Even if you win, you lose

The Karate Kid serves as a rite of passage for many of us who grew up in the ’80s traumatised by our seemingly epochal childhood dramas. We empathised with Daniel-san’s plight as the newbie recently settled in an alien town, tormented by rebel without a cause high school bullies, who we discovered thirty-five years on were fighting their own demons at the time.

Taken under the nurturing wing of Okinawan karate master sensei/handyman, Mr Miyagi, Daniel-san discovers his latent potential as a karate virtuoso and proceeds to dole out his own lesson in retribution.

That was the crux that sold us on the concept in 1984, and keeps the memes spinning on a kind of reflexive speed-dial even today. Daniel was the underdog who overcame unassailable adversity, won the heart of a beautiful* princess, as well as the All Valley Karate Championship, making a laughing stock of the school jock and more credible fighter. Johnny Lawrence is now the co-star of the recent spin-off YouTube series, Cobra Kai, so-named because he resurrects his former dojo from the ashes to assume the role John Kreese once held.

*Ali ‘with an i’ Mills also has a name (it’s Ali Mills, with an i), and many other well-rounded, aspirational qualities.

In 127 wonderful coming-of-age-tinged minutes we switch from pitying Daniel to worshipping and wanting to be him. Which would be the perfect stage for an Amiga gaming segueway, except Karate Kid was three years old by the time the first consumer Amiga hit the market so was unlikely to be considered hot property. Its sequel emerged a year earlier so was the more likely candidate for small screen translation.

Funnily enough, that’s what came to pass. Otherwise, this long preamble would all have been for nothing. Appearing first on the Atari ST in 1986 (published by Cornwall-based Microdeal), the licensed beat ’em up was ported to the Amiga the following year by the same team; Pete Lyon and the sadly, recently late Steve Bak.

You could argue – as people have – that it bears little relation to the movie, and that explains why it was so easy to re-release the game as ‘Shaolin Warriors’ as part of the Tri-Star Combat compilation for the Atari ST once the license had expired. Leatherneck (also by Pete Lyon and Steve Bak), and Time Bandit are also available for the Amiga should you wish to complete the collection.

Briefly, as a young man, Miyagi left Japan when he fell in love with a woman who was already betrothed (via an arranged marriage) to his best friend. Rather than betraying Sato by pursuing the relationship he nobly puts his feelings in a watertight sarcophagus and buries it deep within his achy-breaky heart, never to be opened again for the rest of eternity.

Triviatastically, Miyagi’s love interest in Karate Kid II – played by Nobu McCarthy – also played his fiance (Momo) in an episode of Happy Days entitled ‘Arnold’s Wedding’ broadcast in 1976. It seems true love is forever.

One day Miyagi receives a letter from his requited lover, Yukie, informing him that his father has little time left to live and his dying wish is to see his son again one last time. Naturally Miyagi packs a bag post-haste and takes Daniel along for the ride.

 

 

On arriving in Okinawa they are met by Sato’s nephew, Chozen, who deceptively (posing as a taxi driver) takes Daniel and Miyagi to see his uncle to answer for their ‘crimes’.

 

Yukie called off the wedding you see and remained celibate thereafter out of respect for Miyagi, principles, honour and all that abstruse eastern mysticism stuff that has westerners scratching their noggins.

While the movie focuses largely on Mr Miyagi’s origins, personal philosophy, relationships and regrets, the game cuts all the talky character development arc shenanigans and skips straight to the fight scenes, and only represents Daniel’s involvement. A curious, missed opportunity seeing as Miyagi does more bottom-kicking than Daniel who appears to have regressed back to rookie status despite all his waxing and painting.

Daniel: Was Sato as good as you at karate?

Miyagi: Wouldn’t be surprised; had same teacher.

Daniel: Your father taught both of you?

Miyagi: Hai.

Daniel: Didn’t you tell me your family’s karate was taught only from father to son?

Miyagi: Miyagi ask father make exception this case.

Daniel: Would your father have refereed, if you had taken Sato up on…?

Miyagi: No referee, not for that kind of fight.

Daniel: Then how do you know who wins?

Miyagi: The one who dead never does.

From the outset, the movie builds towards a stake-raising, climactic crescendo, a fight to the death between Miyagi and his sworn enemy, love rival and former best friend, Sato (overacted by Danny Kamekona, who also played Sato in Magnum P.I.). Only it’s never delivered because they reconcile as a result of Miyagi saving Sato’s life during a deadly tropical typhoon. Miyagi does however briefly clash with Cobra Kai sensei John Kreese before jetting off to Okinawa (actually filmed in Oahu, Hawaii) to say farewell to his dying father. During his time there Miyagi also has to fend off Sato’s vindictively violent nephew, Chozen (and obligatory, loyal cronies), who have inherited Sato’s hatred for Miyagi having never previously met him.

