Thursday, October 10, 2013

Karate Champ (NES) Review

Written: October 9th-10th, 2013
Alternate Title: Karate Dō [|O|]
Year: 1986 | Developed and Published by: Data East USA
DISCLAIMER: Review will sound uncertain, a tad pessimistic, and despondent throughout most of it (it's hard to do that without sound cues); attempts at entertainment here may vary or not work all together; may contain ellipses; may contain a small bit of harshness
It's the beginning, all rght... the beginning of my
letdown  =(
Well... it had to happen some time.  =(  I knew that one of these days I would review a bad game, it was inevitable.  I just did not realize that today would be that day, and I never would have imagined that it would be this game.  But I just have to face the music; I just cannot fathom and believe it.  ...  Okay; in the 1980's there was this craze with the martial arts and fighting sports, represented in movies, video games, and/or TV series such as The Karate Kid movies, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, Jordan Mechner's classic video game Karateka, et al.  Other video game developers were quite fascinated by this subject, so it should come as no surprise that there would be combat games based on it.  One of them was a 1984 one-on-one arcade fighter named Karate Champ which was released by Data East and developed by Technōs Japan (of Kunio Kun fame).
Our combatants bow their heads before
engaging in a fight (likely out of shame for
this title)
The coin-op did well enough to garner a few re-releases, some as part of compilations in the early to mid-2000's, but shortly after the arcade original was released there was a follow-up (sort of) available in a Player vs. Player adaptation exclusive to arcades; which in turn is where this 8-bit adaptation was based on.  Only thing is: Technōs was not at all involved this time around, as this time it was all Data East.  I recall having played the original arcade game for the first time nearly a decade ago in an arcade located near a beach in New Hampshire as my relatives and I had fun in the Sun, and it was nice to visit once in a while.  My impression of the game was that it was decent, and when I found out some time later that it received an NES port, I was of course excited since there was a version I could access all the time; so when I saw it at Game Crazy (back when it used to be around) I decided to buy it.  Now, I was younger when I played the game, and back then I thought it was really fun and good to play; recently I've replayed it, and I'm sad to report that I don't think this NES game has aged all that well.  =(  How do I make this game sound entertaining?  I don't know if I can make my review of this game sound entertaining...

Kick to the face
Okay, so in this game there is a sensei who is training a couple of students in the art of karate.  ...  Yeah, I know, it doesn't sound all that exciting; I normally don't do this, but what the hell, I'll just create my own plot for this game.  In the not too distant past there is a Ralph Macchio who has been cloned by an eeeeevil scientist, working undercover for blank-faced trainer Not Mr. Miyagi.  White Ralph Macchio (genuine) must compete in a series of karate events with Red Ralph Macchio (clone) in order to decide who must roam around the world and who must remain.  The victor will be set free in his origin place, where life can continue with Elisabeth Shue, waiting to embrace him once more (unless it's the clone).  The loser, on the other hand, will become Not Mr. Miyagi's prisoner forever, and eventually get serious punishment many years later by voicing the teenaged mouse Timmy in the bad bad animated DTV sequel The Secret of N.I.M.H. 2: Timmy to the Rescue.  ...  It may not be a highly original plot, or even that great of one either... but it's definitely more interesting than "a sensei trains two karate pupils"... you have to give it that at least.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Choppiness
Karate Champ is a one-on-one fighting game, and seeing as it's a karate game there are of course going to be a variety of moves to dish out (try any button-direction combination).  The moves will range from kicks to punches, whether it be high, medium, or low.  However (save for when you jump up by pressing up), should you wish to jump forwards or backwards you'll have to press both the A and B buttons at the same time (since the NES controller only has two main buttons),... in a somewhat similar way to River City Ransom.  As awkward as it was in that game, it was understandable seeing as both buttons individually had different actions (one to punch and one to kick).  In Karate Champ it's a different story altogether since the B button is used to attack to the left while the A button is used to attack to the right (depending where you face, it might either be in front of you or behind you);... so it's like Timber only there are no trees to chop down.  There is one move which will let you change directions, which is useful, though it doesn't exactly say much for this game (and I'll get to why soon).

