‘Karateka’ kicks it old school

By Robert Workman, GamerHub.tv (MCT)

Many years ago, before gaming took off mainstream the way it did, I was easily entertained by any titles we could muster for the Apple IIe during computer club. Among these was a classic Jordan Mechner game called “Karateka,” featuring a lone warrior infiltrating a martial arts master-filled dojo, beating up enemies (and a bird) before getting to the final boss and saving the girl — unless, of course, you were foolish enough to approach her in a battle stance.

After spending so much time rebooting “Prince of Persia,” Mechner has teamed up with Liquid Entertainment to bring that ’80s classic back to the forefront. This “Karateka,” however, has a few new tricks up its sleeve. The plot is still the same — a princess has been captured by an evil warlord and his band of thugs – but instead of just one solo warrior serving up justice, you now have three. There’s a nimble martial arts master, a somewhat heavy but powerful ally, and a monk with the knowledge of patience and perfect timing.

Each one brings punches and kicks to the action, as you move from area to area, battling foes that stand in your way. As you proceed, you’ll be able to stop and literally smell the princess’ left-behind roses, gaining some newfound energy as you go along.

The battle system is similar to that of the original game, but rather than watching visual cues to see where the enemy will strike, you listen for audio strums. Hearing one means you have to block once; two block twice; and so on. Sometimes enemies will get tricky with a multi-hit barrage, so you’ll need to listen closely. If you counter well enough, you can strike back with multiple hits, sending your enemy careening to the ground. You can also charge up a special technique that gives you the advantage against stronger foes.

There’s only a single player portion of the game, and, like the original “Karateka,” it can be mastered and beaten in about a half hour to an hour’s time, depending on your skill level. Most enemies don’t pose much of a challenge once you get the timing nature of the game down, but it’s still somewhat fun going back and forth in battle, and occasionally serving up justice to the warlord’s pesky girl, who wants to peck you to death. And if you’re looking for a slightly further push, you can register your best times and scores through online leaderboards, so you’ll see who the master truly is. (Hint: I am. … “Last Dragon” reference.)

As far as next-gen treatment goes, “Karateka” actually looks great. The 3D environments you’ll run through, while non-interactive, are quite stunning, though there could’ve been more variety with the enemies you face. (Hey, look, a robed guy! And another robed guy!) The music, produced by Christopher Tin, also impresses to a certain degree, and his audio cues go a long way to helping you out.

“Karateka” could’ve had a bit more content to keep players interested after a few playthroughs, such as a versus mode (tap, block, tap block, would’ve worked) and the inclusion of the original PC game. As it stands, though, it’s an inspired take on an ’80s classic, and it’s moderately enjoyable for what it is – which is more than we can say for a few downloadable games these days.

Karateka (2012)
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3
Genre: Action
Publisher: Independent
ESRB Rating: T for Teen