The first thing that’s obvious when you boot up the iPhone port of the 1984 arcade game Karate Champ is how deep its influence is on modern fighting games like Street Fighter and Tekken. For starters, Karate Champ is one of the very first fighting games made in the one-on-one style that defines the genre today, but its influence goes well beyond that.
If you’ve played old-school arcade games, then you know that many of them are shallow, single-button pastimes. Karate Champ is different. Unlike Asteroids or Frogger, it’s not a snap to pick up and play. It requires practice and a little bit of patience before you’ll learn the moves and be able to progress. But, like any high quality game, it’s worth the time it takes to get acquainted with the basics.
And judging the match today is Weird Al.
Two arcade sticks make up the controls, and your moves are mapped to the various direction combinations. So pressing down on one stick and right on the other makes your character do a foot sweep, while left and up does an uppercut. A handy practice mode shows a move list on the top half of the screen, while you can pick on a dummy opponent on the bottom. Trust us: without fiddling around with this, you won’t get far in the game.
When you start in single-player mode, you’ll realize that while the action isn’t fast-paced, that doesn’t make it any less intense. Just like in any fighting game, you’ll need to wander into your opponent’s hit zone in order to do damage, which makes you vulnerable as well. So you’ll need to block or evade your opponent’s attacks and look for openings to land your own.
In Karate Champ, however, once someone lands a hit you’re both reset to your starting positions, and the scorer is awarded either a half or a full point. To win the match you have to rack up two points before the 30 second timer runs out. If the score is tied when the timer stops, the judge awards the better fighter with the victory.
Thankfully, you can choose from three difficulty modes, although easy seems a little tougher than it should be. A multiplayer mode lets you play locally via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Unfortunately, no online mode is included.
It’s easy to see why Karate Champ is a classic. It may look like just another old-school arcade game, but once you dive in you’ll find a surprising amount of leg-sweeping, jump-kicking depth. Casual players will find it frustrating, but if you give it some time you’ll eventually earn that black belt.