Karate Champ

Wax on wax off ain't gonna help you here.

Source // Wikipedia

I've probably come across Karate Champ in passing, but certainly haven't played it before. It looks like it's an accurate representation of a Karate champion, so it's already doing better than Kung-Fu Master in believability.

The key selling point(s) for this arcade hit were the use of two joysticks to control all the inputs, and a one hit knock out approach to the contests, be they against a computer or human opponent. No health bars, no tag teams, no super moves or combos, it's just you, your opponent, and hopefully a swift and graceful kick to the face.

Unfortunately I'm not able to play that arcade original, which leaves me with one option: Play International Karate instead.


I kid, I kid. I'm not playing a different game entirely, just so that I can make a crappy copyright joke. Doing so wouldn't even make sense; the court case was successfully appealed and it wasn't found to be a rip off of Karate Champ at all. So instead I've got the NES version.

Those who are familiar with a joystick and a NES controller will know that the NES controller doesn't have a joystick and Karate Champ is based on using two of them, so from the off we're going to have a different experience to what we'd get at the arcade.

Fighting games tend to descend into button mashing, especially with newcomers who don't care about learning the ins and outs of the mechanics and the moves. The good news is that you can button mash your heart out in this port, but the bad news is that you've still got to hope you mash the right buttons so that you actually score a point.

It's far more beneficial to learn what your attacks are. They're achieved by pressing different combinations of the D-pad and the face buttons, either A, B, or both, resulting in all kinds of attacks, with fifteen in all, though most of them are kicks.

With an idea of the controls or not, it's still rather easy to get completely lost in your flurry of attacks. I trapped myself in the corner far too often, and while there are moves to deal with the situation, you're having to deal with both your incompetence and the fact that your opposition only needs to land one good hit on you.

Taking it slow would help, but the computer is more aggressive than a human opponent trying to catch you off guard. He approaches with no fear, relentlessly. It's absolutely menacing, so I thoroughly enjoy the moments where I introduce him to my heel.

Fun Times

It's quite likely that you'll not have a clue how you won a round, or why you only scored half a point rather than a full point. Some of the fights end in obvious victories, like a swift kick to the side of the head, but many of my bouts ended with a fusing of combatants, with the loser wearing a grimace on his face - in your imagination, if not on the screen.

In between fights are bonus rounds which can involve dodging or destroying incoming objects, testing your timing to hit something as much as your reactions to jump over it, as well as challenges involving chopping wooden blocks with your bare hands and - obviously - a bull fight. Anything to break up the monotony of kicking a man in the midriff, I guess...

The sound effects are memorable, and by that I mean they're not the best. Who cares about how weird the ref sounds when you've got satisfying thwacks and slaps and fwips though? Is it a referee or a judge in Karate?

The gameplay, complicated though it is, is obviously what shines in Karate Champ, and against a human who isn't button mashing it becomes a little less hit and hope and a little more like fencing.

That's a stupid analogy. It becomes a little more like real Karate.

Final Word

I like that thought has been put into Karate Champ. While the idea of hitting something once for it to disappear and award you points is nothing new, but the application of that in the context of a martial arts game feels new. It must be the presentation, because while it was nice to swat foes away in Kung-Fu Master like it was no big thing, doing so in Karate Champ means you out-thought your opposition, or nailed the timing of your attack.

Or you fluked it and were button mashing.

I'm not terribly good at it, but I have a good time regardless, so it must be a winner. A short lived winner, with no real legs to keep me going for hours on end, but a winner nonetheless.

Fun Facts

The US version of Karate Champ rewarded you with winning the girl, not the championship trophy. Say what you will about that...

Karate Champ, developed by Techōs Japan, first released in 1984.
Version played: NES, 1986, via emulation.
Version watched: Arcade, 1984 (Old Classic Retro Gaming)