Karateka - The Atari Times
Karate Champ Meets Prince of Persia (but without the fun)
by Colin HodderMarch 31, 2014
Karateka is a much loved fighting game on home computer systems. In it, you control a Karate guy (the Karateka probably) trying to punch and kick his way to the woman he loves. Along the way you have to kick a bunch of bad guys until they don't move anymore. Every time one of them stops moving, you run to the next one and kick him to death as well.
A word of warning though: Although running gets you to the end faster, you have to be careful, as running (indeed standing up straight for that matter) leaves you open to a one hit kill from an enemy. When you aren't killing guys using blunt force trauma, you're kicking down doors, avoiding falling gates, or punching an annoying bird that attacks you. The game ends when you give the final boss a brain hemorrhage with your fist, and then you are greeted by the fair princess/ girlfriend.
All that sounds pretty exciting doesn't it. And it is. Unfortunately, nearly all of that is missing from the 7800 version of this game. Also, imagine doing what I just described with a broken controller. Sounds great doesn't it?
Okay, where to start? You know how in Karateka on computers you can run between fights so you face fewer enemies on the way? Well, in 7800 Karateka you can run to the next area if you want to, but as soon as you leave the screen the next enemy comes at you. See, running accomplishes nothing, as you will always face the same number of enemies, regardless if you walk or run off screen. Thus, there's no reason to have to run at all. In fact, given the control issues I'll get into later, it's confusing why the programmers didn't use one button for kick and one for punch, seeing as how they didn't actually need to use one for run (being that run is useless).
Also, remember when I said in computer Karateka that you had to kick down doors and gates? Not here. Here you just walk off the screen every time and start in the middle of the next screen. There are no obstacles other than the guys you have to murder.
Oh, and hey, remember when I said in the computer game there was a bird you had to hit or it would hurt you? Yeah, he's in this version too, with one minor change: You can't hit him. You can hit AT him, which will keep you from taking a hit if timed correctly, but you can't actually hit him. Remember the laughing dog in Duck Hunt? Well this is like that. The bird is the most annoying thing in this game, but you never get the pleasure of killing it.
So, on a scale with 10 being "plays just like the computer game" and 1 being "plays nothing like the computer game," this game scores a solid negative 50.
You may be asking, aside from how it compares to the computer game, how does it play? Well, you have to kick a progressively more difficult group of fighters to death. So, it's kind of okay, so long as you think of it as Yie-Ar Kung Fu minus the different enemy sprites, jumping, weapons, and different difficulty levels.
Okay, for anyone still thinking they may want this game after the last section, we now arrives at the games real downside. The game's programmers seem to have made some odd choices here. See, in most games, when you push the button, something happens at about the same time on the screen. Not here. In Karateka 7800 you press a button and sometime later in the day something happens on the screen. So it's kind of like being a general. You tell your guy what to do, and then you send him into battle and, a few moments later, there are results. Also, you use one button to walk and no button to punch. It's the best the programmers could do with only one button to work with. See the other button, as mentioned above, was busy with the terribly important function of letting you run so you can hurry up and get to your per-arranged and unmissable appointment with the next guy. Running is real important when time is not at all important I guess. Much more important than, say, being able to fight better in a fighting game.
I cannot stress enough how aggravating the one button thing is. Also, I cannot stress enough how annoying it is to have to press a button to walk, but no button to hit. Why not have you press the button to unload punches and kicks, and then just release the button to walk? That's a lot more intuitive. And it's made all the worse by the fact the "stand up to run" button is pointless to begin with. The game could easily have been designed so right button and a direction was kick, left button and a direction was punch, and no button and a direction was walk. You could have even been put into the run pose automatically before a fight, and the run one after a fight.
In short, the controls in this game are terribly sluggish, and you're stuck using the one available button for walking! There is no excuse for this level of lazy programming. It's no more difficult to program the controls to make more sense, or to automate the useless running animation.
The sprites are big, the cut scenes look alright, and there is a nice little background. However, the animation leaves a lot to be desired. Also, I am colour blind, and I think even I could have chosen better colours for evil Karate guys.
Not the worst I've heard on the 7800, and the opening theme is kind of okay. Also, if memory serves, even better versions of Karateka have the same sparse sounds during gameplay itself. Thus, with a short yet tolerable opening theme, plus hardly any noise after that, I think this game covers the bases as well as any non-Pokey 7800 game.
Okay, so the game is nothing at all like Karateka on any other system. Also, the game has ugly colours and poor animation. As well, it controls with all the finesse of Resident Evil with a busted controller and has added invincibility to the worst enemy in the game. In its defense, it comes in a somewhat attractive box.
If you stick with this one long enough to get the timing right on the controls, it is mildly enjoyable to play once in a very long while. However, that's hardly high praise for a game that is supposed to be based after a revolutionary computer game loved by millions. This sort of half effort really hurt the 7800. I mean, having a good, deep action game on the system would have been good for them. Having a terrible port of a very popular computer game just made things worse.