It’s a finicky thing trying to update a decades old game for a modern audience.
On the one hand you’re presumably trying to preserve the essence of the original, but on the other times have changed and games that were once incredible are often astoundingly simple compared to what developers are now capable of. And so there’s a fine line to ride between recreating outdated mechanics and deviating so heavily that the result bears little resemblance to its forbearer.
Karateka, and complete remake of the Apple II game of the same name, falls on the side of defiantly indulging in a wholesale recreation of its former self. The visuals may be drastically improved by way of a slick (if somewhat washed out) cel-shaded look, but the core of the same is still the same rhythm based fighter it always was, and therein lies the problem.
I don’t think Karateka is bad, it’s just as entirely one-note as the now three decade old original, and wears out its welcome just as quickly as you’d expect. Though it resembles a fighting game, Karateka is far closer to a rhythm game. Attacking and blocking relies on proper timing and attention to visual cues, but there’s little player agency beyond reacting to the Simon-says feedback the game is giving you.
The idea is actually one I find pretty neat as a fan of rhythm games, and I was enjoying Karateka for at least the first handful of fights. But nothing ever changes beyond the simple fights your put through to learn how to play, save the timing becoming more difficult to discern, and even at less than an hour-long I was ready for Karateka to hurry up and end before it was even halfway through.
The repetition is grating and the game’s refusal to acknowledge and react to it frustrating. It’s not a game without merit, it just doesn’t know what to do with itself. That it’s constructed around a groan worthy damsel-in-distress plot, which culminates in the woman you’re rescuing effectively becoming your own prisoner, is only more bothersome and shows a hesitancy for Karateka to move past its archaic beginning. I’m not exactly sure who this version of Karateka is for, but as someone without any amount of nostalgia for the first it clearly wasn’t me.
Karateka is available on PC, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3.