Multiplayergames’ Digital Dojo: Karateka VS. International Karate+


Welcome back to the Digital Dojo, Multiplayergames’ dissection of martial arts accuracy in video games.  Today’s lesson pits digital karate up against well… digital karate. We will begin our examination with Karateka from 1984, which was originally designed for the Apple II (and ported to a number of consoles), but we will be referencing the NES edition which was only released in Japan.

Created by John Mechner (creator of Prince of Persia), the game’s name itself is derived from a Japanese word meaning “practitioner of karate.” While Karateka is difficult to pronounce properly (the television commercial for the Atari 7800 version miss-pronounced it; it’s kuh-ra-teek-ah), the game is fondly remembered by many. Once again using a well-worn formula of beat the bad guys and save the girl, Karateka gained fame for its realistic animation, best handled by the NES. How do those old graphics and (then) cutting edge animation do at showing off correct style? Pretty well.

As we control our hero on his quest to beat Akuma and save Mariko, you can see that Mechner did well representing a fighting stance. Our hero fights with his hands up, and his elbows placed to protect his body (note the chin is not tucked as it should be though). With the forward arm out in front of the body a bit, the stance definitely points to an old school, traditional karate, as modern styles have started to bring the front arm in closer for better blocking ability of the head and picking shots to the body with the elbow. The side scrolling graphic limitations do muck up the guard stance however, because it shows both feet lined up, which would not allow for proper body rotation on any back arm techniques.

karatekaThe striking, while limited in variety, is technically proficient. When the characters punch, notice their hips torque a bit, so while it is not turning down to the ball of the foot, as it should, it still represents the body mechanics. While choosing to leave out even the simplest kicks like side kicks and front kicks, the kick that does make the cut, the round kick, is a great one. Each time the characters kick, the base foot pivots and the kicking leg chambers the heel toward the characters back. This shows good knowledge of the strike. Blocking doesn’t really make an impact during fighting, but since the hero always throws a traditional block randomly after a victory (usually a downward block or upward), it should be mentioned they also look accurate.

Now, with International Karate+ (Amiga, 1988), we have a completely different scenario, where you play as a fighter sparring two others in an effort to score six points first. This is most likely based off tournament fighting, although in tournaments if you are competing to see who reaches a point value first, it is typically done in a point break fashion. The fight stops when a point is made, the judges award it, and then the match restarts. Continuous point fighting, like that shown in IK+, usually just tallies all the points at the end of a certain time to see who won. Also, in tournament fighting there can often be different point values for certain technique or targets. For example, a head kick may be worth two points and a spin kick worth three. There is no indication this is the case with IK+. To be fair though, there are some tournaments that omit that scoring scheme.

internationalkarateAs for the technique showed in the game… that is a bit iffy. Not for detail inaccuracy, but rather the striking itself. What the developer chose is a bit ridiculous in terms of applicability. While things like jump side kicks, split kicks, and back flips are cool, they are not well suited for fighting, whether it be tournament or real. Those things are simply what I refer to as flash. They are unlikely to serve any real self-defense purpose. Why you may ask? Well, think about it. If someone ran towards you and jumped with a kick would you:

A) Get hit

B) Try to block

C) Move out of the way since people can’t change direction in mid-air

Hopefully that’s an easy choice.

Another reason these moves were a bad choice was because they are not based in any traditional karate that I know of, but rather have been added over the years for fun and as a challenge to master techniques that are required to perform the kick variation. To IK+’s credit, the jump split kick very clearly shows front kick chambers as it should when the character jumps (this kick is just two front kicks in different directions), and the jump side kick is nicely done as well. The head-butt is another common strike in the game, and while it can certainly be affective in self-defense, it is illegal in sparring. Then of course there is the ambiguous foot sweep/push strike from Kung Fu that our fighter uses as well. I always assumed this poorly animated move was supposed to represent a drop-spin take-down, but when the opponents fall, it does not support this theory. They would need to fall towards the background as the sweep takes out the base leg from the back.

internationalkarate2With the mess of technique IK+ shows, it is tough to guess a style. The thing that probably directs us most is the pattern of belt color changes during the course of the game. It goes white, yellow, green, purple, brown, and black. This points to something like Keichu Ryu karate. It really is a tough call though, because the low back hand guard stance also is reminiscent of something like Goju Ryu which was the style used in the original Karate Kid movie, although the game’s belt pattern would certainly be wrong for this style.

Overall, Karateka easily dominates International Karate’s sloppy style make-up, and is clearly the better representation of its art form. However, if you are looking for diversity in attacks and game play, you have to run with IK+.

Here ends the lesson.

(Editors Note: No, Karateka is not a multiplayer title. Neither was Kung Fu for last months Digital Dojo. These choices were made purely for comparison purposes, and to keep the games in the same general era. From here on out, Digital Dojo should feature a single game each month, and all of them with a multiplayer focus with few possible exceptions)

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