Many games feature one hero with three lives, but Karateka performs a Five Point Exploding Heart Technique on that convention and instead lets you play as three heroes with one life each. If you lose a fight with any karate-expert henchmen as you attempt to rescue the kidnapped princess, it’s time for the next eligible bachelor to give it a shot. This caught us by surprise, but we wish the rest of the game was as unpredictable.
Karateka on iOS is a 3D remake of Jordan Mechner’s 30-year old computer game. Without the original Karateka, Mechner might not have gone on to make Prince of Persia, which helped shape the platformer genre with its rotoscoped animation and deadly, maze-like dungeons. But the iOS remake of Karateka is greatly simplified, with just a single pathway to the princess, and a dead-simple combat system where you have to time your taps to block and punch.
I want a clean fight!
Each encounter in Karateka plays out almost exactly the same. You’ll press down on the screen to advance through a nicely-rendered background, until you’re standing toe-to-toe with one of the game’s tough-looking guards. Then, you’ll take turns: He’ll throw a few punches at you, and you have to tap when an indicator flashes onscreen in order to avoid taking damage. Then, you can repeatedly tap to inflict damage on your enemy. You can’t control the types of kicks and punches, except for a special meter which fills up and grants you a free attack.
As a result, Karateka is almost more fun to watch than it is to play. If you’re able to sit back and enjoy the cutscenes and animation, Karateka looks like an unbroken (if fairly repetitive) computer-generated kung-fu flick. If you’re the one playing, you may be too busy staring at onscreen indicators and health meters to enjoy the atmosphere.
The most dangerous mustache in feudal Japan.
Karateka’s visuals just don’t match the gameplay. We were hoping that this lush-looking game would contain a true fighting engine like SoulCalibur, but there’s not much challenge or variety. The real challenge is to make it to the end without dying even once, so that the princess can be reunited with her “true love”, but it’s more likely that you’ll finish the game with the second character, a monk, or the third character, a hulking brute. None of them express much personality, and there’s no dialogue or voice acting either.
Karateka looks great, but it’s a dud in the gameplay department. Except for the occasional divebombing hawk, the entire game is just a series of timing-based fights. It also lasts for about 40 minutes from start to finish. A longer, more complex game would have been a better value for the asking price. Even if you have fond memories of the original Karateka, this iOS version is just too basic to enjoy.