Karateka Review

Real Talk By: Cmack The Don

As the resident in-house main martial arts lover here at Play Legit, I’m relegated to most things related to and involving melee combat, especially that which has an Eastern or Oriental vibe to it, and the remake of Karateka for the Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, and iOS devices very soon.

Karateka was created by Prince of Persia developer Jordan Mechner in 1984 while he was still attending classes at Yale University. Everything was developed on his own, using hand drawn sketches to draft the ideas and even filming his actual Karate instructor and then drawing over his movements to create the techniques seen in the game. Now teaming with studio Liquid Entertainment, Mechner has given his well-known and accessible game a successful facelift that comes at a fair price.

Everything about Karateka is minimalist, which fits with Japanese culture. There isn’t a complex, intricate story and the fighting system is very stripped down and straight forward. It’s a very accessible game that I think just about anyone could enjoy and pick up and play. It uses a rhythm and reflex based system that forces you to react to your opponents movements, very rarely does direct attacking work in the game (if at all), so it’s definitely not like an average beat-em-up. It is possible with skillful enough fighting to build up a game-breaker type attack that will stun the opponent and allow you to attack afterwards, but again, it only comes with abiding by the games parameters of what good fighting is, so it isn’t overpowered or unbalanced. Just because there isn’t much more I can say about the gameplay doesn’t mean it’s not good, it’s very addicting and is the core of the game without a doubt, it’s just extremely simple and is best understood through playing.

Karateka has a beautiful look to it thanks to lead artist Jeff Matsuda (The Batman, Jackie Chan Adventures) who has crafted some great character designs and stages. It really does come off like an animated movie, and sort of reminds of the PS2 game Mark of Kri at times. For a downloadable title at a low price, they didn’t skimp on creating a completely memorable and engaging look, the game has so much personality from it’s design.

Karateka features some of the most creative use of sound I’ve seen in any game in recent years. Basically, as a hint to tell you what the opponent’s next move is going to be, there is a musical cue that fires off before they strike, with a single beat being one move, or a quick Asian harp solo being a whole combination. The game doesn’t tell you about this mechanic and you have to listen for it and notice. Otherwise, the game’s music courtesy of Christopher Tin sounds authentic and is engaging.

Karateka even has great replay value, with a brilliant idea of 3 characters being your 3 lives as it were. Instead of getting another shot with the same character, you get another shot with a totally different guy, meaning the game does have multiple endings which encourages you to play again. The total package is the only place where Karateka falls short, aside from the idea of beating it with the different characters, there really isn’t too much to the game. Nothing unlockable, no perks, no other modes, but that all fits with it’s simple theme. After all, you can complete the game in a little over half an hour, so it wasn’t meant to exactly be this huge, immersive experience, just a fun pick-up-and-play that has a little more to it than many downloadable titles.

Karateka Gets


4.5 Out of Five, and damn that bird.

What’s Legit?

+The Fighting Mechanics

+ Art Direction

What’s Perpetrating?

-No extras (The original game should have been included).

Follow us @PlayLegit


3 thoughts on “Karateka Review

Drop Knowledge

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s