Karate Champ – NES Review

The fighting game genre didn’t explode until around 1991, when the first of a gazillion incarnations of Street Fighter II was released. Everything before that fucking blew baboon smegma. An attempt at a fighting game Urban Champion was one of the worst of the original Black Box offerings. There wasn’t another fighting game for the NES until today’s little piece of curious crap, Karate Champ. If you’re in the mood for the good old fashioned NESquester vitriol, strap the fuck in kiddies!


Kinda reminds me of the Sweet Factory in Mother 1. Too obscure?

Brought to life in 1984 by Technos but published by Data East, Karate Champ (“The Way Of The Empty Hand” overseas) was one of the earliest examples of the fighting genre. It truly was an ambitious and inspired arcade game that utilized two joysticks in a deep moveset very unlike Urban Champion’s punch-punch-punch bullshit. Other innovations included multiple bonus stages, 12-plus stage backgrounds, and, with the release of Karate Champ: Player Vs Player edition, an actual 2 player fighting game. It was a difficult game to master and required perseverance and a total memorization of the game’s moves to even attempt basic survival. As a young ‘Quester, I hated this game because one quarter was usually wasted within seconds of hearing the earliest digitized voice I can recall bellow out “RED!”


If this was what the NES controls were trying to pull off, kudos!

Well, now that the history lesson is done, let’s open a can of pure unadulterated, seething hatred. Ported to the Nintendo in 1986, many problems were apparent within two seconds of playthrough. One, the NES didn’t have two joysticks or two anythings that could be used in the manner of the arcade cabinet. Two, all but one of the bonus stages were cut. Anyone who ever stopped the bull with their bare hands had to be pissed to high hell when all we got on the NES was dodging flower pots that looked like bleeding dicks. This version is closer to the Player Vs Player edition than the original port, but it doesn’t really mean a shit because skill has NO bearing on the outcome of this game. There are two karate participants, one in a white gi, a-la-Ryu, and the other in a red gi, a-la-Ken. The first to score two points via direct hit wins the round and two rounds wins the game. Sounds easy enough, but the game will sometimes give you half points. To this day I have no fucking idea what the difference is between that and a regular hit. Music is non-existent. The only time you’ll hear anything close to it is the title screen and when a round is over and you do kind of a goofy dance unbefitting a student of the arts.



The worst part without a shadow of a doubt is the controls. We’re talking Action 52 levels here folks. When your opponent gets behind you it is an exercise in futility to try and turn around, and the game becomes one of my least favorite types of game, the illogical button masher. Hit detection is even worse. Your fist will plain as day make contact or a foot will firmly meet face and Mr-Terminator-In-A-Red-Gi will shrug it off and separate you from your senses in no time. When the game is a total bitch but possible to beat, such as the first Samurai Shodown, I embrace that challenge. When the game will find anyway it can to fuck you, the fun factor goes right out the door. And when I say Karate Champ fucks you, we’re talking bloody ass, no lube, not even a spit shine, it’s THAT raw towards the player. I could almost hear a few people unsubscribing the moment I typed that. You’ll be missed.


OK, a background or two is pretty rad, but it’s like Susan Boyle wearing expensive clothing.

The only bright spot here are the graphics. The stages are wonderfully vibrant and really give off an oriental feel. The black tree sunset in particular stands out to me as a simple yet gorgeous setting for two warriors to battle for the glory. The sprites for the fighters are a good size for the time, and who doesn’t love the referee? These days for ten bucks, you could probably purchase DLC that makes him a playable fighter. The graphics are so nice at times, it makes the useless waste of silicon this game actually is that much more painful.


You REALLY have to blow this pic up to discern that these are flower pots. Try it.

3/10 Some ports capture the spirit of the original and others fall flat on their asses never to recover. Karate Champ is definitely of the flattened ass variety. The nice graphics saved it from a lower score but the broken hit detection, impossible controls, and an overall lacking of the fun in the arcade version drag it towards such company as Gumshoe and Baseball. One could say that it would’ve been better if they came out with a peripheral for it that gave the two joysticks, but they didn’t, so fuck ’em.


These 7 seconds will be far more rewarding and entertaining than ever trying to master Karate Champ.