I'd make an animated .gif file showcasing how
silly this two-framed victory animation is, but I
think this screenshot speaks for itself...  =|
The visuals for this NES game are of surprisingly mixed results.  On one hand, the diverse designs of each settings have a fresh look and feel, and some range from rather simplistic-looking designs (the 4th stage with a red background alongside black silhouetted palm trees) or fascinatingly detailed ones (like the 1st, 3rd, and 6th stages, for instance).  On the other hand, they're all static backgrounds with no animations at all in the backdrop (therefore it's not really all that interesting), and as interesting as some areas look some of them can look rather cluttered sometimes.  The other downside is that a few of the stages are largely colored red (like in the 4th, 5th, and 7th stages), and a lot of the times they clash with CPU's color palette (or adversely affect gamers with really sensitive eyesight).  I have to give Data East credit though... the areas rarely look the same.

The animations... uhhh, yeah I should talk about them: they are so choppy that it's rather embarrassing.  =$  A lot of the fighting moves have at least two frames of animation, with about a second and a half's waiting time inbetween; but the result is so awful that I can't put it to words.  The winning animation alone is hysterical at just two frames but not for the right reasons (two frames + little to no waiting time inbetween = swift jumping jacks).  The fighters and sensei look fine, but it's their animation sequences that kill me.  A lot of NES games had a limited amount of sprites to create an animation, but at least in those games there was enough to at least make a sound animation sequence (with proper timing to make it right); but this?  This is just laziness; a lot of your games had superior animation than this, Data East.  The Atari 2600 and Intellivision video game library as a whole had more decent animation than this!  X(  What happened?!
Time for a break; I think it's been warranted for now.  Here's some random thoughts:
You know, I'm all for a challenge if I feel that I can take it (as long as I deem it acceptable and not morally repugnant).  =)  For example, I'll be happy to play ActRaiser 2 on all three difficulty settings all the way to the end; I've done it once before (and believe me it was no easy task), and I'm confident that I'll be able to pull it off again.  A lot of people find it to be overwhelming in terms of difficulty, and yeah it can get frustrating at times but it's by no means impossible if you stick with it.  All one needs to last throughout that game is courage, commitment, perseverance, lots of time and practice, close observation skills, paying attention to the enemies' and bosses' strategies, a strong will and heart, moving gradually so the enemies don't all come attacking you at one, and most essential of all, the inability to give up.  I know it sounds very much like a herculean task, but if you stay with it to the end (particularly on Hard mode) I promise it will feel rewarding in the end.  =)  It's not exactly the hardest game I've ever played, and it's most definitely not for everyone, but it's still a game I find very underrated in its own terms.
That was one of the examples, but I don't just look for a challenge when it comes to video games; I will even seek a challenge that I rarely even attempt... liiiiiike listening to a theme for an extended amount of time among other things.  =)  Um, hang on a second...  *searches on YouTube*  Whoa!
"Can you survive 21 minutes of the Wander Over Yonder intro?"  Hell yeah!  Now that sounds like a challenge!!  Bring it on!!!  =D
~21 Minutes and 13 Seconds later~
.....................  That.... may not have been the smartest move I've ever made....  Is the theme still playing or are my ears just ringing?  o.o  Don't get me wrong, I love Craig McCracken's animated show Wander Over Yonder to death, and the theme song is fun, quirky and catchy.  Thing is... it may have been a little too catchy.  I took on that challenge and I survived all that time... but as a result the theme is stuck in my head, and I hope it doesn't last forever...  It could've been worse: had I listened to the DuckTales theme song for twenty-one minutes (where it's undeniably catchy), it would've been playing in my head forever (never going away) and I don't know if my sanity would've remained intact if I did that instead (because as Nostalgia Critic once said, "It will never leave!").
