Apple II, C64, NES, Virtual Console, iOS
|Mode(s)||Up to 2 players simultaneously|
|Display||Vertical orientation, raster, standard resolution (Used: 224 x 256)|
Karate Champ, known in Japan as Karate Dō (空手道 "The Way of the Empty Hand"), is a 1984 arcade fighting game developed by Technōs Japan for Data East. Karate Champ established and popularized the one-on-one fighting genre. A variety of moves can be performed using the dual-joystick controls using a best-of-three matches format like later fighting games.
A separate arcade game that allows two players the option to compete against each other was released in 1984 under the title Karate Champ — Player vs Player (対戦空手道 美少女青春編 Taisen Karate Dō: Bishōjo Seishun Hen, "The Competitive Way of the Empty Hand: Pretty Maiden Edition"), a distinct video game featuring a multiplayer mode and more varied gameplay. It was released for the arcades shortly after the original during the same year, also published by Data East. This version would serve as the basis for the home ports of Karate Champ.
The player assumes the role of a karate competitor and fights against another player or the computer. Using two joysticks, players can execute a number of moves. Gameplay consists of a two dimensional fight between Karate characters wearing white and red gi, followed by various bonus rounds for the successful player. This pattern repeats itself in the next, more challenging round set against a new background: first level being a dojo and all the following levels taking place at the same tournament stadium.
Unlike most later fighting games, there are no health bar or hit points. A hit successfully landed ends the round and earns the player or his opponent either one point or half point (along with a numeric score for the top ten but this has no effect on winning a match per se). The first to score two points is the winner. If the player loses a battle, the game ends. The game features digitized speech for the judge to call out such phrases as "Fight!" or "Winner!". The speech is in Japanese in the original version.
Player vs Player
Karate Champ — Player vs Player is distinguished from the initial Karate Champ by the addition of a player versus player mode. It is very similar to the original in the sense that they use the same hardware, have the same sprites and title screen, and the gameplay mechanics are essentially the same although the computer AI and speech quality is greatly improved along with control and hit detection.
Player vs Player has the characters fighting it out over girls in twelve different locations around the world. A scene runs as a best out of three rounds competition for one girl. After every competition, the player has a chance to earn bonus points by evading a series of potted plants flying at the player, kicking through a series of boards and stopping a charging bull. The locations of the game are: A harbor, a garden with a view of Mount Fuji, a bamboo forest, on a tree trunk over a chasm, on the stern of a Japanese registered ship, on the side of a road or runway, Holland with windmills, a big city, a North American desert with Indian tipis, a Japanese garden, a dojo, and finally a forest path at night. Afterwards, the game returns back to the first scene.
Ports and re-releases
Karate Champ was ported to the Apple II and the Commodore 64 by Berkeley Softworks. Data East began publishing the home versions in the USA on October 12, 1985. The NES version was released in North America on December 1986. Like the home computer versions, the NES port was inspired by the Player vs. Player edition of the arcade game. The port was later released in Japan for the Disk System on July 22, 1988, but never made it to the cartridge-based Family Computer. Data East published this port of the game, both in North America and Japan.
An emulation of the arcade version was released by Hamster for the PlayStation 2 as part of its Oretachi Geasen Zoku Sono lineup. Only the original game was included (the Player vs. Player version being ignored from the compilation). The emulated version from Hamster was re-released in 2015 for the PlayStation 4 on the Arcade Archives compilation which, unlike Oretachi Geasen Zoku Sono, was officially distributed outside of Japan.
In 2010, it was released on the iPhone platform by developer Revolutionary Concepts. Although visually identical to the 1984 arcade edition of Karate Champ — Player vs Player, the iPhone version is actually a remake rather than an emulation, as it includes new features such as a difficulty mode as well as the ability for players to compete through a gaming network via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. The game was also released for the iPad under the title Karate Champ XL, again developed by Revolutionary Concepts. Karate Champ XL is basically the same game as the iPhone's Karate Champ, but with additional attributes over its phone counterpart such as a split screen option.
The arcade version and the NES port were released in 2018 by Dreamgear LLC under its "My Arcade" brand. The arcade version of Karate Champ is part of a compilation released in the shape of a mini arcade cabinet featuring 34 Data East games. The NES version was released both as a standalone mini arcade cabinet and in a handheld device that includes 300 built-in games.  In the case of the NES version, the referee's digital voice was removed and the music themes were replaced. The arcade version is unedited. Since My Arcade's releases are single-player only, the 2 player mode was removed from the NES version, and the Karate Champ — Player vs Player edition was not included in the compilation of 34 arcade games.
Reception and legacy
Karate Champ's sales had surpassed 250,000 copies by November 1989. Ahoy! opined that the Commodore 64 version "isn't quite as electrifying as the arcade version, but it's an entertaining action-strategy test". The magazine concluded that "The learning curve is steep, but ... when the joysticks are in the hands of two practiced gamers, it is one of the most exciting games to hit the computer screen in a long time."
Karate Champ influenced Konami's Yie Ar Kung Fu (1985), Beam Software's The Way of the Exploding Fist (1985), and other fighting games. Publisher Data East brought suit against Epyx alleging copyright infringement for its 1986 game World Karate Championship. The case, Data East USA, Inc. v. Epyx, Inc., went to the ninth circuit court, where it was held that the typical purchaser of the games would not find them substantially similar. John Tobias cited Karate Champ as the primary inspiration for the gameplay of Mortal Kombat (1992).
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Data East created the one-on-one fighting game genre in the 1980s with Karate Champ ...
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