single screen.
JOE is substantially easier to control than Kanfu Master THOMAS from SPARTAN X. He can puch, kick, and jump with satisfying speed. Jumping around can be somewhat imprecise but other than that there really aren't any serious control issues.
The main problem with this game (apart from the terrible production values, that is) lies in how blatantly it wants you to lose at all cost.
In order to clear a stage you must defeat a certain amount of enemies within a set time limit. The problem again is that the game really doesn't want you to.
Unlike in SPARTAN X the enemies here won't be going down with a single strike. Attempting to just exchange blows with them however will only lead to your unavoidable demise since any hit you receive in return will take a good chunk off your health bar and there's no health replenishment items in the game.
You could try to defeat the enemies using hit & move tactics, but then you most definitely will be running out of time since the time limit in this game is just ludicrous. You have only 70 seconds to clear a stage which it's nowhere near enough time for the task. Hell, even if JOE were invincible you'd still be hard pressed to clear most levels under such an strict time limit.
These issues become even worse during boss battles. As it is to be expected bosses can take a fair amount of punishment, and trying to hit them enough times before time runs out and while taking care of not getting pounded yourself can be extremely difficult.
There's a total of 4 levels in the game, each comprised of 3 sub-stages. I seriously doubt that somebody ever managed to get even halfway there back when the game was originally released, though. The game is just that cheap.
Between levels you'll also get to play these short motorcycle shooting segments, but just like the rest of the game they aren't all that fun to play.
KNUCKLE JOE is a terribly designed game. Whether it's the busted difficulty setting or the awful 5 seconds long BGM track that loops endlessly - the game seems it was created only to annoy the crap out of any potemtial players.
But perhaps the worst part about the game is that it lacks any sort of redeeming quality. At least in SPARTAN X it was gratifying to take down punks to the now classic sound of 「ATTAAA ! ! !」. And you also got this nice sense of accomplishment (and relief) whenever you managed to get past one of the game's floors.
In the case of KNUCKLE JOE however, you can't help but wonder if the programmers even played their own game because it's just not fun at all.