It's nice to take on a challenge once in awhile, but I'm not going to take on all of them; just as many as I can possibly take, though next time I should probably be more careful and think more clearly about it before attempting it.
And now we're back!  I hope I find some way of offsetting the theme currently playing in my head...  Back to Karate Champ I go.  =(
Oh no, Not Mr. Miyagi's got his top all wet!  =(
Let us now dive in to the music aspect of this game.  I cannot confirm it (the theme is playing in my head) but from what I recall a large portion of the game was deadly silent with sound effects being the only sound.  This is a fighting game, yes, but to hear absolutely nothing in the background as you combat your opponent... that's just bland.  Realistic maybe, but bland.  =(  The only exceptions are the title, the area interlude,  the victory, and the losing theme; but they are so brief that it gives a feeling of disconnect.  The silence is so deafening that I would suggest playing a song during the match.
The jumping back kick is my secret winning
move (when my enemy has little to no time to react)
You cooooould listen to the "Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting" song; karate and kung fu may not exactly be one and the same, but they're both martial arts-related soooo I figured that they'd count.  You coooould listen to a riveting action theme from one of the great James Horner's many soundtracks; whether it be something from Krull, Aliens, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Radio, Titanic, or even the beloved '80s classic The Land Before Time among other things.  ...I don't know how you can make a dramatic soundtrack about five young dinosaurs learning to work together in order to survive make this fighting game sound epic but... *shrugs*  I'm sure you could find a way somehow.  You cooould listen to the ever so famous Mortal Kombat theme, you cooould listen to the dubstep from Muse heard at the end of World War Z; the movie may not have been all that good (even the gorier uncut version) but... at least that made the whole experience worth it.  ...  =(  ...  You could... play an action theme from the late Jerry Goldsmith, one of the greatest movie composers of all time.  You could play the boss theme from The 7th Saga.  I suppose that regardless of what you choose to do, it won't change the fact that this game will be the same no matter what; the music would make things more exciting and engaging, but other than that nothing is truly different.  =(  There is a time for literally quiet moments when it comes to certain video games, but this Karate Champ as a whole is not one of them.  Again, I can't confirm that; the theme is currently stuck in my head!
If you're going to justify a feeling of silence, then you had better be a powerful and breathtakingly epic hour and a half-long tensely suspenseful sci-fi survival thriller that takes place in all outer space as the main character tries to return home through impossible odds!
Poster image from the Rotten Tomatoes website
Gravity is a wonderful experience, by the way, my personal vote for Best Movie of 2013!  If you're going to watch it in theatres, then go see it on IMAX or in 3D, 'cause it's really that damn good and you'll be getting the full experience that way!  I'm glad I did!
The sound effects are serviceable, but nothing to write home about.  The sounds consist of "knock out" sounds, "shattering" sounds (there's this inbetween stage event involving flower vases), and there are even voice clips whenever the sensei speaks ("Begin!", "Point!", "Stop!", "Judge!").  While they certainly do sound impressive for the time, they sound rather muffled.
Oooh, right in the elbow!  >.<
