Karate Kid for the NES is not the best around

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Something’s gonna always keep it down!

I’ve never seen Karate Kid. It was a bit before my time, but I’ve seen movies like The Goonies, so that’s really no excuse. I probably should, but I have a stack of ‘80s action movies to get through, and I watch movies about as much as I drink water: rarely enough that you should be concerned. It’s funny, I can sit down and play games for most of the day, but a two-hour movie? Nah.

Instead, I played the NES game. Yes, watching the movie would have assuredly been a better use of my time. I’m sure it would have also provided meaningful context, but that’s what plot synopsis is for.

Karate Kid Crane Kick

Karate Kid is actually an adaptation of the first two movies. The first level is a recreation of the tournament at the end of the original movie, while everything after that takes place in Okinawa, the location of the second. I suppose that’s one way to adapt the source material, as I wouldn’t say it’s exactly video game friendly, but that didn’t stop publishers in the ‘80s.

The first part of the game is essentially a one-on-one fighting game, but after that, it’s this weird side-scrolling beat-’em-up. You go from the left side of the screen and run to the right, as is law in platformers, and kick dudes in the face. Was that in the movie? I read something about grocery thugs, so maybe that’s it.

Karate Kid Kick

I guess you can make everything into a beat-’em-up, but Karate Kid isn’t a particularly good one. For instance, I figured out early on that I didn’t need the punch button. There’s no real reason for this, the two attacks are just interchangeable. Most of the enemies die in a single blow, regardless of whether or not you’re touching them with your hands or feet. This changes for the last level because Karate Kid needed a way to be an extra dick.

It’s okay, I know a way around it. See, the game only allows two enemies on screen at a time, so if you jump over two of them and lead them through the level, no more will spawn and you can just walk to the end. I missed my calling as a Game Counselor. It’s like cheating, except you’re just taking advantage of lazy programming.

Speaking of lazy programming, you perform the crane kick and the drum punch by standing still and hitting the kick or punch button. This uses a limited resource that you pick up through minigames and in the game world. You have to keep moving, otherwise, you just waste your special attacks. It’s impressive because it manages to be simple, confusing, and pointless at the same time.

Karate Kid Chopstick Fly Catch

Not that you necessarily need them. Maybe for the boss battle at the end. But when most of the enemies die in a single hit for most of the game, there’s not much sport in hitting them harder.

You’ve got three lives to clear four levels, and while it may take you a few attempts to see the end, Karate Kid is disorientingly short. By my count, there are two enemy types. Daniel-san changes his outfit three times throughout the game, which is impressive considering there’s very little variation to everything else. Someone really thought the protagonist needed to change his clothes, so that made it in against everything else that might have made the game actually fun.

Hammer Swing

Karate Kid is really one of those weak license tie-in games that you hear about. The one that gets kids really excited for it then teaches them to be ready for a life full of disappointment.

Or not, because even though Karate Kid isn’t very much fun, it’s not the worst licensed game I’ve played on the NES. Predator is potentially the worst, but I’ll get back to you with my full report once I actually finish it.

No, Karate Kid is just a waste of time. It feels slapped together and only technically works because its gameplay is so simple it would be hard to fail entirely. The design document had to be two pages long. Perhaps it only contained three words: “Karate=Punch+Kick.” It’s not a bad formula, it just seems so commonly applied in the most mundane ways.

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Zoey Handley
Zoey is a gadabout gaming hobbyist. She's been playing video games all her life and is a lover of both new and retro games. She enjoys digging in the dirt and picking out the games that are perfectly fine if you clean them up a bit.