Posted: February 24
After my first playthrough of 2012's Kareteka the thing that struck me the most about the experience was its brevity. My memories of the original version from Broderbund, at a time when the Apple II was the cutting edge of personal computing technology, are hazy at best. I remember it not looking even as sophisticated as some of the beat-'em-ups of the day like Bruce Lee or Kung Fu Master, but I remember virtually nothing about the gameplay. The new Kareteka utilizes a peculiar, rhythm-based combat scheme that is easy to learn and difficult to--well, it's just difficult.
You play as one of three would-be rescuers attempting to save your beloved Mariko from the "evil warlord Akuma." You move through several environments doing battle with Akuma's minions with the ultimate goal of reaching his palace and the final battle. Mind you, you're not choosing which protagonist to play the game with; you start with Mariko's true love. If his health pool drops to zero, he falls to his death, and the monk takes his place. Should the monk perish, the brute takes his place. Finally, if the brute is beaten down, you have the option to continue, losing a certain percentage of your score in the process. Each successive hero has a larger health pool and stronger attacks. When grappling with a new opponent, your objective is to counter each punch or kick in a sequence by pressing the "block" button at just the right time. Even if you miss one or two and get hit, as long as you block the antagonist's last attack in that sequence, you are given the opportunity to launch a flurry of your own blows. After a series of 3-4 attacks, your opponent will become invincible again until you block another sequence of attacks. This dance continues until one of you is defeated. There are also purple flowers that you will encounter along the way that will partially or fully restore your health pool. Opponents gradually increase in difficulty by varying their attack patterns.
It sounds clever and fun on paper but in practice, the controls (even with an XBOX 360 controller) are wonky and your blocks don't always appear to register correctly. Even though you can easily run through the roster of opponents in less than an hour, I suspect even the most gifted Guitar Hero player will find himself unable to succeed in completing the game with Mariko's true love. The artwork looks good and the music is thematically-appropriate, but the gameplay itself leaves something to be desired. Kareteka makes for a brief but rather frustrating distraction from more complex games.