Karateka (NES) review
"To say that martial-arts films were a popular trend in the 80’s would be the understatement of a lifetime. Anything martial-arts instantly became a hit amongst the population. Seemingly, people just couldn’t refuse the ignorant stereotyping of a respectable form of self-defense. And so this A-rate combat style gave inspiration to a barrage of B-rate movies, which in turn gave inspiration to a string of D-rate games. At the bottom of these contemptuous pile of crap, we have Karateka. ..."
To say that martial-arts films were a popular trend in the 80’s would be the understatement of a lifetime. Anything martial-arts instantly became a hit amongst the population. Seemingly, people just couldn’t refuse the ignorant stereotyping of a respectable form of self-defense. And so this A-rate combat style gave inspiration to a barrage of B-rate movies, which in turn gave inspiration to a string of D-rate games. At the bottom of these contemptuous pile of crap, we have Karateka. The very bottom, actually. In fact, I’d be hard-pressed to find a single martial-arts title that I despise as much as Karateka.
Our adventure begins with a nameless little red man. Lets give him a name as generic as he is. Jim will do. You see, Jim has to rescue his girl. Or maybe it’s not a girl. You can’t really tell. Anyway, standing in the way of Jim and his unidentifiable lover is a hoard of karate-fighting baddies just waiting to be sent out one by one to battle you. It won’t be an easy journey. It won’t be a fun, rewarding, or worthwhile journey either. But you must do it. Your girlfriend/boyfriend/androgynous creature needs help!
Thus, I charged out into Karateka’s world. The redundantly ugly background, filled with redundantly ugly white lines supposed to represent clouds, and which spewed its redundant ugliness across the entire level, couldn’t bring me down. I wouldn’t let it. Nor would I allow the background noise, which tries to simulate the soft sound of an ocean swaying in the background, yet fails miserably, get to me either. Why? Because I was excited! I couldn’t wait to see what pumped-up karate action awaited me! I stormed across this bland expanse, tense with excitement. After several seconds, I laid eyes on my first enemy. Glory! I sprinted at him, filled with the sweet anticipation of battle. I ran into him. I died.
You see, to fight in Karateka, you must press downward to enter combat mode (a fancy way of saying to crouch down), in which you can then actually start fighting. Otherwise, you die. Just like that, you’re dead, no matter how much health you had. The stupidity of this is appalling, not to mention uncalled for and disgustingly cheap. With this idiotic tidbit of information in mind, I once again started the game, no longer bearing any enthusiasm. I proceeded forward and again entered combat with the little bastard, this time careful not to make the same mistake. It was here that I had to come to grip with Karateka’s horribly lacking play mechanics. You see, Jim is supposedly a Karate master. The problem is, he obviously flunked out of Karate school before he learned anything other than the basics, if even that. Gone are the furious fist-foot assault combos and flashy spinning somersaults of B-movie fame. Karateka takes a much more simple, and therefore boring, approach.
Jim can kick. That’s it, really. Technically, he can punch as well, but you’d have to be a moron to bring Jim’s fists into the fray. Any attack punch related will be followed up by a kick from the enemy, due to Jim’s puny arm-length and stiff body movement, which allows the enemy to sneak in a hit, were as you’ll be lucky to even make contact. So you kick. Over and over again, you kick. Sure, you can do an upward and downward kick, and an upward and downward punch as well, but since this is all completely useless in battle, it might as well not even be there. Here’s a description of a typical battle in Karateka:
You and your unworthy opponent enter combat. Respectively, you both agree to crouch down and bend your knees, in a mutual agreement were you are both acknowledging that you look like assholes. Thus, with both of you equally leveled with each other and squatting uncomfortably, the battle begins. The enemy slowly walks towards you. You kick him! He takes a few steps back. He then proceeds to walk towards you again. Kick!. Again. Kick! Again. Kick! The showdown continues in this fashion. It’s almost as if they enjoy this form of abuse. On and on our little evil-doer goes, never giving hope that you will somehow decide not to kick him. Being the merciless guy I am, I also put the little shits out of their misery. And being the psychopathic guy I am, you’d think I would find a little more joy in it, but as previously stated, Karateka’s battles suck. If you enjoy extreme repetition, slug-slow pacing, and bland karate combat, that Karateka will be right up your ally.
How is the end of these battles decided? Well, it’s only natural that Karateka would implore one of the most idiotic health systems ever to grace a videogame. Let me explain. Above the screen is a thin white line, which stretches across the screen horizontally. On this line is a red square and a blue square. As you battle your opponent, hits will cause each square to move further towards the edge of the screen. If of the squares actually reaches the edge of the screen, that person loses. This isn’t the problem. The problem is the cheapness of it. Your square may start out in the middle of the screen, equal with your opponent, but curiously, it shortens over time. Suddenly you find yourself in battles twice as long, due to the fact that your enemy has twice as much health as you. This is just bullshit. It’s not really that it makes the battles any harder, it just makes them more drawn out and frustrating. To add insult to injury, If you don’t dispose of your enemy fast enough, his stupid square will start to move back to its original position. This is especially frustrating in some of the later battles, which require you to be more aggressive, and in which you won’t be getting hits in as fast. Again, this doesn’t make things harder, just more drawn out and dull.