 

Any of that could have been implemented in the game, though isn’t, probably because kids would rather fight as a teenage hero rather than an old man. In reality, Ralph Macchio was 25 years old when he filmed Karate Kid II and Pat Morita would have been 53. Interesting that neither of them looked anything like their true age. Then again, they were selected by a casting team, not Karma.

Pat was an actor, not a martial arts acrobat, and congruous with Miyagi’s fictional age, his celluloid skirmishes are all a bit stilted and awkward so the game would only have improved his performance. Nevertheless, it wasn’t to be; our human Yoda sensei only puts in an appearance for one of the bonus stages. Gomeifuku wo oinori itashi-masu.

 

 

For the bulk of the game, we play as Daniel in a succession of one on one bouts in a very similar style to Beam Software’s Way of the Exploding Fist, published in 1985. These take place in a bountiful, colourful variety of exotic locations, beautifully transposed from the movie, and presented in a vaguely chronological order…

Daniel’s first encounter…

 

Miyagi’s dojo (not technically Miyagi’s as he’s only a visitor having not set foot in his hometown for 45 years, but never mind)…

Outside in the street during the evening…

 

 

At the old fishing harbour…

 

View from the storm shelter…

Capturing images from this barely lit sequence of the movie didn’t end well. They’re too dark and grimy for it to be worth the effort of cleaning them up, so you’ll have to use your imagination, or better still, watch the movie.

At the misty waterfront…

 

 

Outside Naha city…

Miyagi’s garden…

 

Miyagi’s garden after ‘the message’ (Sato sends his goons to smash up the place to intimidate Miyagi and convince him to fight back rather than ‘turning the other cheek’ as he’s inclined to do)…

 

Overlooking the valley…

 

Final encounter in King Shohashi’s ceremonial castle, where you’ll need to have learned the “secret of the drum” to triumph…

 

 

 

I’m telling you, it wasn’t a fluke… watch this!

 

“Anyone not used to a good game on the Amiga, would be stunned by the quality of both the graphics and the sound of the Karate Kid’s loading sequence. With what looks to be a digitised version of the game’s poster on screen, and a computerised version of Peter Cetera’s ‘The Glory of Love’ playing along in the background, it is simple to see why the phrase ‘interactive cinema’ is the latest hype-buzz word to describe various games on the Amiga.”

Commodore User (September 1987)

16 unique moves are at our disposal in all, some activated by joystick direction alone, others requiring the fire button to be depressed. I hate to see a depressed fire button, but then I’d be morose too if my sole purpose in life was to sit there and have my head mashed by someone’s sweaty thumb.

Some moves take more practice than others and they’re not quite as responsive or reliable as we might hope, so as with the best fighting games there’s a bit of a learning curve and some scope for self-improvement. This being one of the earliest Amiga beat ’em ups there’s nothing too flash or any weapons on offer. What we can do is…

The roundhouse, low punch, high punch, sweep, flying kick, high kick, low kick, mid kick, backward/forward somersault, back kick, kneel and punch, and turn and punch.

A sizeable repertoire not to be sneezed at (whatever that means) given it’s a game originally made in 1986 for the Atari ST.

“Having played games such as International Karate and Exploding Fist on the 64, Karate Kid is a genuine improvement. No longer are all the moves dictated by limited memory and poor graphics. In Karate Kid the moves are all as smooth as silk, with knee and elbow movement clearly discernible as you or your opponent fly through the air.”

Commodore User (September 1987)

“You must defeat your opponent with the same old Karate moves, roundhouse kick, low punch, sweep, flying kick etc. However, I am told by one of our readers that the flying kick is not included in any style of karate. If this is so then why include it?”

“All moves, there are 16, are executed very fast, and it is this fact which puts KK2 in a slightly higher category than most other ‘beat ’em ups’. The animation is also improved by its speed, and gives a high degree of realism. For example, you see a roundhouse kick go all the way round, not like some other games.”

C&VG issue 72 (October 1987)

Our range of opponents is far more limited, and they all behave and look the same aside from becoming gradually tougher, and the basic palette swaps applied to their clothes. We first take on bully/goon 1, Toshio, then bully/goon 2, Taro, and finally Chozen who becomes Daniel’s primary nemesis in the movie when he exposes his fruit-weighing ruse, thereby bringing his honour into disrepute. Not that he needs much encouragement. Chozen is a lowlife trouble-magnet from day one.

