System(s): Windows (Steam)
Release Date: December 3, 2012
Publisher (Developer): Karateka LLC (Liquid Entertainment)
ESRB Rating: “Teen” for Violence
Karateka is a remake of a game that was released in 1984 for the Apple II computer. Its creator, Jordan Mechner, is perhaps best known as being the creator of Price of Persia. When it was revealed that Karateka would be coming to modern platforms with updated visuals, it produced a chance for young and older audiences to experience the core simplicities that many games used to embody. The new Karateka achieves that goal by being very easy to play, but can be demanding at the same time.
Fighting For Love
The story of Karateka revolves around a woman named Mariko who is taken prisoner by a warlord named Akuma. Akuma has her locked away in his compound that sits atop a cliff. Mariko’s time as a captive is limited because she has three potential suitors that are determined to rescue her. Her three would-be rescuers are her true love, a monk and a lovable brute. Each of these men have their own brief histories with Mariko that compels them to risk their lives to save her.
Karateka uses these characters like other games handle extra lives. Once one character goes down in combat, they’re ultimately killed off for the duration of the game. The next fighter in line picks up where the recently deceased left off. Losing a character also has an effect on the ending you will get. For instance, Mariko’s true love happens to be the first character you play as. He’s also the weakest in terms of health and damage output. Getting through the game with him can be a real challenge. Chances are you won’t see his ending the first time through. That’s why experiencing everything Karateka has to offer requires multiple playthroughs.
Slow and Steady
Karateka‘s combat style is comparable to the likes of Punch-Out!! After approaching your opponent, you have to learn their attack patterns in order to determine the best time to start blocking. Once you block a certain number of attacks, the enemy will be open for your counterattack. You can typically get in two to three blows before the cycle resets itself.
The fighting controls couldn’t be simpler. Pressing B (I used a Xbox 360 controller) blocks, X performs low attacks and Y dishes out high attacks. It really doesn’t matter which of these attacks you use. Mixing it up only changes the animations. You can also unleash a special stun attack by pressing A once your Chi builds up from successful attacks and blocks. This move will likely save your life a few times, so it’s best used sparingly.
I found the combat to be responsive and hypnotic at times. There were times when I entered a mental zone where I was playing with perfect rhythmic accuracy. It felt great to be synced with the game during a particularly challenging battle. Although I hated to lose, I was comfortable in knowing it wasn’t the game’s fault when I got hit. I knew my faulty timing produced negative results. The fact that Karateka never felt cheap was a huge plus for me.
In the 30 minutes or so it’ll take to get through this game, I couldn’t help but feel like something was missing. The various enemies aren’t too much different from each other in terms of their fighting styles. One guy may string together four attacks in a row, while another attacks more frequently, but there’s not much variety. The fact that you can’t deviate from the given path also means subsequent playthoughs will be identical. Your character’s abilities also never change. It would have been nice if the points you earn from battles could be used to obtain new attacks or clothing. The attacks don’t have to be more powerful, but it would have made players feel like they were achieving more than just a desired ending.
Stop and Smell the Cherry Blossoms
When the fighting is done you move forward on a linear path until you run into the next goon. You’ll come across Mariko’s health-restoring flowers frequently, but moving in-between battles serves no purpose other than being a way to display the scenery. It’s a good thing the visuals in Karateka as so nice to look at. When I first started the game, I immediately drew comparisons to Disney’s Mulan. This is the kind of art that makes a game look good even when it’s ran on computers with lower specifications. There’s no real voice acting outside of some grunts, but I don’t think this game needs it.
Karateka succeeds in being visually pleasing, easy to access and encouraging of repeated playthoughs. However, it may be too short for its $10 price tag. I also fault it for not having a nice variety of enemy combat styles, and possessing a points system that does little beyond ranking positions in the leaderboards. With that said, I can say without a doubt that I still enjoyed playing Karateka, and would recommend it to anyone who’s interested.
Steam Link [Karateka]