Returning to the original topic, I dispatched of the game’s first enemy in the same way I would dispatch all the enemies following him, and in the same painfully boring way I described above. Once he was down, I then ran through the following archway, fully prepared to kick (not to be mistaken with punch) more ass. Suddenly the screen went blank and flipped to a quick glimpse of inside the castle. What’s this, I thought? A cinema! I watched as the ninja boss, just as beat-red as our hero, ordered one of his troopers out of the castle. I then watched as the little guy ran out of the castle and into the open, charging towards me at full pace. I charged towards him. I watched me charge at him. I watched him charge at me.
Yes, watch as the camera flips between you and your opponent, gloriously capturing footage of you too as you storm towards each other. Because, of course, I’ve got nothing better to do but stare at nothingness for almost half a minute. You are literally forced to do nothing but watch these scenes as they drag on, and several times, too. It they’re going to waste our time fighting the losers, that could at least have the human decency not to waste our time waiting to fight these losers. The level continues in this pattern, wasting time running up to them, and wasting even more time actually fighting them. When I reached the end of the area, signified by a door into the castle, I tried to put that atrocious experience behind me and entered.
As you walk through this door, the first thing you’ll notice will not be the interior design, which blends baby-green flooring and creamy light-brown walls to capture the raw essence of human feces, nor will it be the tiny and evenly spaced windows, which give glimpse to the blue sky, which suddenly doesn’t seem so bland anymore when you consider your current surroundings. No, it will be the enemy standing there waiting for you patiently. Despite a color change, you can’t help but realize that he is the same damn thing you’ve been fighting the entire time. This, of course, means more mindless kicking. I‘m sure you know the drill by now. And yes, it’s just as boring and repetitive as it ever was. Unexpectedly, though, the game throws a new aspect into the fray.
And it’s a stupid one. In between your long stretches of mindless running, waiting for the enemy to finally reach you, you’ll end up encountering the boss ninja’s trusty bird. His pet pecker will soar in occasionally to take a shot at you. You could charge through every one of Karateka’s retarded enemies with barely a scratch on you, and yet this stupid bird is near impossible to avoid. To prevent this bird from hitting you, you must perform one of the several types of kicks and punches Jim can do (the only time they’ll ever come in handy). Sounds simple, right? It should be, but then again, this is Karateka were talking about here. Due to the game’s ridiculous hit-rate system, you’ll be lucky to lay a single hit on the bird. Most of the time, your attacks will go right through the jerk. Luckily, you would have to fight the bird too much in this stage. Just a endless barrage of physically challenged goons.
Kick! Kick! Kick! Kick! Kick! Kick! Kick! Kick!
After this dull endeavor, which is all too similar to the last stage (with lots of kicking, of course), I reached the end of the level. I suddenly felt a feeling of excitement reminiscent of when I had first started the game. I was finally about to leave this pooey place, and (hopefully) move on to greener and unshitified pastures. I respectively killed the finally enemy, putting up with the minute of kicking that ensued. I moved towards the end of the stage with glee, only to watch in horror as all my progress got ripped away from me. To be precise, the gate to the next room crashed down on me, and in turn plummeted me back to the beginning. Yes, the gate killed me. There is of course no indication that the gate will do that (not that there is any good excuse for this crap in the first place), so I willingly walked into it. The “trick” is to position your self a step away from the gate, and walk towards it so it falls without landing on you. You then run through once it raises back up. Of course, I didn’t know that, as no one will when they first reach it, as its only purpose was to kill the unexpected person in the first place.
Now, any normal person would probably just quit. But as much as I am merciless and psychopathic, I am also stubborn. I refused to allow that gate to bar my progress. I slowly crawled my way back up there, ready to show that piece of metal who’s boss. My reward for wasting even more of my spare time was access to the final area of the game.
As I entered the room, the first thought that crossed my mind was, “Finally, an area that doesn’t make me feel sick to my stomach from looking at it!” This is mainly because the area chooses to just use black as its background, instead of the gaudy colors seen previously. I walked down the steps and entered combat with the local warrior who had nothing better to do than stand there waiting for me. Only this time, things were different. He refused to walk towards me, as was the standard routine. This doesn’t mean he was any smarter. In fact, if anything, he was even more of a retard. He’ll just stand there all day, flailing his arms and legs around mindlessly. He won’t actually move forward and try to hurt you, so don’t worry about being in danger. In fact, you can use this time to relax. Maybe go and pour yourself a drink, or stick your thumb in a cool cup of water to numb the pain it is surely feeling by now from the constant kicking. Once you return, you can proceed to take him down by moving towards him when he pauses from his string of attacks and let in a kick. It’s simple, really, though slightly harder than the bulk of the game (providing you don’t pin him against a wall and kick him as he bounces back and forth helplessly, which is the biggest and most easy to abuse battle technique in the game).
You take out a few more guys just like him, then proceed to take out his bird (the only thing resembling challenge in the game), and then the big guy himself, who is almost exactly the same as what you’ve been fighting the entire time. You rescue the hooded girl/boy/androgynous creature, and the game warps into a bland ending screen which doesn’t even remotely compensate for the traumatic experience you just endured.
I reached out flicked the power switch with my blistered thumb, and then carefully pulled the cartridge out of the system. I laid it on my bed, ever so gently. I propped it up on a silky soft pillow, placing it near a ray of sunlight so it could shine in all its glory. I then unleashed a barrage of sleek karate moves on the damn cartridge that stiffy Jim could only dream of doing. I used my fists.
I was tired of kicking.
Community review by gdeluca (November 26, 2004)
A bio for this contributor is currently unavailable, but check back soon to see if that changes. If you are the author of this review, you can update your bio from the Settings page.
If you enjoyed this Karateka review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!