“The characters are not quite as big as they could be, but they are so well animated that this can easily be ignored. The backgrounds too are immaculately drawn, with amazing attention to detail.”

Commodore User (September 1987)

Several critical reviews I read noted that the sprites seem to be more diminutive than those seen on the box, and retro gamers too tend to complain that they’re very small. Possibly Atari ST or early prototype screenshots were printed on the back of the box and the sprites were modified between versions.

Animation is impressively fluid and convincing, especially the roundhouse kick that uses more frames than strictly necessary because Pete Lyon cared about the finished product. Similarly, Daniel scratches his head in disoriented confusion before getting back up after a fall. Speaking of which, there are two separate animations to depict this toppling over mechanic. One where we fall directly backwards facing our opponent and another in which we fall away from the player looking into the screen. It’s a neat touch, appreciated all the more because this nuance doesn’t actually change anything. Aesthetics and attention to detail make all the difference in these seemingly primitive, early titles.

“At first glance the game seems playable, and slightly addictive. But once you’ve had 19 or 20 rounds, it begins to show its flaws.”

C&VG issue 72 (October 1987)

Sound effects are meaty and believable as you’d expect seeing as they were digitised from the movie. Just a simple selection of short grunts and groans, though they do the trick. If they begin to grate your nerves three hundred ‘hi-yas’ or ‘uhhs’ later you can turn the volume off – there’s no music in-game so you won’t be missing anything significant.

“While fighting you are treated to some nice sampled effects, and you really know when you’ve hit your opponent in a soft spot. With all this digitised screaming it beats the hell out of me why Microdeal made the music so terrible. Yep. I am telling you that the music on an Amiga game is awful! The Glory of Love? More like The Glory of Earmuffs!”

C&VG issue 72 (October 1987)

“Sampled sounds accompany each punch or hit. These are fine. One thing that did get on my nerves, however, was the music which played almost non-stop throughout the game.”

Commodore User (September 1987)

Over the title screen (not throughout in my experience) we hear a warbley rendition of Peter Cetera’s Glory of Love, which is just about recognisable. Playing it via a MIDI synthesiser as recommended to Atari ST users might have improved the experience. Amigans, however, didn’t have the option. Glory of Love is more relevant than you might think – it’s a tune adapted from the movie’s soundtrack. Make sure you check out the official music video on YouTube… it’s, erm, very ’80s. It was originally intended for this to accompany Rocky IV’s closing credits, but Sly Stallone decided against it, preferring to use ‘Hearts on Fire’ by John Cafferty (on multiple occasions, though most cogently to accentuate the melodramatic trepidation of the epic training montage). Keep in mind this was co-written by Joe Esposito as you read on.

I love Cetera’s real-deal Glory of Love power ballad, not so much the honky-tonk piano revision heard in the game. In fact, I like my 8-bit remix a lot more – it’s one I generated from the midi translation found online. It’s not clear who produced the midi or the game’s soundtrack as they aren’t credited in either case.

You may be interested to know that the Rocky-Karate Kid crossovers don’t end there. John G. Avildsen who directed the first three Karate Kid movies also directed Rocky and Rocky V, which would explain why Karate Kid is kind of like Rocky for kids, starring an adult pretending to be a kid.

‘You’re the Best’ sung by Joe Esposito and composed by Bill Conti was expected to feature in Rocky III, yet was turned down in favour of ‘Eye of the Tiger’ by Survivor. Bill Conti composed the soundtracks for all the Karate Kid movies and five entries in the Rocky franchise (he skipped no. 4 as he was too busy working on Karate Kid I and II).

After every two matches we get to have a dabble at one of the two bonus stages, spotlighting the latest digitised sound and graphics technology. One entails controlling Miyagi as he attempts to catch a fly with chopsticks, while the other tasks Daniel with chopping through six blocks of ice with his bare hands. Both scenes were adapted from the second Karate Kid movie.

In the former, we control Miyagi’s hand with the joystick and jab fire to snap his chopsticks together. What’s frustrating is that our range of motion is restricted to a small portion of the left-hand side of the screen, so if the fly is on the right all we can do is wait until it comes to us of its own accord. It’s a lesson in patience appropriately enough. Feel free to add the relevant mind-expanding, horizon-widening, eye-opening oriental philosophy here.

