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I guess I just like liking things

Arcade cabinet for Karate Champ

A block away from where I would wait for my mom to pick me up after school was a gas station that usually had 3-4 arcade games in the dimly-lit back. I wasn’t allowed to go to full-on arcades when I was a kid, it was at this gas station that I discovered greats like Tutankham, Gyruss, and one of my all-time favorite games: Karate Champ. While there were plenty of games from that era that I enjoyed, Karate Champ was one I was actually good at.

As you can see from the picture, each player had two joysticks, one for movement and one for moves. The combination of a direction on each would result in different moves, some of which I still remember, and I haven’t seen an arcade stand-up of this game in twenty years.  Up on the left stick combined with forward on the right stick was a jumping front kick, a devastating move if it landed. Back on the left stick was block, down was crouch.

The goal was to win two points before your opponent, whether he was computer- or player-controlled. A grouchy-looking sort-of-Asian judge would award points based on landed hits, either a half or a full point.  The game had a couple of words of digitized speech, and the judge always sounded a little disappointed in you if you only scored a half point.  His “half point” might as well have been “Maybe if you were better, I could give you a full point,” and if it were a text from him today, it would be followed by a :(.

Each match took place in a different setting, and in-between matches there were tests of skill – breaking boards, evading objects, and hitting a bull. I never ever, ever once hit that bull. I could never figure out the timing on it. Stupid goofy-looking bull. I hate you to this day.

Once I got my Commodore 64 and Data East released a home version of this game, I bought it as soon as I was able. Sure, it was an okay port, but it just wasn’t the same without those two joysticks.  One stick and a button was no replacement.  To this day I wonder why no other arcade game utilized the two-stick control method, because I’m sure it could’ve been expanded upon greatly with the ideas of half-circles and whatnot that Street Fighter gave us. My guess is that the setup was too expensive.

I have this game to thank for my love of fighting games over the years, even though I was never again as good at any of them as I was at this one.  I am also sure that this game played a part in my interest in the martial arts from a young age, though it probably wasn’t the first thing that piqued my interest – I have dim recollections of badly-dubbed kung fu flicks from way back that are probably more to blame.

I leave you with a few minutes of gameplay from Karate Champ, a game I would love to own some day.  It’s getting harder and harder (and more expensive) to find working copies of it, but I’m still holding on to the dream.

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