Monday 25 September 2023

The Making of Karateka Review (Switch)

Digital Eclipse are known for their numerous retro collections and reworkings of classics and have been called upon again with this unique approach to presenting video game history. While there are games to played here this is really an interactive documentary and as such the focus is very much on research and content around that idea. It’s an interesting concept and if it takes off could provide a wealth of digital archive information for those that are interested.

There’s no getting away from the fact that this sort of thing is only appealing to a niche audience. Collections of games are one thing, but focusing on a single game relies on gamers not only wanting a more documentary like experience but also being specifically interested in that title. In that regard Karateka is a bold choice. It’s certainly a well-known game but we would argue it doesn’t have as wide an appeal as say IK+ or some of the other games of the time. Still, if you are a Karateka fan this is going to be perfect for you.

While the focus is on archives and information there are also games present here. There’s an exhaustive collection of different versions of Karateka on home computer formats (also, thanks as we now have working C64 emulation on the Switch), as well as a perfectly judged remaster. The remaster keeps the basic look and feel of the original but smooths out the scrolling and adds more colour and visual flair meaning fans will probably spend a fair amount of time with it.

Karateka itself remains remarkably playable. It’s a scrolling fighting game where you walk along the level then engage in one-on-one combat with a guard. When you defeat the guard, you can keep walking. You must be quick as the guards keep coming from the right-hand side of the screen, sent by the boss of each stage. Once you reach the boss you have a tough fight on your hands then it’s onto the next area which will add more obstacles such as birds to avoid while fighting. You have a range of attacks to use as well with high, middle and low kicks and punches which need to be used to counter your opponent so there is a decent amount of strategy involved in each fight.

There are also demos of prototypes included and another game from the development team, Deathbounce. Deathbounce, proves to be a bit of a hidden gem and something we found ourselves playing far more than Karateka itself weirdly. It’s a sort of asteroid clone but set in an enclosed arena. When each arena is cleared you move to the next with the gimmick being bullets bounce off walls and the need to ram the last boss in each stage to proceed. It’s really addictive and more people should play it.

This sort of concept was always going to live or die by its archive information, and we are happy to say you are getting just about everything you could possibly want to know about the game. There are interviews, concept drawings and documents galore and it is all presented in an easy-to-follow timeline format. As you look at each piece it ticks it off the timeline as well, so you’ll know what you have and haven’t look at. It is remarkable the number of hours that must have gone into putting all this together and it is a feat that should be commended. It is certainly something we’d love to see happen to more games as well.

Overall, how essential this is to you is really going to depend on your view of the game itself. If you are a fan or have a burning interest in retro gaming that this is pretty much essential as it’s difficult to see what else they could have done to improve things. But if the idea of multiple versions of Karateka doesn’t excite you then there isn’t going to be much here to change your mind.

Overall 8/10

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