Auto-fire is your only real hope of triggering Miyagi’s chopstick clamping action at the precise moment the fly is between them so I won’t tell anyone if you choose to cheat. I’m sure our chi will rejuvenate eventually.

It’s hilarious that only his eyes follow the trajectory of the buzzing irritant while his face and body stay perfectly still. It was a gift of a scene for Pete to animate since he could get away with putting in minimal time and effort and still achieve the desired effect; the authenticity of meditative catatonia! Ish.

Daniel: Wouldn’t a fly swatter be easier?

Miyagi: Man who catch fly with chopsticks, accomplish anything.

Daniel: Did you ever catch one?

Miyagi: Not yet.

Daniel: Could I try?

Miyagi: If wish.

Daniel: Hey, Mr. Miyagi, look!

Miyagi: You, beginner luck.

Daniel: I guess that means I can accomplish anything, right? No sweat.

Miyagi: First you accomplish paint fence.

“This 60 second interlude is an opportunity to gain bonus points. If you do not catch the fly within 40 seconds it gets bored and lands on Miyagi’s nose. After five seconds Miyagi gets irritated with the fly, purses his lips and blows it off. The bonus ranges from 6000 to nil depending on how much time you take.

If you do catch the fly, Miyagi will wink at you with a sarcastic little smile on his face.”

Australian Commodore and Amiga Review (July 1987)

In Daniel’s bonus stage, we build momentum by waggling the joystick, represented by the swivelling novelty hand drum in the corner of the screen. This made an appearance in the movie too where it was used to teach Daniel a defensive twist manoeuvre, as well as the importance of focus and rhythm.

“With wild manipulation of the joystick and incredible reflexes, coupled with precise timing and a fine sense for the improbable you can gain yourself 500 hundred bonus points for every ice sheet you break.”

Australian Commodore and Amiga Review (July 1987)

Twiddling a joypad’s rocker or sweeping the mouse from side to side is far more effective than RSI-inducing joystick waggling …if you’re prepared to become a dirty rotten cheat and flush your honour down the toilet (again). Not that it makes the next bit any easier. When ready to strike we hit the fire button to begin our swing, and release it again just as Daniel’s hand makes contact with the first ice block. It’s a real pain to perfect, which I suppose is perfectly felicitous. Ouch! Again, auto-fire is your friend.

(Chozen has forced an unwilling Daniel into a three to one bet to see if Daniel can’t karate chop all six ice slabs, all in an effort to humiliate Daniel. Everyone else is going crazy over bargaining bets)

Miyagi: (entering with Kumiko and Yuki) No accept bets, not yet…

Daniel: (relieved) Oh, I’m glad to see you here.

Miyagi: Don’t worry. Miyagi takes care of everything.

(to Chozen)

Miyagi: What the odds?

Chozen: Three to one, if he doesn’t break ice.

Miyagi: How many pieces?

Chozen: (smirking) Six.

Daniel: (whispers to Miyagi) Come on, let’s get out of here.

Miyagi: (takes out a wad of dollar bills) Six hundred dollars if he chops all six.

(Everyone gasps in amazement. Daniel pales. Chozen looks surprised)

Chozen: I can’t cover that!

Sato: (entering) You are already covered.

Miyagi: Yes… Now, we have bet.

Both diversions are played only for extra points. When we fail we don’t die, which makes sense. Miyagi stood to lose $600 and risked having his Zen-like judgement brought into question if Daniel hadn’t broken all six blocks of ice in the movie. Yet no-one was placing bets on Miyagi’s chances of catching a fly.

It’s a challenge he sets only for himself – first introduced in Karate Kid I – and eventually achieved after 40 years of practice, as seen in Karate Kid II. It’s ridiculously eccentric, like the great man himself. That’s one of the many reasons he’s such a lovable nutter. Much to Miyagi’s chagrin, Daniel strikes it lucky first time, making his not-so-efficient pest control pilgrimage seem a bit redundant and trivial. Which it’s certainly not. NO SEN-SEI!

“Putting my fanaticism aside and concentrating wholly on the technical aspects of this program, I remain fanatic.

The animation would do Hollywood proud, and I hear Foot Rot Flats have bought the source code for their next movie in which Wal and Dog meet a blue clad razorback in the moonlight.

The sound effects would have you think that you live next door to Chuck Norris, and as for the backdrops, they are inspiring. Ease of play befits the standard of machine it plays on and the musical score won’t bore you.

