Karateka's fighting system encompasses all the cool moves you see in the The Karate Kid movie, released two years ago in 1984. America is going through a karate craze and Karateka takes full advantage of the fad. The fighting system is very simple. You have high, middle and low punches as well as high, middle and low kicks -- but, that's basically it.
After playing the game a few times, it's very clear that out of those six techniques you only need to use the middle kick. It has the longest range and, since it hits even when the enemy is right next to you, it's all you'll be using. The only reason why you might consider the other techniques is if you get bored.
In addition to being one of the earliest games in the fighter genre, Karateka is also a pioneer (among others) of cinematic gaming. Although there is no full motion video or voiceovers, Karateka still manages to give a strong sense of cinematic storytelling through cut scenes.
The game is divided into several segments. After you beat each one, you're treated to a clip of the final boss getting increasingly angry and sending his minions to take care of you. Even though the clips are short and he's limited to that one action, they create a sense of anticipation for when you actually do have to face the bad guys. This is accomplished by the game cutting to the end of the level and showing the bad guy coming for you, creating tension leading up to the inevitable clash.
Karateka has one very glaring design flaw dragging it down -- you cannot play it with the sound turned off. The game's sound effects aren't particularly impressive, consisting mostly of dull thuds for hits, so you might want to turn the sound down and play your own music.
However, in the second level, a bird will periodically attack you and the only warning you have is its screech just a moment before it comes onscreen. You're left with two options: either crawl slowly through the level in fighting stance just so it doesn't kill you with one hit, or, put up with the sound effects so you can run and cover more ground until the bird comes to attack.
Karateka's graphics are definitely on the minimalist side, though in some places they manage to impress despite limited resources. Because of the limitations of CGA graphics, you basically won't see more than four colors on screen at any time. Even so, the game actually manages to convey a sense of 3D; for example, the way your character passes in front of one leg of gates and behind the other creates the illusion of a 3D corridor.
But, while some parts of the background are impressive, nothing about the characters is. With the exception of the bird and the final boss, all the characters you come across have the exact same animations as your character. That's not helped by the fact that the animations are as simple as they can get and still be called animations. All of your techniques have exactly three animations, just enough to make them look like movements and no more.
If you don't mind games with very simple gameplay and some minor problems, Karateka can be a charming experience with a great cinematic flair.
Graphics: Minimalist graphics but impressive in some areas.
Sound: Average and unimpressive sound effects.
Enjoyment: Enjoyment of the game depends heavily on whether you can accept its very simple fighting system. If you don't mind it, you'll most likely find Karateka to be charming and entertaining. If you're looking for a serious fighter, though, the game will be a heavy disappointment.
Replay Value: The game has very limited replay value because the opponents you face are very similar to each other, differing only in a few attack patterns and in movement speed.
The evil Akuma has destroyed the protagonist's homeland, killed many of his friends and kidnapped the princess Mariko. Fortunately, the hero is skilled in martial arts, so his inevitable quest to reach Akuma's palace and rescue Mariko has a chance of success.
Karateka is viewed from the side and features a succession of increasingly difficult opponents. Three types of punches and kicks are available to both the player character and his foes, differentiated by their height (low, medium, and high). The protagonist has a health bar, which refills itself gradually when he stands still.
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