Though it features a martial-arts storyline, NEC's Tiger Road (a port of Capcom's arcade hit) doesn't include the type of chop-socky beat-em-up action that's characteristic of the genre. In fact, the game's balf-headed hero, Lee Wong, never uses his hands or feet to defend himself against the hordes of hooligans that hound him. The use of weaponry seems to have made hand-to-hand combat obsolete in Lee's world.
A master of the powerful "Oh-Lin Temple" boxing method, Lee must fight the dreaded Dragon God and rescue the villagers' kidnapped children. But before that bone-crushing bout can take place, Lee has to battle an army of kung-fu commandos and weird creatures that fight under the Dragon God's control. Five colorful levels set the stage for Lee's quest, which starts out as a simple axe-swinging affair and leads to a number of bigger, better battles. Some areas even allow Lee to float through the air like a hairless, silk-covered Clark Kent!
The action is quick and smooth, and the characters have a mildly cartoonish look that is a staple of the TurboGrafx-16's library. But the decent graphics can't cover up some strange quirks that limit the game's playability. For example, Lee seems to be completely outclassed by his enemies; most of the competition seems to have skills and special abilities that give them a tremendous advantage. And their timing is positively uncanny, particularly in Stage 3, where they get very good at knocking you into the trap doors that cost you a life.
The weapons Lee uses are also a point of controversy. You start the game with a sickle and chain, an awesome tool that allows you to cut a wide path through your opponents by swinging it in front of you. But the other weapons (a staff and a type of mace) are nearly useless: They don't reach as far as the sickle-and-chain arrangement does, and they have a narrow focus that drastically limits their effectiveness. Certain bonus items can increase the range of these weapons, but that proves to be a mixed blessing. Your enemies can only be harmed by the tip of each weapon, and a creature who jumps over your horizontal thrust can stand right on top of you and grind you into a hamburger while you frantically hack at thin air. Having a choice of weapon should have been a plus, but it's just the opposite -- a lot of the time is spent consciously avoiding these and other undesirable power-ups.
At the end of each level, you enter a training session with a wise Oh-Lin mentor. If you can snuff a candle with repeate swings of your sickle and chain, you gain extra power. (It takes a lot longer than you'd expect, but it's still a piece of cake if you use the TurboPad's built-in rapid-fire controls.) Other training sessions are more relevant, with a schoolful of "training monks" that attack Lee from both sides. After you pass the second of these tests, you will be taught the mysterious "Tiger Technique," though at this stage in the game it may be too late to try to liven things up with a bit of variety in the combat scheme.
If you're a fan of the arcade game then you may be impressed by how accurate this port is, but the repetitive action and monotonous music are not up to the standards of the TurboGrafx-16. If nothing else, this only deserves to be recognized as the most average game I've every played. If there's a line between good games and bad games, Tiger Road balances on that line with the skill of a circus tightrope walker.