Karateka Review

Karateka_ios
Can a game that’s nudging towards thirty years old actually have any appeal in the iPad age? Time to get my knuckles bloody with Jordan Mechner’s classic.
The year was 1986, and I was spending every spare second in computing classes (which is to say, pretty much every second) playing one of two games. Either Conan, or Karateka. This isn’t a review of the former, but then I’m sure the rights for Conan would be labyrithine to unravel for a modern release, even though just watching it gets the nostalgic bits of my brain tingling.

Then there was Karateka. Everyone was playing Karateka; technically they should have been doing tedious data entry work into Lotus 1-2-3, but how much fun was that? None, that’s how much. So Karateka it was.
Karateka was reborn in a remake that came out last year for PC and iOS, but that turned it into an unusual timing/beat game, rather than its classic beat-em-up roots. The new version is “classic” Karateka, right down to running on an Apple II iOS emulator.

On the plus side

The one thing that could have gone terribly wrong, as it so often does for retro emulation on touch screens, were the controls. Thankfully, the onscreen display makes the controls easy to tap, and they’re exactly as responsive as I remember them being back when I was hammering away at the robust Apple II keyboard. The only way they could be better would be to emulate the noise of an Apple II keyboard being hit… perhaps with some Samantha Fox in the background.

Ahem. In any case, if you’ve got nostalgic memories of Karateka, this will take you right back, and quickly.
But what if you don’t? Karateka was quite revolutionary for its time, but its time was a very long time ago. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t have nostalgic memories of Karateka, but for a more modern audience, the reaction is likely to be a little more split.
There simply aren’t that many genuinely satisfying beat-em-ups for touch-based platforms, partly because as a genre it’s rather dated, and also because fast action games and touch controls don’t often gel well together.
That’s where Karateka actually works well. If you can get past the retro visual style — and there’s a certain fashion for such things in any case — the original code was built with a reasonable amount of key delay built into it, because the Apple II was hardly a powerhouse machine. That means you’re not stymied by controls that don’t do what you want them to, and can just get on with playing the game.

On the minus side

Karateka is tough, and in some situations rather unfair… but I don’t want to spoil any particular points there, because in some ways that’s part of the fun.
Equally, I can’t say that it’s got stunning enemy AI or anything of the sort; battles are rapid-fire but astonishingly dumb, and it’s not as though you can save progress or look down alternate story paths. This is old school gaming, for better or worse.

Alex’s verdict

Should you buy it? Yes, absolutely. It’s a paltry 99c, and you will get 99c worth of value out of it, whether you’re a nostalgic retro fan (guilty!) or a gamer with more modern sensibilities.
Source: iTunes Store/Google Play

About the author

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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