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Video Game / Karateka

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The game that started it all. Note the infamous gate.

[...] Karateka for the NES, a nice little game where you have to fight a procession of people wearing increasingly silly hats. Then you get killed by a gate.

A Beat 'em Up game originally developed for the Apple ][ system by Jordan Mechner and published by Brøderbund Software in 1984. Karateka puts you in the role of a heroic karate expert who must infiltrate the fortress of Akuma, who has kidnapped the lovely Princess Mariko. To do this, he must initially climb a mountain and get through the bodyguards who hold the entrance. Once inside the fortress, he must fight still more bodyguards and Akuma's eagle and pass the infamous death gate, before fighting Akuma himself.

The game employed rotoscoping technology for surprisingly realistic movements, a technique which would be used to similar effect in Mechner's following game, Prince of Persia. It is more well known in modern times as an Internet meme featuring the titular hero dancing to MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This".


For the 30th anniversary of the game, Mechner, alongside developer Liquid Entertainment, released a remake, now available on Steam and XBLA.

Tropes included:

  • Ape Shall Never Kill Ape: In the remake, just before the second boss you face a monk. If you're also controlling the monk, he's reluctant to fight you, and respectfully concedes and lets you pass when his health is low.
  • Cut Scene: Notable as possibly the first game to ever have them.
  • Damn You, Muscle Memory!: The Atari 7800 port's controls - move the joystick right to kick, left to punch, rather than using the fire buttons that most versions use.
  • Damsel in Distress: Princess Mariko, who is held captive by Akuma and whose rescue is the plot of the game.
  • Dynamic Difficulty: The remake has this, after a fashion. There are three different playable characters - Mariko's True Love, the Monk, and the Brute — but you don't get to pick. Instead, you start the game as the True Love. Losing as him causes you to continue at the point where you died as the Monk, who has more health and does more damage. Losing as the Monk causes you to continue as the Brute, who has the same amount of health as the Monk but takes less damage and does much more. Also, you can revive the Brute at the cost of the points you've accumulated.
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  • Epic Fail: It's actually possible to die by walking backwards off the cliff at the start of the game.
  • Guide Dang It!: The infamous second level grate. How to get past it varies between versions. For instance, on the NES port, you have to stand a running step back, and run so that the grate closes in your face without killing you.
  • Groin Attack: Mariko does this if you do not run straight at her.
  • Kaizo Trap: If you approach Mariko in combat stance in the ending, she'll kick you into a Non Standard Game Over.
  • Let's Fight Like Gentlemen: If you approach an opponent in a non-combat stance, they will patiently stand there and wait for you to challenge them; furthermore, if you bow to them, they will return the bow.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: "Akuma" means "devil" in Japanese.
  • Made of Iron: The Brute blocks punches with his stomach.
  • Mook Chivalry: The enemies all approach the hero one at a time and do not carry weapons.
  • Mooks: The protagonist has to face numerous goons before fighting Akuma himself. Said goons are tough in their own right, especially in the remake.
  • Multiple Endings:
    • Possibly the Ur-Example for video games. At the end of the game, your character either rescues Mariko or is killed by her, depending on whether or not you're in fighting stance when you approach her.
    • In the remake, they're determined by your character — Mariko wants to be rescued by her True Love and is overjoyed when he arrives. She is fairly accepting of the Monk, who secretly longed for her ever since catching a glimpse of her when she visited his temple. The Brute, however, slings Mariko over his shoulder caveman style, though Mariko doesn't really complain all that much. The game then states that while "Mariko appreciates the Brute's bravery," the player should try again "with a rescuer that will make Mariko even happier."
  • Mystical White Hair: The original Mariko.
  • One True Love: In the remake, one of the three playable characters trying to save Mariko is outright called the True Love and is the one she explicitly wants to be rescued by. Playing as him throughout the whole game earns the Golden Ending where Mariko is happiest.
  • One-Word Title
  • Opening Scroll: The game opens with a scrolling screen providing the exposition that Akuma has kidnapped Mariko.
  • Point Build System: The Gameboy version gave you points at the start to distribute among power, health, and speed, plus a couple of them for each completed level.
  • Press Start to Game Over: The game starts near a cliff, and the protagonist cannot run backwards. But you can still use the combat stance to walk back and fall to your death. Alternately, if you haven't learned the controls yet, you may start running forward straight into the first mook's foot, which is a One-Hit Kill while running.
  • Rescue Romance: Complete with Standard Hero Reward and Foot Popping.
  • Rotoscoping
  • Scoring Points: In the remake. Points are accumulated by defeating enemies (with a higher reward for less damage or better yet, no damage at all, as well as extra points for bosses), reaching certain checkpoints, reaching certain checkpoints with a particular character, among other things.
  • Shoulders of Doom: Akuma has these, as do some of his mooks.
  • Silliness Switch: The original floppy disk game had 2 slightly different versions of the game on both sides of the disk. If you accidentally stuck the floppy disk in upside down, the game would still load and play... Upside down.
  • Sound-Coded for Your Convenience: In the remake, you'll hear musical notes right as an enemy attacks you. The number of notes corresponds to how many attacks you will have to block. However, bosses will not have these cues.
  • Take It to the Bridge: Several battles take place on a bridge, with enemies falling to their doom upon defeat.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Zig-zagged. In the remake's intro, Akuma holds out his hand to Mariko, who knocks it aside. He raises it with a snarl, looking like he's going to backhand her, then turns and leaves.