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    Game » consists of 12 releases. Released December 1984

    As a nameless karateka, infiltrate the fortress of the vile warlord Akuma to rescue your beloved Princess Mariko in this 1984 side-scrolling martial arts action game from Jordan Mechner.

    Short summary describing this game.

    Karateka last edited by Nes on 07/30/23 05:52AM View full history


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    Karateka is a historical-fantasy side-scrolling action game developed by Jordan Mechner and published by Broderbund for the Apple II on December 1984.

    Set in feudal Japan, the game follows a mysterious karateka as he infiltrates a guarded castle fortress to rescue his beloved Princess Mariko from the evil warlord Akuma. Along the way, he must fight numerous rival karateka in one-on-one unarmed combat.

    An early progenitor to traditional fighting games, Karateka has players attempting to deplete their opponent's vitality bar through well-placed punches and kicks (either of which can be high, mid, or low attacks) while using positioning to dodge enemy attacks. In addition, players can change their stance to run outside of combat (leaving them vulnerable to an instant defeat if triggered while in combat). The karateka has only one life, requiring players to restart from the beginning if defeated.

    It is Mechner's first commercial project, developed in two years while he was as a college student. The game is known for pioneering the use of fluidly-animated rotoscoping in video games, a concept he later used in his 1989 game Prince of Persia. Along with multiple ports throughout the 1980's, the game later received a remake in 2012, and was the subject of the 2023 first entry in Digital Eclipse's Gold Master Series of "interactive documentaries" (which features multiple playable versions, including an enhanced remaster, along with video interviews and other bonus content).


    The combat consists of side views of the player and the enemy, like a fighting game. The player progresses through a courtyard and castle structure until reaching the final room where the end game boss resides. There are several screens worth of empty hallways after each encounter. The player runs through these screens to the right, and occasionally, the screen will change and the view will shift towards the enemy's perspective as he runs (to the left), towards the player. As the two converge towards battle, the time between screen changes rapidly increases, adding an early bit of cinematic flair to the game.

    The player can issue a series of punches and kicks, as can the enemy. Both can also adjust the height of the punches and kicks using the joystick. The types of punches and kicks can also be specified. The player only has one life but unlike many other games of its time, the player has health points. Once the health points are deleted, the player dies. Depending on the game version, these health points can be recovered by resting, in other words by not attacking or being hit. The original Apple II version had no way to recover health or block attacks, so the player had to be very careful positioning for an attack and rationing his health against the enemy guards.

    Although some games had started to feature it, Karateka had no save function. However, the game was so short that it really didn't make a difference.

    The player had two stances, which could be swapped by pressing up or down on the joystick. The non-combat stance allowed the player to sprint and traverse the environment quickly. However, an enemy could score an instant, one-hit kill on any player who wasn't in the combat stance. Sprinting carried momentum, similar to the original Prince of Persia, so these one-hit kills happened often as the enemy could always enter their combat stance faster than the player.

    There is a minor easter egg that's only apparent at the beginning of the game. If the player carefully approaches the very first guard in the non-fighting stance, he can push down to bow to the guard, who will in turn bow back. The player can repeat this process as long as he wants - each subsequent bow will be mirrored by the guard. The guard will only fight the player if he gets too close or a combat stance is initiated. As all the other enemies are already in a combat stance by the time they reach the player, bowing was only feasible to do with the very first guard.

    Ports & Re-releases

    The game received multiple ports throughout the 1980's, including the Commodore 64, Atari 8-bit computers, and Famicom in 1985, DOS PCs in 1986, the Atari 7800 in 1987, the Atari ST and NEC PC-98 in 1988, the Game Boy in 1989, and the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, and MSX in 1990. Most of the game versions were released in Western regions, with the Famicom, Game Boy, and PC-98 versions only released in Japan (with the Famicom version released by Soft Pro International, the Game Boy version released by Bandai Shinsei, and the PC-98 version released by Broderbund Japan).

    Most game ports have different alterations, such as the ST and PC-98 versions having their own redrawn higher-definition graphics. The Game Boy version, re-titled Master Karateka, features a system where players can distribute points into three attributes (POWER, LIFE, and SPEED), as well as a simplistic item system where the fighter can catch and throw back enemy shurikens.

    The Apple II version of the game later received mobile ports by Dotemu for iOS and Android devices. Released on May 16, 2013, it was titled Karateka Classic to differentiate from the 2012 reboot.

    Popular Culture

    There are several parts of the game that have become increasingly famous thanks to the Internet:

    • The very first area of the game has the Karateka standing with the path to Akuma's fortress to his right and a cliff to his left, behind him. If the player chooses to back up instead of walking forward, the Karateka will indeed walk right off the cliff and fall to his death.
    • Arguably the most memorable "fight" of the game is the surprise attack by Akuma's trained eagle, who is fought before Akuma himself. Its attack may catch the player off-guard, killing him in one hit.
    • If the player remains in the fighting stance while approaching Princess Mariko, the princess will kick the player in the head, killing him instantly. This causes the player to start the game over from the beginning.
    • If the floppy disk is inserted into the computer on the wrong side, the game will play upside down. Mechner has stated that he put this in deliberately, as a joke.
    • The ending sequence to Karateka was famously rotoscoped and changed to the Karateka dancing to MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" in an Internet video. "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" by Daft Punk was later added to the same footage to create "Ninja Works It".

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