Game Over, Man! – The Karate Kid

In our Game Over, Man! series, we explore the history of video games that are based on movies, one game at a time. This week, Shaun Eddleston takes a look at 1987’s The Karate Kid for the NES…

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1984’s The Karate Kid is considered by many to be one of the defining movies of that decade. It garnered a massive amount of commercial success and positive critical reception, while spawning several sequels, merchandise aplenty and kick-starting a karate craze across the US. Even when watching it over 30 years later, the movie’s underdog story still is still pretty fresh and is about as feelgood as you can get.

As was customary during this era, the movie got its own tie-in video game, and that’s where part 3 of our Game Over, Man! series comes in. Developed by Atlus and published by LJN, The Karate Kid was released on the NES in 1987. It is loosely based on The Karate Kid and The Karate Kid Part 2, and features four stages of fighting action, with elements of side-scrolling beat-’em-ups and platforming.

The first stage of the game takes place at a karate tournament and requires players to take control of Daniel-san and fight their way through a handful of unnamed opponents, culminating in a fight against Johnny Lawrence, the antagonist from the first movie. The health bar retains whatever damage was taken from the previous round, and losing a round also results in losing a life.

This level is seemingly the only one that is based on the first Karate Kid movie, and is a pretty acceptable starting point to the game. Having none of the opponents wear the iconic yellow and black gi’s to represent the Cobra Kai is a baffling decision though. I understand that having the opponents wear a variety of different colours was an attempt to change things up in each round, but it just doesn’t feel like any effort was made whatsoever to make the game look like the movies.

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Upon defeating Johnny Lawrence (and becoming the champion), players are suddenly teleported to Okinawa, and the game transforms into a side-scrolling beat-’em-up. Tasked with fighting their way through Japan, Daniel-san takes on many red-clad opponents and plays through the occasional bonus stage. The final boss of the stage, the lazily-named “ENEMY”, is a fairly straight forward fight considering how players have just endured a frustrating (and unforgiving) stage of non-stop enemies.

The previously mentioned bonus stages include catching flies with chopsticks, breaking through blocks of ice with a chop and dodging a pendulum swinging pendulum log. These rounds look so much better in terms of graphics, and are a nice break from the monotonous nature of the normal gameplay, but are unfortunately over and done with so quickly, they fail to leave any lasting impact.

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Stage 3 takes players to the end of The Karate Kid Part II, and puts them through an absolutely grueling “Typhoon” stage. Gameplay remains the same as the previous stage, but this time with added obstacles such as random pieces of garbage, tree branches and birds flying around, and several open gaps in the level that will result in an instant loss of life. Taking a punch from just one enemy in this stage runs the risk of you falling to your death, which is made all the more frustrating by the fact that you only have 3 lives at your disposal (expect to see that game over screen many times, folks!).

The stage ends with another boss by the name of – you guessed it –  “ENEMY”, and saving a girl who is stuck at the top of a pole with a bell (?). As the game doesn’t show any explanation of the story whatsoever, players who have stuck with the game but haven’t seen the movie sequel are going to be incredibly lost at this point.

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The final stage of The Karate Kid takes place in a desert location, and sees a costume change for Daniel-san. Enemies now come equipped with spears, and the level now includes the hazard of tumbling rocks that roll across the stage. Players that manage to reach the end of this level must fight another boss and save the girl who has been kidnapped. Yep, the same girl that you thought that you’d rescued in the third stage, with no explanation of how she’d been taken.

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Your reward for slogging your way through four stages of unfair hitbox mechanics, annoying enemies and lazy level design? A wink from Mr. Miyagi and a short message that declares you to be a martial arts master. I know that I shouldn’t expect too much from an ending to a NES movie tie-in, but this almost feels like it is mocking players who put up with the game’s many shortcomings, and puts forward the confusing notion that the only way to become a martial arts master is to save a girl.

As is the case with many LJN-affiliated titles, The Karate Kid is an incredibly disappointing mess of a game. The difficulty is absolutely unforgiving, and the gameplay as a whole is so shoddy, you’d be hard-pressed to find any player who’ll willingly persevere through the four levels. Throw in a completely bland non-story (and borderline insulting ending), and you’re left with an experience that is difficult to recommend to anybody, never mind fans of the movies.

Have you played The Karate Kid for the NES? Let us know in the comments below, or send a tweet our way!

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