Karate Champ (NES) review
"When you see the title screen, you might have reason to be optimistic. It shows that two people can play (though I later learned that even a single person wasting time with the game is a small miracle), and the letters that make up the logo don't look half bad. Not only that, but the background music is some of the best I've heard from the system. It really is. Unfortunately, I've just described almost everything positive there is to say about the game."
Fear me, for I am a karate master. If you insult me, I shall waddle over to you and punch you in the face, and you will fall to your knees, and I will laugh at you while vases fly over my head and the referee grunts ''Begin'' in a muffled voice. No, I'm not insane. I've just played a little too much Karate Champ, one of Data East's old titles for the NES. And how much is 'a little too much,' you ask? How about one minute's worth?
According to the nice label on my mint-condition cartridge, this was a number one arcade smash in some sort of sick reality. We can only hope that it was much better when prompted by quarters than it is when prompted by the 'start' button on the NES controller. I suspect the only reason I have a cartridge in such nice condition is that no one who owned it really felt like playing the stupid thing. When I first put it in the deck, I wasn't sure what to expect. Then I found out, and I almost turned it off. I'm glad I didn't, because if I had gone with my first instinct and killed the power prematurely, I would have missed out on the opportunity to laugh at what is one of the absolute worst games on the system.
When you see the title screen, you might have reason to be optimistic. It shows that two people can play (though I later learned that even a single person wasting time with the game is a small miracle), and the letters that make up the logo don't look half bad. Not only that, but the background music is some of the best I've heard from the system. It really is. Unfortunately, I've just described almost everything positive there is to say about the game. No, seriously. I have. It's honestly more fun to sit at the title screen and soak in the music for a minute or two than it is to experience the actual gameplay.
Ah, the gameplay. You must wonder what it is. From the cover, it's not quite apparent. It looks sort of like some adventure. I can look at the red guy doing a jump kick and the guy in the foreground swinging his hand around and think maybe it's a story of two lone warriors rising against a Columbian drug cartel, or an evil Hong Kong businessman, or perhaps an insane fashion mogul who wants to force children in schools to wear uniforms. These are all things that might have been, but alas, they are not. Instead, the game is about a karate competition. There's no plot, because plot really wouldn't make the game any better or worse. Instead, there's just a string of opponents.
When you begin, you find out that your character is the guy in the white karate suit. Your opponent is the evil guy in the red suit. Watching the festivities is the referee, who as I mentioned before will grumble ''Begin'' in a muffled voice. You actually get to hear him, as Data East thought to include a digitized voice. This is an amazing accomplishment, considering the game was released for the NES in 1986. Unfortunately, it ads nothing to the game once you've heard it a time or two and gotten over the ''Wow, that's neat'' factor.
Since the red guy is inherently evil, you will have no choice but to move toward him and try and punch him in the face. In all fairness, the game gives you a wider variety of moves than just a punch. You can jump kick, you can slide your foot around for a roundhouse, or you can just kick your hapless rival. However, most of these moves are going to miss and leave you open for an attack. Therefore, the punch is the safest bet. In fact, just because I'm such a crazy guy, I tested how far I could get using only one button (didn't even bother with the directional pad), and got through to the seventh match. Absolutely horrid.
The characters move with the grace you would expect from a dead whale. There are only a few animation frames for walking, for example, one with the right foot on the ground, one with it in the air. They are slower than you care to know, whether jumping or punching or just kicking. I'm convinced that if possible, they would also be slow at standing in one place doing nothing. Even victory poses are bad enough that you might snicker without meaning to.
Okay, so we've established so far that this is a pitiful game where two guys try and punch each other. That's not really a game at all, is it? I don't think it is, and Data East agreed. Therefore, the developers applied a few more rules. For one, know that to win against an opponent, you must beat him in two out of three rounds. Each round is determined by whoever gets in the most hits on his opponent. Whenever a hit is scored, points are awarded. When one of the two fighters has a set number of points, the round ends. It feels like a rudimentary version of Street Fighter II: The World Warrior, minus anything that made that later title worth playing.
Assuming you win the round, you will then be allowed to proceed to the 'bonus' stage. This involves you standing in a field while someone off-screen throws vases at you. Those vases move in a straight, horizontal line, and you must avoid them or chop them or something. Considering how slowly your character moves, avoidance seems best, but he's almost guaranteed to take a vase to the bum before things end. This is just fine, as you probably want things to end as quickly as possible.
I'm guessing that at one time this was a fun game. When the competition was Pong and the like, and when graphics weren't stunning like they were later when games like Super Mario Bros. 2 hit the scene, this game might have been something of a showpiece. Presently, though, I have nightmares that I'll invite a buddy over to my apartment, he'll see the game lying on the carpet, and I'll have one less friend. Stranger things have happened.
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Staff review by Jason Venter (November 02, 2003)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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