Whether you are a nostalgic Karateka fan or new to the game, Karateka will charm you with its classic love story set in feudal Japan. Fight to save the lovely Mariko from the evil warlord Akuma and reunite her with her True Love!
What We Think:
An “HD remake” of the original beat-em up for Apple II (and later ported to other platforms) by Jordan Mechner who in the interim went on to create the Prince of Persia franchise, Karateka comes to Steam with a magical score by Grammy award winning composer Christopher Tin whose work can also be heard in Civilization IV.
With an eye-popping animated art style by Jeff Matsuda (The Batman) the Disney-inspired characters, with big almond shaped eyes and over-sized appendages set off to save the princess held prisoner atop a mountain in a Japanese fortress against alluring, sparkling, fully-realized backgrounds. You begin as the handsome (and presumably ideal) “true love,” who is replaced instantly upon defeat by a “noble Monk,” who has more skills and hit points, and subsequently a blue-collar “fearsome brute” – a hulking big lug, each with minor advantages and disadvantages.
As far as I could tell (and the dev interview below confirms this) the last of these has more stamina and packs a bigger punch but is slower to react, but I may have been imagining this as there is no indication of this otherwise and you only get one life per character. To a degree this is clever, because each of these characters requires a slightly different tactic, but on a replay it wouldn’t vary much. The challenge is to get through all the creeps with the weakest, and handsomest of the characters.
The dead simple controls are deceiving – essentially the mechanic involves coordinating a button press with precise timing against a series of unpredictable (at first) attacks. A successful block gives you the opportunity to attack in kind. Sometimes, a block can mean several consecutive blocks that must be timed according the to particular enemy’s combo. And look out for that ole’ eagle attack! It may not seem like much at first, but if you are low on health, that screeching bastard can swoop out of the sky and knock you out before you have reached the next safe spot which are represented by lotus flowers at which you briefly pray in order to fill up your health bar.
There isn’t much to it, but it works. The game is very short. I completed it in half and hour or so. But I used up all three characters. Thereafter, the replayability comes by virtue of attempting to get to the princess without letting your initial (and presumably most appealing) character die.
I wish this was a stand-up arcade game in the time of Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace (and that arcades still existed); the added tension of seeing how far you can make it on a quarter would be a perfect counterpoint to steeling your nerves and getting the response timing just right, because effectively this is similar to a just-in-time twitch style of play wherein you master a series of countermoves through memorization of the sequence. When played at home in a laidback atmosphere, a bit of that challenge is lost, but you sure could do a lot worse for the asking price as things run very smoothly.
I docked Karateka HD a half star because although it is pretty to look at as all get-out and runs flawlessly, the short play time was a bit of a surprise and I am not sure about its replay value, given that you are essentially going through the same journey to visit those three alternate endings. Beyond that this is a solid buy and I recommend it if you have a tenner burning a hole in your pocket.
Watch this video about the making and remaking of Karateka from creator Jordan Mechner: