Since the ever-popular and iconic Karate Kid movies, almost everyone has roughly the same image in their head when they think of the martial art of karate. The image of the karate master or sensei, overseeing the development of a protégé or two on the road to becoming a karate master (or superstar), is one that has shaped hundreds of movies, pieces of literature, and games ever since consumerist society became obsessed with this westernised view of a martial art that dates back many hundreds of years.
There are a few gems out there in the gaming world however, which for various reasons are among the more memorable representations and interpretations of the martial art in gaming form. From the notable-for-all-the-wrong-reasons Karate Master 2 to the stylish and modern Mad Karate Man, here’s a rundown of these memorable titles.
Mad Karate Man
Easily the best of the three games mentioned in this article, Mad Karate Man is as stylish as it is addictive, and as nostalgic as it is fun to play. You assume the role of said Karate Man, and your only job is to pummel one single businessman into oblivion, and you do this repeatedly in a slight twist on the usual beat-em-up format. It’s also worth mentioning that the graphics are modelled heavily on old-school arcade games and 8/16-bit console titles of gaming’s past (everything is pixelated and the music also takes on a certain chiptune style.
The gameplay itself departs from the usual consecutive fights with varying opponents. The action is in fact split into 3 mini-games. The first involves clicking the screen when your businessman opponent reaches the green area of the gauge at the top – the closer to the green, the more “air” time you’ll have with him. This brings us to the second mini-game: the actual beat-em-up scene. In this scene you must click on various parts of the businessman to inflict damage; the amount of time in the air has already been determined by the first minigame. The third involves a reactions-based game in which you must click when the rapidly-oscillating arrow is in the green section of the height/distance graph.
The main draw with Mad Karate Man however is the Upgrades, which range from increased strength to decreasing the speed of the rapidly-moving arrow in the third game. NinkaKiwi sure know how to put a desirable twist on a genre, and Mad Karate Man is a prime example of their ingenuity when it comes to flash gaming.
A vast majority of people who play Karate Blazers will likely only appreciate the arcade-style beat-em-up action because of the similarity it bears to Streets of Rage. This is a classic arcade game ported to the flash platform for all to enjoy. With four protagonists to choose from, you must avenge the death of your karate master/sensei, returning his kidnapped daughter and also some important scrolls that were stolen from him.
Karate Blazers’ gameplay is as standard-procedure as it can get: a side-scrolling format with a handful of enemy types, two main attack buttons, and directional arrows for movement. You can also activate a special blast/attack when you have three scrolls. It isn’t all that challenging however – you can replenish your credits simply by pressing the Spacebar. Things could be improved if there were usable weapons like in Streets of Rage, but no such luxury is afforded here. Streets of Rage (see this online fan site for Streets of Rage) is a far superior choice however, and Karate Blazers is merely a stripped-down version of the aforementioned game.
Karate Master 2
This is one of those games that’s so peculiar and unusual as to be borderline distressing in parts, but which also pulls you in because the whole “so bad it’s good” kind of vibe. Karate Master 2 is indeed a martial arts game, but with hints of RPG mixed in. When you’re not entering into fights you’re asked to either work a day job at “The Wharf” in order to earn cash or engage in a multitude of minigames in order to increase your stats.
The combat is where the game comes into its own, though everything is rather similar in style to classic fighters, playing and looking a little like Street Fighter II Turbo only without the charm. Still, you’ve got a number of fights to keep busy with as well as your forklift job at the Wharf and weird minigames to increase your stats. There’s a lot of button mashing involved here as well, but the most amusing aspect of Karate Master 2 is the Japanese-English translation (or indeed the alarming lack of it where it is sometimes needed the most).