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The Karate Kid (NES) Retro Review

Karate Kid Box art
The Karate Kid has nice box art… that’s about it.

The Karate Kid. My goodness, where do I begin. I guess let’s start off with the adventures of a young New Jersey born teenager who has a tough time acclimating to his new Southern California setting. Our protagonist, Daniel tries to make the most of it and meets a pretty girl at school and the movie quickly establishes our love interest for the remainder of the film. Just as Daniel is beginning to feel good about Cali, he becomes the target of a group of bullies who study karate at the local dojo, Cobra Kai, run by a Sensei (a Special Forces Vietnam vet) who believes in no mercy for the weak. Daniel ends up falling under the tutelage of his condos’ Super, Mr. Miyagi, and learns the ways of Karate (though the famed Crane kick we all know and love is not actually a Karate technique.) Long story short, Daniel-San joins a competition that pits him against local martial artists and the Cobra Kai clan, he fights his ways up the ranks doing very well until the Cobra Kai students fight dirty during their matches against him, Daniel-San gets hurt, but pulls through at the end with the respect of Cobra Kai bully leader, Johnny, finally backing down. Karate Kid is an underdog story in the likes of Rocky and makes you feel great at the end. Daniel-San, he got the trophy, the girl and the respect.

The Karate Kid video game, though? Well, it makes you feel like you lost the trophy, never knew the girl and you have none of the respect because you suck. You just suck. It’s a shame to be you.

Lets begin at the beginning. I put the game on and had no clue what to expect; I was flying blind and had no previous knowledge of the game at all. I made sure not to Google anything so as not to spoil the experience. The game begins, at what I presume is the end of the first movie, which is at the All Valley Karate Championship.

Competition Screenshot
The non-karate crane kick for the win!!!

You go through a few matches against random enemies who don’t seem to have any affiliation or names for that matter. No one was even wearing black and yellow to denote the Cobra Kai fighters, so I presume you’re just fighting some random guys with different colored gi’s (grey guy, yellow guy, blue guy (who eerily looks like yellow guy), then black guy.) Once you complete this portion of the game you become the champion (though the game never says so) and you mysteriously end up in Okinawa for stage 2 (Presumably, this is where the game moves to Karate Kid, part 2.) Here, Karate Kid becomes a side scroller where you are tasked to go through the next few stages fighting unnamed opponents (who all shopped at the same martial arts store and decided red is the color to wear) as well as having bonus rounds where you catch flies with chopsticks, break ice, and dodge a pendulum swinging log. Stage 2 ends with you fighting a boss by the name of “Enemy” which is fairly straight forward, granted that you have survived the punishing second stage with non-stop enemies and very unforgiving hit taking mechanics.

Catch as many flies as you can. I thought only one was a big deal???
Catch as many flies as you can. I thought only one was a big deal???

Stage 3 takes you through a punishingly difficult “Typhoon” stage which I believe is the end of Karate Kid 2 and you fight another boss by the name of “Enemy” and save… some girl that is at the top of a pole with a bell. I have no clue who she is, but the game doesn’t seem to know either as they don’t mention it. What makes this level so PAINFULLY annoying to go through are the random branches, pieces of garbage and birds that get in the way of your jumping. You have to navigate through these random obstacles while also fighting off random hordes of red gi wearing baddies. Not to mention that open gaps in the level that mean your death are plentiful in this area. One punch from one of the bad guys and you can be sent flying into one of the many gaps of death. I became very acquainted with these gaps. It was not fun and horrendously torturous to go through, over and over again. Especially when you only have 3 lives to play with. If you haven’t seen Karate Kid part 2, you are guaranteed to be lost at this point as the game gives no details on what is exactly happening in terms of story as well.

The baddies in red
Hey, look! More bad guys in red gi’s!

Stage 4 in Karate Kid has you go through a costume change as you arrive at what seems like a desert location. The bad guys have even gotten a costume change and now hold spears. Brace yourself while the frustration level increases here as bad guys are a plenty here as well as tumbling rocks that roll through the level. It’s just a royal pain. At this point, the fun has been long gone and patience is all that is tested this far into the game. You eventually make it to the end if you decided to bear this much of the game and you fight a final boss to rescue, who I presume is, the same girl you saved from the pole with the bell just a stage ago. Not sure how she was kidnapped, but she was and you had to save her. Again, you would never have known this from the game, unless a costume change means “I’m saving someone now.” Who knows?

Karate Kid
How did she even end up getting kidnapped? I JUST saved her!

Overall, The Karate Kid is shallow, has no story unless you happened to have seen all the movies and can piece together what the game is trying to convey and is absolutely unforgiving. Now, granted, this is a product of it’s time. During this time, game mechanics were all patterns and this game was just a way to make some money on a franchise that was two movies in at the time. This was basically “Kung Fu” but less fun and way more annoying. Losing a life is insanely easy and you will be restarting this game several times over while you figure out it’s wonky mechanics and then it’s ridiculously easy work around to beat everything (just run past it all and punch or crane kick the few guys that get in your way.) But after I spent over an hour figuring it all out and finally passing the stages with some ease, I am greeted with the screen that plagued most video games of it’s time. The insanely bland “you beat the game” message.

Karate Kid Ending
I nearly died when I saw this.

Are you kidding me?! That’s it?! That’s all I get for this time I just poured into figuring out how to do the darn crane kick whenever I needed to? That’s right. This is what you see at the end of the game letting you know that dodging those twigs and birds in that typhoon and saving that girl (twice, for crying out loud) from the evil clutches of “Enemy” have made you a Martial Arts Master. Ugh… good grief. This game gets a big ole’ pass from Napalm! If you want martial arts action, play Kung Fu. Karate Kid just doesn’t hold up.

Watch the movie instead

Gameplay - 30%
Replay Value - 10%
Connection to Subject Material - 50%


Unforgiving gameplay and shoddy play mechanics make this game a surefire miss. If you want to kick some butt with your bare hands, I suggest playing through Kung Fu instead. The Karate Kid is a PASS.

User Rating: 2.63 ( 2 votes)

About Robb M.

I am an avid gamer and have been since a wee cub. I cut my teeth on fighting androids in the year 20XX (Mega Man), stomping on Goomba's (Mario Bros.) and taking a punch to the face (Street Fighter II Turbo). I still play to this day and am a MAJOR adventure gamer. Single player games are my bread and butter; this is where I spend most of my time, though I have been known to pour a ridiculous amount of hours on Destiny. Damn you, Bungie!!! I love all games from pixelated to Unreal Engine smoothness.

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