Karate Kid review
It's like playing as modern day Chuck Norris!
As everybody knows, LJN had published quite a lot of poor quality games for the NES. They also published a few decent games here and there, but they're mainly known to publishing games that are pretty bad. Karate Kid is a fine example of the former and one of the best known LJN games since it was the first that they had published, plus it was based on a very famous movie that could've made for a damn good game! Unfortunately, it was more like getting defecated all over your face – from the poor design choices to the unpolished feel of it all, Karate Kid was a lame game that was destined for the bargain bin.
Although it's called The Karate Kid, only the first level is based off of the first movie while the other three levels are based off of the second one. It makes more sense to do so since the first movie was more about Daniel learning about the art of karate to get revenge on some bullies while the second movie had a few more moments that could be translated into video game levels... I mean, the second movie's third act involves Chozen (the bad guy) kidnapping Kumiko (the love interest) and Daniel needing to save her from him. How can you resist a damsel in distress plot? For that matter, how can you not base a level on that part where the typhoon strikes the village in Japan that Daniel and Mr Miyagi are staying in? I'm not saying that it makes total sense – in fact, I'm trying to make heads and tails as to why they would only have levels based on a small handful of scenes, rather than just make some stuff up and at least try to have a few more levels. Maybe then, these levels wouldn't be quite as frustrating to go through.
The thing with the Karate Kid movies is that they aren't that heavy on action. They're more about Daniel learning the ways of karate, or spending time with Miyagi trying to help him out and try to get with love interest happens to find her way on the set while the villain plots his evil schemes to take down Miyagi and Daniel. Oh sure, there's action every now and again, but we're not talking Terminator or Aliens here. It's usually to add in a bit of tension to the plot, or as a climactic showdown to finish the movie. I'm not trying to turn this into a half hour long analysis of the Karate Kid trilogy (the fourth movie never happened), but if Jaws can have you collect shells to buy upgrades to your ship that are necessary in killing Jaws with when that wasn't how the movie went, why not add some more action stages and just pretend that there's more going on? Story wasn't even a thing on the NES until Ninja Gaiden came out, so it'd be easy to get away with it. But then, LJN was all about rushing games out while the license was bigger than Jesus – there wasn't anything Atlus could do about it.
Could always kick his head off.
If you've ever played Kung Fu on the NES, then you've sort of already played this game. You move from left to right, kicking or punching enemies that come at you, and then beat the boss at the end. Unfortunately, it's a lot harder than it looks. The punching and kicking has slightly odd timing as they have a slight delay – in fact, the kicking seems to move a bit slower than you'd think it'd move. Not to mention that the hit detection is a bit fussy. You pretty much have to get it like real spot on as your attack box is fairly small. Timing your hits can be a bit tricky, especially since your enemies seem to be able to attack faster than you can. It's worse on the third level as you'll have flying debris, which is smaller and their movements are sporadic as they sweep around and just go crazy. They don't damage you, but you do get knocked back quite a bit. Oh, and the fourth and final level will have guys with spears constantly coming at you.
Your only hope is that you have crane kicks and drum punches, because they are oh so much better. The drum punch hits quicker while the crane kick lasts longer as it's basically a double kick from the crane stance. The problem is that they're used by simply pressing the button, meaning that unless you usually hold the direction you're going in while attacking, you'll inevitably waste a crane kick or drum punch when you didn't intend to. So for those who don't ordinarily hold the direction, you have to really get the timing down, lest you get flung back a few feet because you were a split second late to hitting them. As far as crane kicks go, they're not awfully hard to find. C icons will occasionally pop up and you can collect them in order to have a crane kick up your arsenal, plus it restores a bit of your health which is always nice. Drum punches, though, are only won in mini games – more on those later. But yeah, unless you make a habit of holding right or left while attacking, you may find yourself running out of these special attacks right before you need them.
