Saturday, August 3, 2013

Karateka Review

MORTALLL KOMBAAAT. Dun dun dun dun du-dun dun dun dun dun du-dun....

  • Developer: Liquid Entertainment
  • Publisher: Karateka LLC
  • Release Date:4 December 2012

Awhile back I vaguely remember playing the original Karateka. It had blocky CGA graphics which seems very primitive yet the animations were surprisingly fluid for its time. This is mainly thanks to rotoscoping which Jordan Mechner would use in probably his most famous game, Prince of Persia. The game’s premise was simple. Run from one screen to the next fighting any enemies along the way using karate as your weapon. Obviously, this was easier said than done and you only had one life. Once you died it was game over (permadeath is such a rarity in games nowadays).

So almost 30 years later, Jordan Mechner has made a remake to his 1984 classic. As I never really progressed that far in the original, curiosity got the better of me to rediscover what Karateka was all about.

Plot (2/5)
Okay there’s not really much to say about the game’s plot as it’s the clich├ęd damsel in distress scenario. Basically you play one of three characters: the True Love, the Monk and the Brute. You start off playing as the True Love but if he is defeated he is replaced by the Monk and if the Monk is defeated he is replaced by the Brute. All three are trying to rescue a girl named Mariko who has been kidnapped by the evil Akuma. Along the way to Akuma’s palace, you will fight against countless enemies in martial combat.

Also the pedant in me doesn't understand why the powerful strikes in the game require chi (or "qi" as it’s spelt nowadays) when it’s a Chinese concept. It’s like the reverse of the Karate Kid remake being set in China. Coincidentally, the original Karate Kid was also released in 1984, just like the original Apple II release of Karateka.

The big boss - Akuma.

Gameplay (3/5)
Okay. On one hand, I enjoyed timing my blocks to ensure I could counter-attack my opponents. That’s basically the game in a nutshell. Keep defending against opponent attacks, counter-attack, defeat opponent then move on to the next opponent. Eventually your next opponent will be Akuma himself.

Some might deride this as Quick Time Events (QTE) which is only half-true. With QTE you have to hit different keys and they usually give you substantially more time. This is more like a rhythm game except you have to interpret the right visual cues. Against opponents at the beginning it’s relatively easy to counter their attacks but later on it becomes a bit more difficult since the opponents perform feints to lure you into blocking too early. Timing is everything in this game, just like real martial arts. Although, unlike real martial arts you only need to worry about timing the block not which direction it’s coming from.

Sound (4/5)
There’s no talking whatsoever in this – similar to the original I guess! It’s good since they really didn't need to – also means they could save money on translation costs I suppose :)

Music (4/5)
Christopher Tin was responsible for this soundtrack and while it’s pretty minimalist and not as memorable as his efforts on Civilization IV (Baba Yetu) he's done a good job with incorporating authentic Japanese instruments into it. Even better is that there are musical cues for when the enemy attacks giving you a hint of what is in store (if you can distinguish between them that is).

Graphics (4/5)
Cut-scenes seem lower quality than the game itself and it might be due to this game being a console port. It’s a bit rough around the edges but the animations are fantastic and the art-style is great, thanks to Jeff Matsuda.

Replay (2/5)
Normally I’d rate this higher as I’ll probably play this game a couple of times more (in order to unlock achievements). However considering the game is so short I had to reduce the score slightly as it won’t be long until you’re done playing this game.

Polish (4/5)
The game is an obvious console port with not terribly intuitive controls and a message saying you have to not turn the computer off while the save icon appears! Thankfully these are only minor quibbles.

The Monk finally reaches the palace

Score – 6/10

While I've never thoroughly played the original I get the feeling that this is a more or less faithful remake although probably with toned down difficulty for today’s audience, thanks to the addition of audio cues during combat and several “lives” (instead of just one). The only thing I can fault with the new Karateka is that they’re asking $10 for a (literally) linear game that can be completed in just 30 minutes. If you can grab this game on sale or if you’re a die-hard Karateka fan then it may be worth a look.

If you want to get the game, you can get it on Steam .

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