Karateka Review

Retro fighting re-imagined for the touch era…

Jordan Mechner’s re-imagining of Karateka is finally out on iOS, a forerunner (tech-wise) to Prince Of Persia. But is it a triumph of the touch generation, or a relic from gaming’s past.

Karateka’s storyline is essentially the same as the 1984 original, with you rescuing a princess called Mariko, from the evil Akuma’s in his castle fortress. The gameplay is also essentially the same too, but has now evolved from it’s 2D 8-bit presentation into modern 3D. Despite this, it still plays along a linear 2D path, with you encountering Akuma’s henchman along the way.

If you played the original Prince of Persia you’ll remember that apart from the platforming elements, the fighting was more strategic than quick paced action. As you squared off with enemies, you waited and watched for their attacks, so you could perfectly time a parry and then deliver a mortal blow. Karateka follows this premise too. So, instead of it being a mindless brawler, the game requires patience and good reactions. Each enemy encounter plays out like a dual (but with fists) with you both delivering blow after blow until one of you is left standing.

Reacting to your enemies attacks is aided by subtle audio and visual cues that let you know both the speed and the amount of hits they are about to deliver. Perform a block too soon and you’ll lose health. However, time it right and you’ll stun the enemy, leaving them open to a flurry of your own kicks and punches. Successful combos will powerup your chi, allowing you to perform a stun attack at anytime, basically making them miss a turn.

Controlling the game couldn’t be simpler. After playing through the Xbox version back in early November, I was curious to see how they’d handle it. The game is essentially on rails, but you could use the joystick to move your hero forward and back, while your blocking and attacks were a combination of the Xbox controller face buttons. On iOS though, the controls are streamlined down to a single touch. And it works brilliantly. Tap to block, tap to attack, tap and hold to move forward. Simples! Only the encounters with Akumas evil Hawk has been modified to suit the one touch gameplay. In the Xbox version you pressed a different button to counter either high or low attacks from the bird. While on iOS its simplified to one attack.

The path to your sweetheart is broken up into little chapters, each containing multiple henchmen and an end-of-chapter Boss. However, the game is essentially one seamless level, with chapters simply acting as markers for your progression.

Starting out, you play as a hero called the One True Love. The object of the game is to beat it without being defeated, so that on rescuing the princess you can live happily ever after. However, if you do die then you don’t have to start from scratch. No, as your hero falls from a cliff edge to his death, he passes another hero, also on his way to rescue the princess (complete with cut-scene with how they met), you then become this new character continuing from where your previous one met his maker. You can then continue to play the game and complete it (re-generating up to two times as a monk and as a brute). However you won’t live happily ever after with the princess as she’s only got eyes for the one true love.

I managed to get to Akuma in 33 minutes on my first play through. Admittedly it was with the brute, but the game does seem very short, even for iOS standards. Having said that, the object of the game is to improve your skills so that you can complete it with the one true love hero, and unlock the full ending, and I can see that taking multiple play-throughs.

Ultimately I think this game will in fact be best served here on iOS (as opposed to the Xbox or PSN versions), where it can be played in short bursts on the go.

Karateka is a feast for the eyes and ears. The character designs and animation are top notch, with a look that echoes that of Disney’s Mulan. The music and sound is of an equal high standard, perfectly complimenting the visuals to transport you to ancient Japan.

So, does Karateka succeed in bringing the cult classic to a new generation? Absolutely. The problem is that many gamers will not have played the original, and so it can’t really hit the ground running based solely off its 1984 name alone. This really has to stand up on its own feet…. And it does.

2012 has become the year of the simpler, and often shorter, gameplay idea beating out the more complex ones. While games like Black Ops 2 trudge along to the same beat with only a visual or small feature set to differentiate it to the game before it, titles like Journey surprise and delight us by being tight and focussed small packages. Karatega is from this same school of learning, and one that I think we’ll see more of into 2013.


Karatega is out now for $2.99.


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