But wait – it gets worse! The jumping is quite stiff as during you descent, you move a lot slower horizontally than on your ascent. Given that most other games don't do this, this would take quite a lot of getting used to. In fact, a lot of this game's odd mechanics require a lot of getting used to in order to tolerate it. Pressing up on the D-pad in order to jump doesn't do this any favors, given how the thumb transitions from left or right to up. Bumping into flying objects and enemies will knock you back a few feet, and given that there are a fair few pits, this can lead to a few unnecessary deaths. Doubly so during the third level during the typhoon where you're being blown to the left and you get knocked back even further! Worse yet, you get no recovery time, meaning that you could get juggled and maybe killed really quickly if you get unlucky. At least you only lose health when you get attacked and not bumped into – a little mercy goes a long way into making something at least a bit more tolerable!
To play Karate Kid is to answer the eternal question of whether you'd rather be punched in the face or flung in the balls. Besides the aforementioned knockback and jumping issues, fighting enemies on a different elevation just boils down to pure luck. You'll often have to jump up and down ledges, especially in the fourth level, and there are also times where you can jump up to a platform and give yourself a bit of elevation. If you have the lower ground, you do have a bit of an easier time as the enemies have bigger hitboxes in their lower sections (plus it's amusing to seemingly kick their balls, especially with the crane kick). However, having the higher ground is bad – the top half of an enemy's body has a smaller hitbox, attacks are shorter when you're ducking and you're more likely to get bumped into as they jump up to try and attack you, which will bounce you around quite a bit. But it's not just the fourth level where this exists – other levels have parts where there's elevation, and those parts are quite annoying.
It says something when you do find yourself on solid ground to fight the end level bosses and the worst you could say about them is that they simply haven't aged well. The fights consist of laying down a few well timed kicks or maybe a few crane kicks that you've hopefully saved up. So while they're a bit too simplistic, they're at least not frustrating. The final fight tries to be with you needing to make sure the hostage doesn't fall off the edge, but I don't know, after all those fights involving mountains and spears, you can't really get angry at this. Not even a feint inkling of rage. But then it probably doesn't help that it isn't even all that bad on its own; it's just a minor inconvenience at best while you try to take down the final boss. While I'm on the subject of things that don't drive me crazy in this game, the mini games found in each level aren't bad either. One has you “dodging” (or punching) a swinging hammer, and if you mistime the punch or get hit, you'll fail. One has you catching flies with chopsticks. One has you pressing A when the meter is full so that you can karate chop all of the ice blocks. These are fun little diversions from the mounting tedium, and... that's about all that can be said.
Oh man, these flies are harder to catch than I thought...
The production quality is a bit mixed. On one hand, the graphics are reasonably good. Some of the animations are jerky when they're trying to be fluid which makes the somewhat stiff attacking even more baffling, and some of the background objects are a single color instead of detailed, but other than that, it's all good. Daniel and the enemies stand out from the background as they have minimal detail and outlines while the background is a single color, and most of the foreground and background objects have a fair bit of detail with some lines and different color tones. So it's fairly good on a technical scale. The soundtrack, on the other hand, is quite bland. I guess the songs are supposed to give off the feeling that you're on an epic journey to take down the Chozen and all that, but it's nothing special – the second and fourth level songs sound very similar to one another as they have roughly the same rhythm and tone although the fourth level has a second that's a bit different; and on the whole, they're not really memorable. Not much really stands out.
Karate Kid receives a 3/10 for being an infuriating mess of a game. Between significant knockback, no recovery time, level design that doesn't suit the stiff controls and only having one continue, Karate Kid is just an annoying game to play through. Even if you tolerate the more annoying bits, what you end up with is a sluggish mediocre game that's inferior in every way to Kung Fu. I admire Atlus for trying to follow the second Karate Kid movie as closely as possible, but I also feel like that and having LJN publish their game spelled disaster at quite the rapid rate. Huge shame, really – it could've stood alongside the likes of Double Dragon and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 and 3 if it was given more time to be polished. But alas, LJN was all about quick, easy money, and quality was irrelevant because short term gain is more important than long term impact. Several hundred copies in the bargain bin? Who cares, we made our money!
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