I remember waking up 6am, going downstairs, and firing up my Atari 800XL. The disk labeled Karateka inserted, the drive would grunt a few dozen times and the screen would flash. Suddenly, with barely any warning, the opening titles would appear and then the music would start – six notes to signal a game that was menacing in its simplicity. The story was simply told. Characters stood in darkened rooms. The Shogun aimed a finger at a door and the princess was forced into bondage. You were the Karateka, the hero, your pixelated motion was as fluid as any humans. I marveled at the realism. The whiffed punches sounded like a fist smacking a ham hock. The fight music, the little fanfare of victory, was all I needed for those few hours before school. Karateka was a marvel in an era of cheap gaming. In a world populated by Pac Men, Karateka foretold the future.
Karateka begat Prince of Persia and the creator of both, Jordan Mechner, went on to become one of the greats in the gaming industry. Luckily, he and his clan of programmers haven’t been resting on their laurels. They have just re-released Karateka in its original glory on iOS or Android, allowing us oldsters a brief moment of nostalgia and ensuring the younger generation understands the magic of a game that sparks the imagination.
They’ve also created an updated version of the game but I suspect most of us will want to experience the pixelated splendor of Mechner’s virtual world instead of the modern, cartoony style so popular with mobile gaming recently. Pro tip: watch out for the freaking eagle.