As for what impressed me most about this game, I would have to go back to the fact that I now feel I can accomplish anything several times over as I am becoming quite proficient at catching flies. If you, like me, want to be top of your class, independent of the boss and bank manager, do yourself a favour and catch a fly with chopsticks tomorrow.

Sayanora, reader-san.”

Australian Commodore and Amiga Review (91%, July 1987)

A human vs human option adds an extra dimension to the offering to keep us amused once we’ve completed the main event. Thankfully. Otherwise with only six fights plus bonus stages available it wouldn’t be long before we stuck our copy of the game on a floating ceremonial toro and pushed it out to sea.

“My biggest criticism of the game is the unsatisfactory way in which it finishes. The one time I managed to defeat all the baddies, and even win the final conflict, I was confronted with a drum on the screen and some instructions that told me I must now learn the secret of the drum – or die. Not surprisingly I took the easy way out and died! What secret? How on earth should I know what they are talking about? Ah well, maybe I’ll just have to phone Microdeal and ask.

That criticism apart, Karate Kid is an excellent game. Apart from Starglider, it is probably the best U.K. sourced Amiga game. Although converted from the Atari ST, Microdeal have had the good sense not to rest on their laurels in the conversion, but to use the added graphics on the Amiga, and to add six more action screens, which drastically improve the game’s lastability. Exciting business reviewing Amiga games these days.”

Commodore User (80%, September 1987)

In two-player mode, whoever is the first to win three bouts is declared the winner, with bonus stages played in turn. Note that it’s not possible to engage in the final level should you choose this path.

What you come to realise if you play a two-player game on your lonesome for the sake of practising the moves is that it’s still quite tricky to land blows accurately and reliably. Hit detection is pretty awful – you can be standing right next to an opponent, lash out with your feet or fists and still completely and embarrassingly miss entirely. If the approved distance isn’t matched perfectly, your limbs fly straight past without making them flinch. You could argue that’s by design to make it tougher, though it is quite a buggy game, so who knows?

“The game is also not without the odd bug or two, and I found it quite amusing when with one kick I sent my opponent whizzing across the screen into the wall, where he disappeared only to re-emerge right behind me.”

C&VG issue 72 (October 1987)

Converting joystick instructions to the action on screen is cumbersome and unresponsive, sometimes ignoring them altogether, unfairly leading to defeat. It’s all very 8-bit in that regard; this was particularly a problem that plagued most Spectrum beat ’em ups as I recall.

Had Karate Kid II been a budget title it would have been a less bitter pill to swallow. At £25 it could be considered a bit of a swizz once the novelty of seeing charmingly pixelised interpretations of the key movie scenes had worn off.

Then you also have to keep in mind that this was 1987 and Karate Kid II was one of the earliest games of its kind to land a blow on the Amiga platform. A year in fact before IK+ re-chop-sueyed the rules concerning what constitutes a fun competitive beat ’em up.

Street Fighter 1 also sprang onto the dojo mat in 1988 and that was abysmal despite being based on a solid arcade coin-op.

 

We had to wait until 1993 until the serious contenders joined the tournament, and even Body Blows…

…and Mortal Kombat aren’t held in high esteem by console gamers who were spoilt for choice (and multiple buttons).

As frustrating as the controls and single life system are, there’s some satisfaction to be had from channelling and hero-worshipping Daniel-san, kicking into touch the starring bully and his cohorts we loved to hate upon first watching the movie. It harks back to the days before fighting games became overly complicated, stomach-churningly gory, and demanded a 27 button joypad and octopus assistant to play.

There’s a certain indecipherable charm to Karate Kid II that shouldn’t be written off merely because times have moved on, and today’s kids would rather wait with bated breath for the first Cobra Kai video game to emerge. No doubt just as Miyagi was side-lined in our Amiga game, Daniel too will now be left on the shelf to make way for the new breed… Miguel Diaz, Robby Keene and Samantha LaRusso.

As for the movie of the same name and the sequels that followed, I think they exist to remind us what a perfectly constructed, touching, classic, standalone package the seminal movie is. When screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen put pen to paper he had no idea Karate Kid would spawn an entire franchise. In that regard everything that emerged beyond Daniel’s crowning retribution can be considered superfluous and so was bound to deliver diminishing returns. Nevertheless, Karate Kid II is a poignant, momentous odyssey into Miyagi’s intriguing heritage (with unintended light relief provided by Sato’s overwrought acting), and Karate Kid III – if watched as a hyperbolic, schizophrenic cartoon – is just about bearable.

The man who started it all. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu!

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