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Karateka

aka: Karate Master, Karateka Classic
Moby ID: 1268

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Critic Reviews add missing review

Average score: 75% (based on 11 ratings)

Player Reviews

Average score: 3.7 out of 5 (based on 129 ratings with 5 reviews)

Do you hear the grasshopper at your feet?

The Good
Karateka wasn't the first martial arts game for the Commodore 64 (and yes, I know it didn't originate here), but it didn't borrow much from its predecessors. Unlike the acrobatic Yie Ar Kung-Fu fighting game, the arcade platformer Bruce Lee, or the Game of Death-like Kung Fu Master, Karateka—at first glance—was a conventional "run to the right" game.

The evil Akuma has captured Princess Mariko. He holds her in a cell, deep within his mountain fortress. Only the Karateka, the trained master of empty handed fighting, can rescue her. To do this, he'll have to fight his way through Akuma's henchmen, heading deeper and deeper into the heart of the fortress. There are no extra lives here, no save points, no continues—just one chance to save the princess.

After hoisting himself over the edge of a cliff, the Karateka began his run to the right and encountered his first enemy. If he didn't switch from running to his fighting stance, it would also be his last enemy because the enemy would kill him with one blow. Encountering his first enemy, the Karateka noticed the enemy's life bar. At this point they were equally matched—later enemies would have lifebars much longer than the Karateka's.

Then combat commenced. The Karateka's attacks were limited: High Punch, Medium Punch, Low Punch and High Kick, Medium Kick, and Low Kick. He could punch indefinitely, but could only perform three kicks in a row. For the most part this matched his opponents, but some could string more kicks together and his opponents' timing could differ than his. What became more important than being able to strike, was knowing when to strike. The Karateka could retreat half a step and then hammer into the enemy as he approached or take a full step forward and add a High Kick on to it knocking his enemy back a step. If he was low on health, he could retreat a bit and recover some energy, but if he didn't press the attack, the enemy would heal too.

After defeating one opponent it was on to the next—but there were some surprises too: a door that couldn't be trusted, Akuma's avian attack, and knowing when to bow.

Karateka had very good graphics, including very fluid combat animations and rewarding "hits". What set this apart from other games were intermittent cutscenes showing Akuma issuing orders and what was happening to the princess. Sound and music were phenomenal, really providing the game with a mood.

The Bad
There's the old joke about Tai Chi being a great martial art to know if you are ever fighting in slow motion. Combat in Karateka isn't that slow, but it is at a regular pace which can thwart one's intention to get through the game by mashing buttons. Its insistence on standard punching and kicking seems to place an odd emphasis on realism, one that some gamers felt was too limiting. And to be honest, there's something to the more visceral games like 1985's Way of the Exploding Fist.

Karateka's one life, one chance motif became a little nerve wracking, especially when you learned there were a few sneaky ways to die—instantly. Granted, I don't know what save schemes were in place at the time, but something to give the player a breather would have been nice.

The Bottom Line
Karateka is a great old-school game that serves as a bridge between classic gaming and the games of today. It was a standard platformer with style, meant to be played in one sitting, with great animation and gameplay that kept moving forward.

Commodore 64 · by Terrence Bosky (5397) · 2004

A classic that demonstrates how well a story can be told with no words.

The Good
The finest aspect of Karateka, and one that hasn't lost anything due to the game's age was how well Jordan Mechner could tell a tale with nothing but visuals and musical cues. There is no dialogue, not even text. Characters merely make gestures and the music plays their mood so wonderfully that one knows what the characters are 'saying' without hearing/seeing a single world. It's brilliant and such an achievement has only been achieved a few times in the history of gaming.

For their time frame, the graphics were well done. Crisp, clean, and effective, they were exceptional for when the game came out.

At the time, the basic concept (running down the hall fighting opponents in a very simplified fighting game style) was enjoyably fresh.

The Bad
The gameplay is very repetitive, as you face off against tone lackey after another with minimal to no difference between emplyess.

The fighting style, an early fighting game type of engagement, lacks finesse or true style. You more times than not wind up just mashing buttons until you connect...often using the same maneuver again and again in rapid succession. Aside from a few surprises (like Akuma's falcons attacking), there's little difference between your opponents or how you fight them.

The difficulty level, mixed with the controls and repetitiveness, might scare away many poeple who will find this game somwhat hard and frustrating.

The Bottom Line
An early side-scrolling fighting/action game, Karateka is a classic in the way it tells its story. The game's simplicity is both its charm and its downfall.

DOS · by Ray Soderlund (3501) · 2000

Kickin' run to the right karate game

The Good
This game is part of that wonderful genre I call the run to the right game. As you run to the right, you will meet and battle various guards, a sinister bird, and the bad dude himself.

Cool music and cut scenes for such an early game. Also, liked the ability to run/walk and bow.

The Bad
If you aren't prepared, you can be killed with a single blow.

Also, remember that you have to be a gentleman to the ladies.

The Bottom Line
Very fun kung-fu game with realistic fighting. Not much of a story, but challenging gameplay. Later fights feel like duels.

DOS · by Terrence Bosky (5397) · 2001

Unforgettable game with pioneering graphics

The Good
This is the first game I can remember playing that actually had lifelike animation. Jordan Mechner gave us a glimpse of what computer animation could be like in this groundbreaking game.

The game places the player in the role of a hero on a quest to save his beloved. Though somewhat cliché, this game successfully made the player feel part of the story as he maneuvered his way deep into the enemy's mountain fortress.

The controls were easy to use and effectively made us of the Apple joystick's two buttons and 8 directions of movement.

Though the Apple II's sound capabilities were unquestionably weak, this game effectively used them to generate surprisingly decent sound effects and music. And finally, the game's conclusion was heroic and satisfying.

The Bad
The only failing of this game was the hardware it was developed for. The Apple II had bizarre colors and weak sound facilities. But this game utilized them to the fullest.

The Bottom Line
A great action/adventure game showcasing pioneering animation techniques and technology.

Apple II · by Frecklefoot (188) · 2007

An Unforgettable game.

The Good
There is a lot of action, the movements are very flexible.

This game is a classic, I like the story, concept, and animations.

The sounds are very good for a 1986 game.

The Bad
Poor graphics, unappealing game play.

The Bottom Line
Definitely a game to buy.

The fighting in the game is very slow, so if you are expecting an old fashioned Street Fighter, I'm sorry.

This game is a good game overall.

DOS · by Jim Fun (207) · 2001

Contributors to this Entry

Critic reviews added by S Olafsson, Scaryfun, Tim Janssen, Big John WV, Patrick Bregger, The Maverick, Jo ST.