Karate Champ (NES) Review

The Short


– One of the first two player fighting games

– I like the judge’s stoic frown


– Controls are awful

– Sound effects are bland (though I do like the tinny voices)

– Almost impossible to know what you are doing

– Graphics look awful, even for an early NES game

Atop the cliff, the warriors prepared themselves.

The Long

Karate Champ is a trap. That’s really all it is. You go to the retro game store and think “I remember that one game…Kung Fu or something? That game was ok, right?” Then you see Karate Champ sitting there for something like $2 and say to yourself “Hey, it’s only $2! For karate! I like karate! I like The Karate Kid! Mr. Miyagi is the bomb! I bet this game at least has some karate in it!”

Wait, this didn’t happen to any of you? Me either. Because luckily I remembered, dear reader. I remembered. And replaying this game has only confirmed my memory: Karate Champ is like a karate kick to the face. Except the kick is coming from your Nintendo, and your face is…well, it’s your face.

What is this, Castlevania? Is the red guy Dracula? Do I get to punch Dracula? Where my meds be at?

Karate Champ is a one-on-one fighting game, like Street Fighter II. 

Hold on a second, I can’t believe I just made that comparison. Let me try again.

Karate Champ is a one-on-one fighting game, like Shaq-Fu. You face off either against a computer opponent or a friend you wish to quickly make an enemy in a karate battle royale. As you progress you traverse to different worlds and areas, the fighters never changing and the dude watching never smiling. It’s how I’d imagine hell would be like, or maybe a really crappy reimagining of Eat, Pray, Love, only instead of food it’s karate. Actually, that might make the movie better.

Expect to see this a lot, because red is a bastard.

All the fights are exactly the same, locations just change. All fighters are the same and control the same. The computer’s AI never really changes based on my experience as you progress, so there really isn’t a difficulty curve. Not that I’d know, because for the life of me I still can’t figure out exactly how this game controls.

You have a button for kick and a button for punch. Ducking or pressing up and these buttons sometimes does stuff, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes my guy kicks behind him when there is a person in front of him. Sometimes he turns his back and won’t turn around again. Does he have reason or purpose for any of this? I dunno, he’s just a bunch of 1s and 0s. But I’m pretty sure he’s the dumbest collection of 1s and 0s I’ve met in recent memory, and I just played a Dynowarz marathon.

Dinosaurs would make this game better, though.

Aside from the completely impossible controls (though I did manage to win by just mashing them over and over in a similar pattern), the game looks hideous. The kicks and punches (with the exception of the screenshot above) look cheap and bland. Animation is nonexistent; you get about one frame per attack. The characters are flat and look like paper cut-outs in front of the backgrounds that at least employ some depth. And the frowning guy…he is never happy. Ever.

Sound effects are bland. There’s no music, just the sounds of them huffing. I’ll admit it’s ok, but…no, it isn’t. It sounds awful. The grunts sound like two dogs trying to get it on. I’m sorry for that mental image.

How is he standing on something that’s obviously far away? Who designed this crap?

Data East: you’ve done better. Not much better, but you’ve done a little better, I know it. But this…this game is miserable. It’s just a miserable ball of misery. Karate Champ will remind you nothing of whatever memories you might have of karate that are positive. I dunno, I was more a Tae-Kwon-Do guy myself, to be honest.

Anyway, if you see this game in a store, PLEASE remember this review. Even if it’s a doller, that’s a Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger you could have gotten. And I don’t even like Wendy’s.

One out of five stars. 

Though you could karate chop the cart in half. That would be badass. First person to do it and send me a video gets a prize!

Author: Nathan Major

Spirit Shark: Hammerhead. Retro game collector, true ginger, and SNES fanatic. Goal in life is to become Karnov from the NES game Karnov.

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