Karate Champ (known in Japan as Karate Dou, loosely translated to "Way of Karate") is a dual-joystick fighting game developed by Technōs and released by Data East for arcades on July 1984 (in Japan) and September 1984 (worldwide).
As an unnamed karate competitor (in white karate gi), players fight one-on-one point-based karate matches against a series of unnamed opponents (in red karate gi) using a variety of offensive and defensive moves (using combinations of both joysticks).
The game is known as the grandfather of the versus fighting game genre, influencing other fighting games of the 80s including Yie Ar Kung Fu, The Way of the Exploding Fist, and World Karate Championship (which Data East sued Epyx over for being too similar).
An updated version of the game, titled Karate Champ - Player vs Player (in Japan as Taisen Karate Dou: Bishoujo Seishun-hen, loosely translated to "Competitive Way of Karate: Beautiful Maiden Edition") was released shortly after. Along with two-player multiplayer, this version updates the computer AI and controls while changing the game's locale and story, as both competitors now fight for the affection of girls around the world.
In Karate Champ, players are given access to two joysticks: one for movement and one for attacks. Depending on both joystick combination and distance between fighters, players can perform one of numerous attacking and evasive techniques (15 in total).
Rather than using round and vitality systems, which became standard in later fighting games, the game utilizes competitive kumite rules. Both fighters begin each match with no points, and must score two full points to win the match by successfully landing hits (with quick hits granting half a point and powerful hits granting a full point). Once a player lands a hit, the match pauses and both players reset their position.
Players begin each game with a training segment, with the player character (in white garb) attempting to match the techniques of the opponent (in red garb). A guide at the bottom of the screen is shown to aid the player, and they gain bonus points for following the technique closely. In "Player vs Player", this can be skipped prior to starting.
From there, players start the game at the rank of 1-Dan, and must complete two matches to proceed to the next rank (with 11 ranks total, the last being "Champ"). After reaching "Champ", the game proceeds with no rank change and players play for a high score.
While the game is endless in normal Karate Champ, the "Player vs Player" version ends after 24 ranks (when the player wins the affection of all 12 girls twice).
Between matches, players are given a bonus stage to attempt. Failing these do not cause the game to end prematurely.
On 1-Dan, players are given the Evade stage, followed by the Trial Chop stage. From there, each rank gives the player either Evade or Trial Chop (alternating between ranks) followed by the Get the Bull stage.
In "Player vs Player" and home versions, this is now changed so that the bonus stage occurs at the end of each rank, rather than the end of each match. It cycles between Evade, Demo, and Get the Bull. In the home versions, only Evade is used.
- Evade - Numerous objects are thrown at the player character, and they must either evade or attack each one for points. In "Player vs Player", objects appear from both directions.
- Trial Chop - Players are given a stack of 10 roof tiles (ice blocks in later levels) and must press down on the joystick at the correct time to perform a karate chop. More points are awarded for more of the stack broken. In "Player vs Player", this is changed to Demo, which is now done horizontally (rather than vertically), changed to a kick, and is performed with any direction.
- Get the Bull - A bull is charging at the player character, and they must perform a correct attack at the right time to earn a large number of points. In "Player vs Player", a multiple bulls appear from both directions.
Ports & Re-releases
The "Player vs Player" version of the game received four home conversions at the time (all of which are named Karate Champ, regardless of region): one for the Apple II, one for the Commodore 64, one for the Nintendo Entertainment System, and one for the Famicom Disk System. The Apple II and C64 ports were handled by Berkeley Softworks and were released at the same time in North America on October 12, 1985. The NES and FDS ports were handled by SAS Sakata, with the NES version released in North America on November 1986 and the FDS version released in Japan on July 22, 1988. All versions were published in their respective regions by Data East.
The original version of the game was later ported to the PlayStation 2 by HAMSTER on July 21, 2005, as the third entry of the Japanese-exclusive series Oretachi Gesen Zoku. It was later digitally released for the Wii as a Virtual Console title in Japan on March 16, 2010, and was released as a worldwide digital Arcade Archives title for both the PlayStation 4 (in 2014-2015) and Nintendo Switch (on October 3, 2019).
The "Player vs Player" version was also ported to iOS devices by Revolutionary Concepts on May 20, 2010 as Karate Champ, adding difficulty options and wireless multiplayer. This version later received a premium version, titled Karate Champ XL, on August 24, 2010.