There are hundreds of obscure Game Boy titles I could review, but for some reason I usually end up playing ports of ancient computer games that were once famous and I have fond memories of. So after playing average Game Boy ports of Crystal Quest (originally on Macintosh), Titus the Fox (original on MS-DOS) and the NES ports of Battle Chess (original on Apple IIGS and Amiga) and Shufflepuck Cafe (original on Macintosh), today I'm checking out Master Karateka for the Game Boy.
Karateka was original developed for the Apple II in 1984 and used some advanced animation techniques for the times. The game was created by developer Jordan Mechner, quite famous for another rotoscoped game -- Prince of Persia. Karateka was ported to several home computer platforms and was even popular enough to receive ports on the Famicom (1985) and Game Boy (1989). And in 2012, D3 Entertainment published a beefed-up remake on modern consoles.
It's clear that Karateka is an ancient game, because there isn't much to it. Before you start, the player can select the level of power, stamina and speed. No matter how high you'll set the speed, the game will always feel very slow. You play as a karate guy and all you do is walk from the left to the right and punch or kick other karate guys, one at a time. It isn't even possible to jump. It is possible to use high, medium or low kick and punch by pushing the d-pad up, forward or down. You'll notice pretty quickly punching is useless, as is kicking high or low. So in practice you'll only be walking forward and do medium kicks.
That's about all the game there is to it. Just keep walking until you encounter another karate fellow (some of which throw ninja stars and pixeled birds) and medium kick him to doom. The best is actually to do a step back and then medium kick. Then walk on and do it again. The enemies get a little tougher when the game advances, it's especially annoying when they keep blocking all attacks. Some of them take quite some time to defeat and you only award is to do it many times again.
The graphics in Master Karateka are clear but very basic, and the ever-repeating MIDI soundtrack is pretty mediocre. That is all I can say about the game. Players didn't have such high demands thirty years ago. But even in 1989, one expected more from a Game Boy game. Master Karateka shows that sometimes -- but just sometimes -- retro games aren't more enjoyable than the high commercial video game titles of the present era.