Ever wanted to be a Kung Fu hero saving a fair maiden from an evil warlord? Congrats. You can be. Karateka aims to emulate that experience in a short adventure for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.
Karateka is a remake of a 1984 title of the same name, ported to nearly every single games console in the 80′s such as the Amiga and Famicom. Created by Jordan Mechner (famous for Prince of Persia), this new version is intended to be a HD remake of the original for modern day audiences. The game opens with the hero climbing a cliff that Akuma’s base is sat across from; as he works his way up the side of the the cliff you are shown his motivation: Mariko. With this you begin your assault of Akuma’s fortress; working your way up through the palace grounds, fighting enemy after enemy, until eventually you reach his chambers. No words are spoken during all this: Karateka is completely silent, with no other dialogue in the game. All players are given story-wise is a brief dialogue upon choosing new game.
Mariko the games damsel in distress
There are no other words to describe Karateka overall: it is linear. There are no extra options for pathways as you progress along it, there are no choices and you cannot turn back once you have progressed. The only divergence from your path is in defeat and even then you are just plopped back where you died. Karateka does not let you die easily and when you do it does not provide you with the same reward each time; death changes your character into another of the protagonists. The game has three protagonists; The True Love, The Monk and The Brute. Each has their own reason for wishing to save Mariko (honestly, every single one just wants to tap that, really) and each character changes your ending slightly. If you die twice to become The Brute, then die again, you sacrifice points off your score in order to revive the Brute and finish your battle. Karateka has kept very close to the original arcade style that the original Apple II Computers version had.
Fighting a monk in the Palace Gardens to earn his respect
The combat system is a form of rhythmic combat where you exchange and interchange blows and parries by pressing keys in the right order or at the right moment. The control scheme is very simple and consists of four buttons. Directional controls are only required when traversing between fights. I played this on PC with an Xbox 360 controller so I will refer to the control layout of the xbox controller. The player presses B to block, X to punch, Y to kick and A to execute a Chi attack. Punches and kicks are self evident; when you manage to block the blows of your enemy you gain the ability to attack them. You can chain these attacks together into a long series of blows and take out your enemy. Provided they don’t block you back. If they manage to deflect one of your blows or your attacks falter you go back into your defensive stance and have to block their moves again until you can attack. The game is simple and allows players to quickly pick it up. Chi attacks allow you to stun your opponent and knock them back meaning if you wish to quickly end a fight you can pummel them as they’re stunned.
Karateka is short. Very short. My first play through was over in just 30 seconds over half an hour. The game is intended for people to play through multiple times thanks to the multiple character endings, although, as the name suggests, players are enticed to reunite Mariko with her True Love. Mechner said in an interview that he added several new ‘secrets’ that he wishes players to discover in their playthrough, whilst removing the secrets from the original; such as Mariko killing the player if they approach her in their fighting stance. The game also comes shipped with a few achievements such as “complete the game in under 30 minutes” to give players a goal to attempt to aim for. The games linearity is a by-product of its limited budget, but it also skewers the game. If the game had a few different branching paths I could see being able to replay it a few times but ultimately every series of fights is the same. Only those who truly love it may have it in them to replay it and beat their scores.
Whilst the game is enjoyable, the overall graphical presentation of the game on PC is lacking. The art direction is indeed appealing with a very comic book feel to it, however, graphically on PC the game suffers from a lack of anti-aliasing; character models appear jagged and scenery looks poor because of this. Colours can also look fairly washed out and blurry in cutscenes. I also actually had quite a bit of trouble getting the game to actually start on my own machine, I found that it would boot and then nothing would load.
Karateka is currently £6.95 on the Steam store. It’s easy to pick up and enjoyable. I would say it has limited replay value but is fun. It has both iOS and WiiU ports on the way and I would say it is fair to think of this as a title that would do well on tablets. It’s short, it’s simple and not too confusing for new players. With the style of gameplay it feels as if it was geared towards mobile devices but this may just be from modern expectations versus those of the 1980′s. Although it is already quite cheap, unless you are sure you will play it again and again, wait for a sale if you are looking to buy it for your consoles.