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Apple classic Karateka reborn for iOS -- and how sweet it is

With a stunning makeover and simplistic but compelling action, this terrific update brings Karateka into the 21st century in style.

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
3 min read
Hiiii-ya! This ain't your father's Karateka -- and that's a good thing.
Hiiii-ya! This ain't your father's Karateka -- and that's a good thing. Karateka LLC

At the risk of dating myself (again), I have extremely fond memories of playing the classic action game Karateka on my -- wait for it -- Apple IIe.

That was 28 years ago, heaven help me. The game's creator, Jordan Mechner, went on to develop the better-known Prince of Persia, but I remember being totally entranced by Karateka's then-amazing graphics and compelling damsel-in-distress storyline.

But would I want to play that same game today, even if it were perfectly emulated like that other '80s classic, Karate Champ? Frankly, no. I've never been a fan of arcade or console emulators, because the controls usually don't translate well and the graphics, well, suck by today's standards.

That's why I'm delighted that Mechner, back in the saddle, went the Pitfall route in developing the glorious new Karateka for iOS, effectively creating a brand-new game while keeping true to the spirit of the original.

Indeed, the story remains the same: the fair Mariko has been captured by evil warlord Akuma, and it's your job to rescue her. This entails using your fists (and feet) of fury to defeat an ever-tougher series of guards standing between you and your sweetheart.

What began as a pretty but pixelated 2D karate game has evolved into a lush 3D karate game, with a camera that shifts to an over-the-shoulder perspective as you run from one fight to the next, then settles on the more familiar side-scrolling view for the actual combat.

And combat itself is fairly simplistic -- some would say overly so. It's all a matter of timing: tap the screen at just the right moments to block attacks, then again to unleash your blows. Gather health-restoring flowers when you can, and store up your "Chi" to strike with a special attack. If you take too many hits, your health meter runs out, leaving you in a crumpled heap.

However, and here's where Karateka 2012 takes an interesting turn; the game doesn't end there like it did in the original. If you lose your first life, a second suitor appears to try to rescue Mariko. And if he buys it, a third guy comes on the scene. Ultimately, it's Bachelor Number 1 (aka "true love") she wants, so the replay value lies in trying to get all the way through on just one life.

The new Karateka is absolutely gorgeous -- and slightly flawed. For starters, it requires considerable horsepower, running only on an iPhone 4S or later, iPad 2 or later, or fifth-gen iPod Touch. It's not optimized for the wider-screen iPhone 5 and iPod Touch 5. And on my 4S, the frame rate got choppy at times. The game is pretty short, too, though I'd argue that because it's fairly repetitive, it doesn't need to be any longer. There's some satisfaction to be had from playing a game all the way through in 20-30 minutes, and actually finishing it.

Whether you're a fan of the original (like me) or you just like nicely executed games of hand-to-hand combat, I think Karateka for iOS is well worth the $2.99 price of admission.