Finally, a Hands-on With Karateka!
I'd been meaning to post details regarding this release for over a week now, but I wanted to get the game installed and tested on my Amiga before I did so. Finally, I've had the chance!
For those not familiar with the game, the objective is a simple one - enter the castle, fight past the guards using your martial arts skills, and rescue the princess. To do this you must walk from left to right, battling adversaries and obstacles, as you make your way to the final battle - a one-on-one with Akuma, the kidnapper of the princess.
According to the Karateka entry on Wikipedia;
"Karateka was developed by Jordan Mechner while he was a student at Yale University as a side project between his classes. In learning to program on the Apple II, he had written a clone of Asteroids and a modified version he titled Deathbounce. He submitted Deathbounce to Brøderbund, which they declined. They provided Mechner with a copy of Choplifter, then one of the top selling games from Broderbund.
Mechner recognized from this game that he could pursue original game concepts instead of having to remake existing titles.
Using some of the graphic features that Choplifter provided, Mechner focused on a karate-themed game as a result of numerous factors which included his ongoing studies as a film student, his involvement in several film clubs at Yale, and having recently taken lessons in karate at the time. He also drew inspiration from Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock print art, and the cinematic works of Akira Kurosawa, early Disney animated films, and silent pictures; he claimed that such works "convey such powerful emotion and atmosphere without a word being spoken".
One of his goals was to combine cinematic techniques with game elements to create, at that time, a novel experience; from this, Mechner programmed some of the screen wipes used in Seven Samurai as game elements. In reflecting on the game, Mechner stated that he did not consider the game as a "fighting game", but instead that of "a story-based game where the gameplay mechanic is fighting"
The game certainly looks like an early Disney-style animation, and even today, the graphics look really stylish. The limited number of colours used work well, and the characters are extremely well animated and well drawn.
I tested this out on my Amiga 1200 (68030 @50mhz), and it ran beautifully. I notice the docs state that this game may run on a 68000, but it will likely need to be an accelerated system to run properly.
The game can be played with either joystick or keys. I opted for the joystick option, and found the controls to be extremely responsive. Using a combination of the fire button and holding different directions a number of moves can be performed. I have to say that the enemy AI isn't brilliant. The majority of enemies can be defeated by you either standing still and performing the ankle kick, or tip-toeing towards them and then carrying out the move.
Gameplay is also very repetitive, with guard after guard lining themselves up for battle. These scraps are broken-up with short cut-scenes, but it's not enough to make the game particularly exciting. I can see that back in the day this game, with the sheer quality of animation, would have been groundbreaking. Today, I struggled playing for more than a couple of times, and ended up putting something else on.
That said, this is a real piece of gaming history, and if you've not played it, you really should give it a go. Meynef has done a superb job of converting this over to the Amiga platform, and he should be congratulated for his amazing efforts.
If you'd like to follow the Karateka ST to Amiga development thread then follow this link, which will take you to the relevant location on the English Amiga Board.