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‘Karateka’ for iOS game review

Old school gamers here will probably remember Karateka very well. Created by Jordan Mechner, the same guy who created the original Prince of Persia game, Karateka is one of the most popular 8-bit games of all time.

Now, 28 years after the game first debuted on an Apple II, the original developer, along with a small team, has created a remake for the Xbox, PS3, PC and iOS. The game is based on the same basic premise as the original but features revised rhythm-based gameplay and completely reworked visuals. But will it be able to recreate the magic of the original? Let’s find out.

Title
Karateka
Developer
Karateka LLC
Platform
iOS
Release Date
December 2012
Content Rating
9+
Size
644MB
Price
$2.99

Premise

In Karateka, Princess Mariko has been abducted and held captive by the evil emperor Akuma. You play as one of the three suitors vying to save her: one known simply as True Love, the other a noble Monk and lastly a fearsome Brute. You start off as True Love, but if you get defeated by Akuma’s guards, you continue as the Monk and if you get defeated again, you resume as the Brute. Being defeated again ends the game. Depending upon which character you complete the game with, you get one of the three endings.

The addition of the two new characters is a departure from the original game. Also, as with all the 8-bit games of that time, the original Karateka had no check points and would had to be played from the start if you died. The two new characters also have their own endings, although completing the game with True Love should be the preferred option as that gets you the happiest ending.

Gameplay

The original Karateka was a 2D side-scrolling game where you had to move your player in front of your opponent, go into a fighting stance and then choose to kick or punch using the D-Pad to guide your hits. Upon defeating the enemy you would then scroll ahead to the next one.

The new game is 3D and you have to press and hold the screen to move the player forward. Once you reach your opponent, your character automatically goes into the fighting stance and the camera moves to the side. After that it’s just a matter of tapping the screen at the right moment.

The new Karateka uses rhythm based gameplay, where you have to wait for the icon to appear on screen indicating the enemy is about to attack. Tap the screen at the right time and you successfully dodge the attack. Once you’re done, you then get to tap the screen repeatedly to hit your opponent. Then it’s again the enemy’s turn to attack. You do this a few times until you exhaust the enemy’s strength and then you move on to the next one.

As you progress, the enemies keep getting stronger and their attacks more fierce. Initially, you would have to dodge one or two attacks but later on you can get 5-7 at a time. Sometimes, the enemy would space them out, so you have to be careful and tap at the right moment. If you manage to block all attacks, you get to dish out the most when it’s your turn. Miss a few and you get to do less damage. If you fail to dodge the last attack, you lose your chance to hit back.

The game also has a new Stun mode, where you get the ability to momentarily stun an enemy and then dish out multiple attacks. You have a bar at the bottom of the screen that fills when you dodge successfully and glows when its ready to be used.

You keep facing one enemy after another, occasionally with some boss battles in between. You even face Akuma’s trained hawk a few times, just like in the original game.

Compared to the original the new Karateka is a bit too easy. In an attempt to make the game accessible to more players, the developers have robbed the game of some of its character. The original game was known to be difficult, and I personally never managed to finish it even though it’s not very long. The new one I finished in twenty minutes flat. Yes, it’s that short.

Not only is the action in the game significantly easier, the addition of two extra characters means there is little fear of dying, unless you plan on finishing the game with a particular character to get the respective Game Center achievement. In the end, what you get is a watered down version of the original that tries too hard to play safe and in the end doesn’t really feel much like a remake but a different game entirely.

Visuals and Sound

Thanks to the new 3D graphics, the Karateka looks absolutely nothing like the old one. The visuals aren’t particularly spectacular but look good nonetheless. However, despite the less than stellar graphics, the game still manages to stutter. I tested it on the iPad mini and found the framerate constantly struggling, and other device users aren’t seeing much change either. Also, the game does not support the Retina display on the third and fourth generation iPads and the new iPhone 5, which is simply inexcusable for a game releasing in December.

The soundtrack in the game is pretty good. Created by the Grammy-award winning composer Christopher Tin, the oriental music flows in sync with your moves and perfectly complements the action. Even sound effects such as punches and kicks sound appropriately powerful. There are no dialogues in the entire game but you never really feel their absence.

Verdict

The original Karateka is a classic for a good reason. It had amazing gameplay that was simple in theory but notoriously difficult to execute and it combined them with a good story and realistic animations (for that time). And while the 2012 remake does improve upon the audio-visual presentation it performs the double sin of not just failing to maintain the quality of the gameplay but making it worse. Sure, the new, easier gameplay will make it a lot more accessible to some people, but fans of the original are bound to be disappointed. What’s worse, so will most other people who haven’t played the original. And for the price, the game is just too short and too repetitive to be played more than a couple of times.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pros: Simple gameplay, good soundtrack
Cons: Way too simple and short, framerate issues and poor device compatibility

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