In each stage the goal is to defeat the opponent, and in order to get to the next stage you must win two times.  There are two full-point dots and one half-point dot, and should both of the former be earned than you'll be winning one score.  Each score event must be won in a matter of thirty seconds, and should the time run out then the sensei will make a judgment call on who gets the point (if one got more than the other, then that one will gain the point).  If both fighters are tied as far as full- or half-points are concerned, then the sensei will reward the point to your opponent.  Yeah, that's not exactly fair-sounding, is it?  =/  Not that it makes a difference truly, since now I'm going to cover this game's most fatal flaw: there is simply no substance to back it all up and the amount of structure feels marginally low.  Another problem is that it's so mindnumbingly easy; the challenge is almost non-existent, the CPU doesn't feel like it's trying half the time, and many of the battles can be won in the same move when properly sequenced (match begins, character jumps ahead, performs a jumping back kick, computer goes down).  Even when that doesn't work, it'll still be easy to take him down with one of your many moves when they land on him (oh he'll try to evade it, but it won't last forever).  I don't know about you, but I really hate it when cheap tactics are like the only solution to win battles (the final boss from the first two Bonk games come to mind), and while in Karate Champ it's not the only way to get the job done, it is the way you'll find yourself ending the battles a lot of the time.
Silhouette palm trees on the horizon
The scoring system I don't feel is balanced well enough.  Sometimes you'll be getting full points while other times you'll be getting only half of them, and it's never really specified how this amount is earned.  I'd say that it depends on the move you perform or how long it takes to K.O. the opponent, except that in either situation it could go either way.  =(  Inbetween stages is a mini-game where the object is knock vases that will fly by your direction (whether it be above, ahead, behind, or below).  Just one vase knocking you is enough to send you to the following round; timing is crucial here, otherwise it won't work.  Another reason it won't work: the collision detection here is terrible.  During the vase event if you try a move and it's several pixels away from you (say the length of your character's hand) then your character will be knocked out as if it was done by thin air.  How... do you justify that?  That is simply inexcusable!  The matches themselves have moments like this sometimes; sometimes one will be knocked out once contact was made, while a few times it will take a few pixels' distance to do the job.  =(
From... what you're reading it makes it sound like it's the worst video game ever when the truth is it's so far from it.  I used to enjoy this game when I was younger, but having played it again and discovering its flaws upon closer inspection, it dawned on me that it wasn't as good as I once thought it was.  It's been so long since I played the original coin-op version, so I cannot make a comparison to it.  The visuals are a mixed mess, the animations are downright shoddy (which is embarrassing considering that there were games before it that had at least solid animation), the absolute silence makes it feel uneventful (again, that's from what I remember; the theme is still stuck in my head!), the controls are choppy, the same mini-game after every stage feels repetitive, the structure and substance really needed to be expanded, the collision detection is at times unreasonable, the scoring system doesn't make sense, the CPU doesn't feel like a real competitor (it can be played with two players; I haven't tried it, but I bet it would be more fun and engaging than against a CPU that doesn't try), pulling off the same move many times to get a victory limits the replay value, and to make things worse, there is no replay value!  =(  There are many better alternatives to Karate Champ for the NES as far as I'm concerned; Street Fighter is a good option, World Heroes is another good option, Mortal Kombat, Yie Ar Kung-Fu, Samurai Shodown, Art of Fighting, Fatal Fury, even King of Fighters.  Hell,
Konami's version in Track & Field II was better developed than this (not that I care about that sports compilation, I'm just saying; the original was already great enough, did we need a sequel?)!  It was still a bit awkward but I recognized that it had structure and substance to it.  I know that karate and taekwondo are technically not 100% the same... but they're both martial arts-related, so I figured that it was okay to group together.

