In a year that brought us reboots of XCOM, Need for Speed: Most Wanted and SSX, it shouldn't surprise anybody to see a new Karateka game. In fact, the only thing surprising about this Xbox Live Arcade game is that it wasn't done sooner. After all, Jordan Mechner's other franchise, Prince of Persia, has been rebooted multiple times, remade and even turned into a feature-length motion picture. It's about time Karateka gets some love.
Think of this as a modern retelling of the 1984 computer game. You play a tall, good-looking hero who has decided to risk life and limb in order to rescue an attractive young woman being held by the evil Akuma. Unfortunately, Akuma's fortress is high atop a craggy cliff and guarded by an army of fierce warriors. You'll need to kick and punch your way to victory, not unlike the original.
As luck would have it, there's a simple that that leads right into the front door of Akuma's fortress. The only problem is that you'll end up going head-to-head against a couple dozen angry kung fu fighters. This path will take you up the steep mountain, through the forest, into the courtyard, past the dojo and all the way to the fortress gates. There Akuma, his trusty hawk and right-hand man wait for our hero.
If you're able to make it past the guards, the bosses and that bird, you'll save the beautiful princess and live happily ever after. Fail and somebody else will be forced to complete your mission ... literally. There are three characters vying for the lady's affection, each waiting to take over where the last left off. Die once and a monk will show up. Not only does he have a longer life bar, but he's also able to regenerate health over time. If he should die for any reason, a third guy is ready to take over. But the princess shouldn't get too excited, because it's a big fat brute who knows a thing or two about taking a punch. Die with him and it will start to cost you points in order to continue.
Although the locations and characters have changed, it all does a good job of embodying the spirit of the original computer game. Where the game veers off is in the combat mechanics. This time around we're given a rhythm system, where player is expected to pay close attention to enemy attacks in order to perfectly time blocks and counters. The idea is to hit the block button a split second before the impact to properly deflect. The enemies will mix things up with multiple attacks and moves of varying speed. In either case, it's up to you to predict the hit and press the block button.
Block enough strikes and you'll temporarily stun the enemy. Here's your opportunity to use the punch and kick buttons to lay out a brutal combo. But don't get too excited, because you'll only get a few attacks off before it's back to dodging. From time to time you'll earn a special power move that will stun the opponent for a long period of time. This move is also helpful as it cannot be blocked or avoided; it's guaranteed to turn the fight in your favor.
Three decades later, Karateka is back to kick Akuma's ass! The good news is that this is a good looking action game with a few genuinely clever ideas. Unfortunately, it's also a repetitive remake that never quite hits its potential. The rhythm-based gameplay is unique, but it would have been nice to see a few more enemy types and deeper gameplay!
This product was submitted by the publisher for review. As a rule, Defunct Games does not review games we spent money on. However, that does not always apply to classic/retro games. This specific product, however, came straight from a PR guy for the purposes of being reviewed!