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Old 07-05-2010, 12:10 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Spectrum Analyzer: International Karate Plus

From the Atari 2600 to the NES to the Sega Genesis, you thought you've experienced everything there is to know about retro. Don't get too cocky though, Americans! There's a whole other chapter of classic gaming you've likely missed. Pack your bags... 1UP is taking an extended trip to England to discover:

You know, I’m a little worried about posting a review of a game on the British ZX Spectrum this close to the fourth of July. Why, even the mere mention of America’s Independence Day has been known to make the average Englishman explode into tiny chunks! Either that or just leave him with the taste of sour grapes weighing heavily on his tongue. Although I don’t remember his exact words, British actor Patrick Stewart’s reaction to the holiday in an interview with David Letterman could have been summed up as “Eh, we didn’t want your stupid colony that badly anyway, ‘ya lousy bums.”

So let’s skip right past a certain date (ahem) and get right to the game review. This week, it’s International Karate Plus, or just IK+ for short. This is a refreshing change of pace from the status quo of Spectrum games, dispensing with the usual exploration and isometric viewpoints in favor of some good old-fashioned, arcade-quality martial arts action. It’s very similar to Data East’s Karate Champ (fun fact: that game was actually developed by Technos, the guys who gave us River City Ransom several years later!), but takes it to the next level with three, count ‘em, three fighters all battling at once. This three-for-all free-for-all makes the action more frantic than the slow and clumsy Karate Champ. Also, the controls feel a bit more responsive than the arcade game that inspired it, thanks in part to a sweet backflip that puts you at a safe distance from your rivals. (Don’t count on THAT lasting long, though!)

IK+ is over twenty years old at this point, so it’s not going to give Super Street Fighter IV any cause for concern. However, back in 1987, this was a top-class tournament fighter, rivaled only by its mortal enemy The Way of the Exploding Fist. The graphics are spectacular, especially when you consider the constraints of the Spectrum hardware. Each punch and kick flows like water, and the shimmering ocean in the distance is a sight to behold. There’s also a soundtrack courtesy of legendary video game composer Rob Hubbard (no, not the guy who started that religion), and although the faux-Chinese theme is a bit clichéd, it’s a good fit for a fighting game set in the Far East. I mean, what else are you going to listen to while trading fists and feet on the shore of a Japanese island, Barry Manilow?

There are only two issues with IK+. The first is that it’s designed for a single button joystick, so weird button and joystick combinations are necessary to trigger each of your fighter’s dozen attacks. Turning around is also a problem… you can’t just press left and right to turn in those directions, so if you happen to find yourself behind one of your opponents, you’ll need some fancy stickwork to face him before he plants a foot in your back. Also, the ball deflecting mini-game sandwiched between fights, while enjoyable enough on its own, isn’t nearly as exciting as punching out a charging bull in Karate Champ. Look out, it’s an inflatable beach toy!

Minor gripes aside, International Karate Plus is a game that transcends both its age and the limitations of the hardware playing it. If it gives you any idea, I’ve had more fun playing IK+ on the wimpy, wimpy, wimpy Spectrum than Samurai Shodown Sen on the hefty, hefty, hefty Xbox 360, and that’s quite an achievement. Well, I don’t think you’ll literally get an achievement for playing IK+ instead of Samurai Shodown Sen, but you should. The game’s available on a number of formats, including the GameBoy Advance (shown here), so even if you don't have a Spectrum, don't let that stop you from giving it a try!
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