Karateka has been criticised for its length and its unusual combat mechanics, but creator Jordan mechner has defended both saying they’re kind of the point of it all.
In an interview with TouchArcade, Mechner said the game’s compactness was inspired by the 1984 original.
“The original Karateka was a game where you could experience a story from beginning to end in a single play session,” he said.
“I really wanted to try to create a game for the iPhone that, if you had half an hour or 40 mins, you could play through a story – get to the tragic ending or happy ending – and that’s a complete experience. And yet, even after you’ve finished the story and rescued Mariko, you might still want to pick it up later that day and just play it again to try and reach a happier ending.”
As for the rhythm fighting mechanic, which can feel a bit mashy in the beginning, Mechner said that – along with multiple endings – was one of the key design principles.
“It’s a relatively untried game mechanic. But I was looking for a way to update the combat in a way that would create a cinematic feeling, and also that sort of feeling of back and forth that we also had with the Apple II game – so that it wouldn’t just be a button masher,” he said.
“I didn’t want it to be the kind of game where you have to learn complicated button combinations or keep track of a lot of things. I wanted it to be really simple, so that you just pick it up and immediately understand what you have to do and just start having fun.”
The rhythmic battle system allows for camera angle and music changes in line with combat, but it’s not immediately obvious how it differs from button mashers right from the start.
“It is different. We knew we were taking a risk by using a mechanic that was new, but hopefully it achieves, in a different way, some of the same things that the original game did on the Apple II,” Mechner added.
It’s worth noting as well that Mechner pointed out that “later enemies can get quite sophisticated in their attack pattern” – something you won’t see if you throw the game down in disgust after the first few battles.
Karateka is available on iOS, PC, playStation 3 and Xbox 360, with a Wii U version in the works; perhaps Mechner’s observations will change how you feel about the HD remake on a second run through.