The old school becomes new school in Karateka, a re-imagining of a classic PC game. But does this new rhythm-fighter have the moves to keep up with the big boys of iOS gaming? Or does it deserve a sweep to the leg?
Jordan Mechner, the creator of Prince of Persia, worked on the original Karateka back in his college days. It featured the simple story of an unnamed hero fighting bad guy after bad guy in order to save a princess from an evil warlord. The re-imagining of the game is pretty much the same, except we now get three heroes instead of one. It's also worth mentioning that the graphics are insanely beautiful, as is the music that accompanies the action.
When you first start up the game, you're treated to a short cutscene that shows you Princess Mariko and her capture. The art is gorgeous, calling to mind the look of an animated Disney feature, with character designs by Japanese-American artist, Jeff Matsuda. Some of Matsuda's works include the Jackie Chan Adventures animated series, The Batman series, and a few Marvel comics. Anyone familiar with his work can see his style evident in the designs, from the subtly-attractive Mariko, with her soft lines and expressions, to the burly Brute and his gorilla-like proportions.
After the cutscene, you're sent on your way to play the game, though the first few fights are more of a tutorial. You'll be taught how to move forward down the long path to the princess, attacking and defending, picking up blue flowers to restore health, and activating special attacks after generating enough chi. It's all very simple and can provide a play experience that's both fast and fun.
This isn't so much a fighter as it is a rhythm game. Once you engage an enemy in combat, you'll take turns attacking and defending. When your opponent is about to attack, a few icons appear over his head, indicating the number of moves he'll make. It is then your job to tap the screen with the right rhythm in order to block each attack. When he's done, you'll be able to unleash a volley of your own. This repeats until one combatant has lost all of his health ... arrow ... bar-things.
And that's basically the whole game. You fight your way up a mountain until you can get to the warlord's palace in order to whup him and save the fair Mariko. The game's difficulty seems to be tied to whatever hero you use. Players always start out as the True Love character, with his very conservative martial arts moves. I'd wager to say that this is the equivalent of a Hard difficulty, because though this is a short game that only takes about an hour to beat, getting through all of the enemies as the True Love takes a lot of skill and timing. I unfortunately have neither, so I always died around the halfway mark.
Should the True Love fall, the Monk will take over. He's Medium difficulty in my eyes because not only does his acrobatic style hit harder, but his health bar is bigger and it regenerates. And if you happen to mess up with the Monk, you'll then take control of the Brute, who is a giant wall of a man that hits like a truck and whose beefy health bar regenerates even faster. All of these men have their own reasons for wanting to save Mariko, but some may be more comical than others.
Though the game's fun factor is great, there are a few issues that keep it from reaching the top of the proverbial gaming mountain. Tapping to attack and defend is pretty simple, but only when it works. A few fights left me utterly frustrated because of a lack in response. I'd tap at appropriate times but would end up with a foot in my sternum anyway. It's a minor annoyance, but it happened enough for me to whine about it. Also, the game's pretty short and has very little replay value, unless you suck horribly at using the True Love, like I do, and want to get the "true" ending.
Otherwise, Karateka is a fine remake of a classic, and it should do well with younger modern gamers. Its simple gameplay, attractive art, and subtle humor is nice to see in an App Store riddled with soulless cash-grabs and rehashes of other games. It may not be perfect, but it's perfectly fine for a quick gaming fix while you're on the go.