I’ve never seen Karate Kid, nor its sequel. I get a lot of references from the movies, but that’s about it. Don’t look at me like that, I’m just not a movie person. Maybe I’ll get around to it one day.
So why am I playing Karate Kid on the NES? Same reason I play any game that’s on my shelf: because I haven’t played it yet. It’s cheap, you can find it easily in just about any used game stores that carries retro titles. I’ve seen it harshly panned on the internet, but everything I’d seen actually seemed somewhat interesting. Anyways, I picked up off the shelf, and this is how it went.
WAX ON. WAX OFF.
So the game actually covers both the first and second movies. It begins with the karate tournament that caps off the end of the original title (I think) before progressing directly into some stages set on Okinawa, the primary setting of the second film. The difference between these two distinct sections is largely superficial. The tournament is just four consecutive boss fights, whereas the sequel sections are more direct side-scrolling beat-’em-ups.
You’ve got the standard punch and kick buttons, but I only ever used the kick. You have the ability to do the crane kick and the drum punch, which are acquired in limited supplies by completing bonus games and picking up letters in the game world. These are executed by standing still and hitting either the punch or kick button, which is simple, yet still an entirely unintuitive control scheme. It means that if you want to protect your supply of special moves for, say, a boss battle, then you have to always keep moving while attacking. Otherwise, you’re just going to keep wasting them.
YOU’RE THE BEST AROUND
The game’s staggeringly short if you can manage your way through it. You’re given three lives to get through four levels, and while it will likely take a few attempts, it isn’t terribly difficult. Actually, I’m not sure, I don’t think I played it like a normal human being.
For starters, I never used the punch button. I mean, I played around with it while I was trying to get a grip on the game, but eventually I learned that kick is the only button you need. From start to finish, I only used my feet. The stupid control scheme for special attacks made no difference, because the crane kick rarely was necessary. For bosses, it all came down to timing; waiting for them to walk into range, then boot them back before they have a chance to launch an attack. Repeat until dead.
The last level is a bit harder because the enemies take more than one hit to take out. To get around this, I took advantage of the game’s lazy programming:
Enemies spawn randomly, and the game will only allow two enemies on screen at a time. If you manage to jump over them, you can then lead the two enemies through the level preventing any new baddies from spawning in front of you. I figured this out myself and used it to finish the last level. I’m the best around. Nothing’s gonna ever keep me down.
SWEEP THE LEG
Even if you want to play the game normally, there’s not much to it. There’s two enemy types, by my count, and they’re only mildly different. Backgrounds are cluttered and do a poor job in displaying simple information, like what counts as solid ground, and what is just a hole in the ground. The music is so forgettable that I’ve… forgotten it. The best thing I can say about the aesthetics is that Daniel-san changes his outfit three times throughout the game, which is actually a nice touch.
Gameplay, as mentioned above, is pretty routine. The only break from that is for some extremely simple minigames that you’ll accidentally trip into occasionally. They’re okay, but not well explained. These reward you with more special attack ammo and points, just in case you want to compete with your siblings for who’s the best at Karate Kid.
I THINK THOSE ARE THE ONLY REFERENCES I KNOW
Karate Kid is essentially the archetypal licensed game. It was thrown together by a passionless developer to cash in on the popularity of the franchise. It’s shallow, repetitive, and insubstantial. It lacks any ambition whatsoever. It’s playable, at best. Should you play it? No. Wait, how much do you like Karate Kid? If you answered with anything less than “obsessively,” the answer is still no.
This review was conducted using an original NES cartridge. The author paid for it themselves, but hopes they didn’t pay that much.