15 February 2013

Another case why an old game is better than its remake

When I saw Karateka in PSN store, I was mildly excited. One of the old time classics remastered to today's standards! What could go wrong? Oh, so many things like most of the remakes of old classics have shown us. That's why I was only mildly excited and soon that excitement waned off to make room for reluctance to download the trial. But still I decided to give it a try, hoping it would surprise me in a positive manner. And indeed surprised I was.

You might be fooled to think this is your daddy's "stupid old blocky" game, kiddo

Jordan Mechner's original Karateka was published in 1984 for Apple II. It was a tactical martial arts adventure where you, the karateka, had to save princess Mariko from the clutches of evil warlord Akuma. The game progressed with the karateka taking down progressively more challenging guards one by one until you confronted Akuma himself. It was all very classy with stylishly minimalistic graphics and tactical approach to fighting. You had to variate between low, middle and high punches and kicks and adjust your distance to the opponents. I only played the Commodore 64 conversion of the game (pictured above and below). It was admittedly strangely slow compared to the original but all the strategy and challenge was there.

Well, I have news for you kiddo, you're so wrong

29 laters Karateka makes a new appearance on Xbox and PS marketplaces with re-imagined graphics and gameplay and as it turns out, the game is yet another case why the original is miles better than its modern remake. Karateka 2013 doesn't respect its heritage whatsoever and gives a damn about what made the original game so impressive; the gameplay has been stupified into a simple, run-of-the-mill rhythm game.

You can't hit or kick your opponents until you block their attack first. This opens an opportunity to smash either your one punch or one kick button until you have to block again. This is repeated two rounds for normal opponents and more for tougher enemies. It's incredibly repetitive and stupid and there's not even a bit of strategy or skill involved. Just time your block, smash buttons away, block, smash again ad nauseam. Gameplay couldn't be more far off from its original roots. I can't see why the full game would be any better, just more of the same formulaic lethargy. Oh, you can choose between three heroes in it! Yay...

Because this is what you get kiddo, a simple and stupid hit-the-button game

Also, intended graphic style fails. Characters and backgrounds rendered in Unreal engine try to mimic Disney's Mulan art style but falls short as there's obviously no understanding of the said art form behind it. It's just a cheap, lifeless copy.

The original Karateka is genuinely exciting and rewarding experience where your skills and thinking at the end of the joystick matter. This is not nostalgic ramblings either as I just played the game on a C64 emulator after this modern travesty and was happy to find out the game had stood the test of time remarkably well and still can be heralded as a great game.