I know what you must be thinking: surely there are better ways of spending your time?  And you're right, I would be better off doing better things than play NES Karate Champ=(  I could be making my review of Gravity (which I personally feel is the best movie I've seen in my life); I could... contemplate ordering the full The Weekenders animated series on DVD (why I haven't done that yet seeing as I still love that show is beyond me); I could be watching an episode of Craig McCracken's Wander Over Yonder, which always ends up putting me in a good mood (I'm also convinced that it's the best feel-good show I've seen in a long time); I could be doing a movie-marathon at home with the Indiana Jones series (I haven't really ever started movie marathons before, but... it sounds like it could be fun); I could be jumpstarting on my Christmas list and ask for EarthBound on the SNES (since I don't yet have a Nintendo Wii U... unless I could ask for that instead, I'm not certain how to plan it); I could even be making a concerted effort to read 1984 again (as much as I personally dislike that novel, I have to give credit where credit is due; it's solidly written, it's got an eerily strange atmosphere to it, it's built on solid structure plus there is lots of substance to it; Karate Champ has little to no structure and absolutely zero substance to it).

I could do that, but then I probably should consider myself lucky, for I could be doing lots worse than this game instead.  I could be watching the 2000 badly animated Titanic movie right now (it's not just the animation about it that's bad, many things about it are, in particular the rapping dog); I could be watching my most hated Peanuts special of all (It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown; unlike most specials, this one to me always felt bland, charmless, and meanspirited); I could be watching Batman and Robin, the undisputed contender for worst Batman movie of all time (corny silliness, once acceptable for Batman in the '60s, was no longer okay by the time the movie came out in 1997); I could be ... subjecting myself to two and a half hours in the theatres watching a heavily and tonally confused movie that's too long for it's own good where the main character was a total wussy that didn't man up until the last half hour (for shame, Gore Verbinski, turning the Lone Ranger, one of the most timeless characters of all time, into a complete joke!  It's no surprise that the movie bombed!); I could be considering ordering Mario is Missing! for the SNES on eBay right now (here's hoping my curiosity doesn't get the best of me for this one); I cooould be watching a highly inane sitcom about a dog with badly-CG'd lip movement who goes on the computer to share thoughts and "morals" in his blog right now (really Disney, you thought this was a good idea?  Then again, they also thought an animated acid trip show about high school fish with zero charm with neither rhyme nor reason to anything about it, heavy pessimism, perpetuating clique stereotypes, ability to create countless mental scars [don't worry, most of them have gone away since I stopped watching it], meanspirited attitude, confused messages, intense amounts of disturbed creepiness on every level was a decent idea... and look how freaking well that turned out to be!!!  >=P  Thank God I've stopped watching bad shows and started avoiding them altogether for awhile now; it's either something I consider good, decent, or watchable on TV for me or nothing, no matter what channel it's on).  Compared to all these things I've listed in this paragraph, Karate Champ is a better option.

I don't say this to sound mean (which I worry that it may be what it's coming across as), I say this because I care.  =(  Yes, I could be thinking of better stuff to do than what I'm currently doing right now when it comes to bad medium, but on the other hand I could be doing much worse stuff than this and consider that maybe what I'm doing is actually a favorable option.  I like to talk about video games, I like to enlighten readers on games they may have played before or have never played but are curious about ; I like to share the positives and the negatives; I like to give a thorough analysis and add some thought-provoking statements; I like to be informative while also being entertaining, friendly and approachable about it.  I do all these things because I don't want to just be an informative reviewer, I want to be a friend.  =(  A friend who likes looking at both sides when it comes to games he recommends or not; a friend who might agree or disagree but respects the others' opinions regardless; a friend who understands and sometimes gets a little carried away (when it comes to certain moments) while his heart is in the right place; a friend.  I'm sorry, I'm making own review unentertaining, I feel bad about that.  I just cannot believe that I've finally reviewed a game that scored below a 5, that's all.

Red: "Oh, no you don't!  I've seen through your
trick and it's not going to work again on me!"
So, Karate Champ by the end of the day, is a game that I consider bad, but do I recommend it still?  =(  By the end of the day Karate Champ's biggest enemy was time itself, and while at one point I thought it to be fun I now consider it to be bland and repetitive; even so, there is an audience for this game.  If you're a collector, a retro aficionado, a retrophile, or whatever name you like to call yourself when it comes to retro gaming, it's fun for a few minutes (and I imagine that it's even better with two players) but it's not a title you'll find yourself going back to over and over.  Data East definitely tried, at least I think they did, it just did not end well.  As for everyone else,... don't bother.  =(
I'm so bummed that it's finally come down to this, and I don't know if my review was at all entertaining for you considering how less enthusiastic it was.  I've finally reviewed a bad game... how can I possibly offset this unfortunate event?  =(

Image from Wikipedia
... Okay!!
( >'.')>TO EACH THEIR OWN<('.'< )
P.S.: I still feel awkward for that thumb down icon I drew.  =$
P.S. 2: My review of Super Mario Bros. 2 will be a lot more optimistic, happy and enthusiastic than this one was, I promise.  I apologize if you found yourself not liking the review.
P.S. 3: For those that are curious: yes, I actually have listened to all twenty one minutes and thirteen seconds of that video; and while it's catchy, at least it's not intoxicatingly catchy like the DuckTales theme.  I still like that show, I'm just saying.
P.S. 4: Speaking of Wander Over Yonder, the newest episode ("The Prisoner") is this Friday, and I still haven't shared my thoughts on last week's episode "The Pet" (the Aliens-like episode) yet!!  D=  I love the show  (one of my favorites),... but I just had to make a commitment to share my thoughts on every episode that came up, didn't I?  When I did become such a procrastinator?  =(
P.S. 5: Any time both fighters are very close together, there are some flicker moments.  That's something I've found peculiar for some time.
Thank you for reading my review, please leave a comment and I hope you all have a great day.  Take care.

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