Retro Coin Op Synopsis
“Stop! Judge… Red.”
Would-be karate kids got a chance to strut their stuff in 1984. Data East’s Karate Champ was a pioneering side-view fighter that pitted two color-coded opponents (White and Red) against each other in a tournament-style karate match.
Karate Champ began its life as a one-player contest versus a computer opponent. White and Red squared off in a martial arts dojo under the watchful eye of a tournament judge. With a dual joystick control, players moved White in for the attack, letting loose one of the game’s many karate moves—kicks, punches, sweeps, flying kicks, roundhouses, flips, etc.
The two duelists battled back and forth until a blow connected. Any hit worth 100-500 points gave the scoring player a “half point” in the match. Hits worth 600-1000 points earned a “full point,” and two full points won a match.
If your player won two matches out of three, the round was over, and White moved on to face his next opponent. And so on you went, roundhousing and leg-sweeping your way through round after round, hoping to move on to the championship.
As a one-player game, Karate Champ may have been fun, but as later games like Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat proved, there’s nothing like going one-on-one with another live human. Soon after the game’s initial release, Karate Champ was redesigned as a two-player game, setting the stage for every side-view fighter that would follow.
The revamped Karate Champ also sported a few changes in graphics and motivation. Instead of duking it out in a dojo, the karatekas now challenged each other through twelve different scenarios—an alley, a dock, a log bridge, even a cruise ship. And each round was now being fought for the love of a beautiful woman, who was dearly hoping she’d be able to call you, “My Hero!”
The gameplay remained the same in the “vs.” version, and the solemn-looking judge still called every match. Another carryover from the original game were the many bonus rounds, played between opponents. Whether ducking thrown objects, breaking boards or taking on a charging bull, there was plenty to keep even the karate master busy.
Despite the industry slump that was going on all around it, Karate Champ was a tremendous hit for Data East. A few similar games popped up in the years that followed, but the explosion of side-view fighting games would have to wait until the Street Fighter II phenomenon hit in the early 1990’s.
Arcade Machine Release History1984 - Karate Champ
1984 - Karate Champ Player Vs. Player