The name Jordan Mechner should be pretty familiar with gamers. A few years back, he teamed up with Ubisoft to create a thrilling new version of his PC classic Prince of Persia with The Sands of Time, which he also worked with Disney on turning into a big-screen movie. But little do some people realize that's not really where he got his start…
Nope, his first game was a release back in the 80's for the Apple II. (And yes, Apple existed back in the 80's, well before their iPads and iMacs.) That release was Karateka, an adventure game where you play a lone kung fu warrior, fighting his way through a group of increasingly strengthened enemies in the hopes of rescuing a beautiful princess. The game was slower than most action games, but required a great deal of strategy, as you had to figure out what punches and kicks to use against these enemies, lest you wind up a beaten, bloody pulp on the floor. (This was especially true with later bosses in the game, who almost seem to anticipate your every move.)
Now, after seeing how well Prince of Persia has fared following his return, Mechner has teamed up with the development team at Liquid Entertainment to bring back Karateka, this time as a reimagined action game that's set for release this November on Xbox Live Arcade, with releases on PlayStation Network and Steam to follow, and possibly even mobile. (Those release dates aren't confirmed just yet, but we should know soon.)
The storyline is about the same as the original. An evil warlord, being nasty just for the sake of presenting a classic villain, has kidnapped a beautiful princess, and as a kung fu master, you set off for his fortress, where a group of his finest warriors await you in battle. Like the original game, you'll need to time your moves just right, while avoiding incoming strikes that could chip away at your energy, until you have nothing left.
While it's easy to see where the inspiration behind the original Karateka is present in the game's first screenshots, it also draws comparison from another recent series – Chair Entertainment's Infinity Blade. Like that game, you'll need to watch out for incoming strikes by blocking or getting out of the way, then figuring out a key counter-strike that will harm your opponent. We haven't seen the game in action yet, but with Mechner on the development team, it's likely to have a similar pacing, relying more on slow, steady combat, rather than break-neck tactics like you'd find in, say, a Jackie Chan film.
While the gameplay is looking to be about the same, Karateka boasts a thrilling new art style, bringing the game to life in 3D and introducing a number of interestingly designed warriors, each with their own persona and battle style. You can credit artist Jeff Matsuda for this – he recently worked on character design for animated shows such as The Batman and Jackie Chan Adventures. He, along with Liquid Entertainment, are breathing new life into the classic, complete with beautiful backdrops inspired by kung fu classics. You can probably expect some gorgeous animations as well, including some great finishing moves to send your opponent reeling.
Along with graphic touch-ups, Mechner has also enlisted Grammy Award-winning composer Christopher Tin to handle the game's soundtrack. Just as he did for Civilization 4, he'll inject Karateka with the kind of atmospheric music that'll get you in a brawling mood. (And no, "Kung Fu Fighting" will NOT be considered – the team isn't trying to reach out on that cheesy level.)
Though the screenshots we've snagged do tell quite a bit about what Mechner and his team are looking to do for the game, there are still some unanswered questions in regards to what we should expect. First off, will we be able to play as different types of warriors in the game? As you can see, one screenshot features a skinny, nimble guy, while another has a fierce, sumo-sized dude handing out beatdowns. Also, will the game have multiplayer? It'd be interesting to take on a friend either locally or through Xbox Live, seeing if they've got what it takes to be king (or queen) of kung fu.
Despite these questions, Karateka looks like it's coming along well thus far. True, it may have more in common with modern fighting games rather than the 80's original (which, by the way, we're hoping is included as an Easter Egg – it is Mechner's baby, after all), but it also appears to be a lot of fun, especially if you can mix up offensive and defensive techniques fluidly.
We'll find out how Karateka fares when it opens up for battle this November.