- Vintage: 1988
- Developer: Archer Maclean
- Publisher: System 3
- Genre: Beat ’em up
The International Karate series is System 3’s answer to fighting classics such as Data East’s Karate Champ and Melbourne House’s The Way Of The Exploding Fist. They are in fact so similar that Data East initially won a lawsuit to stop Melbourne House and System 3 releasing their take on combat simulation. Luckily for us, however, the judge eventually saw sense and an appeal was successful, allowing Archer MacLean to go on and make one of the finest sequels ever made.
A complete re-write of the original, IK+ offered something truly unique at the time: A third fighter! This extra dimension means that you can no longer take a moment’s breather to size up your opponent, converting the chess-like duels of Way Of The Exploding Fist into something more akin to an incredibly skillful and choreographed bar brawl. (Without the flying stools)
Each push of the joystick corresponds to a specific move, and when you push the fire button, new moves become available making 16 in total. Each of the 12 offensive moves has an effective range and judging instinctively which move to use in any given circumstance is the key to mastering the game. The collision detection is perfect, and this, when combined with speed and fluidity make the game joy to play, pushing you on towards the formidable challenge of your opponents in later rounds.
As you start to learn the ideal distances for punching your foes in the goolies or kicking both of your antagonists square in the face at the same time, it really does seem like an art-form. Moves begin to flow from your joystick and you can see all the heavenly glory without concentrating on the finger. Play thi sgame for a prolonged period and see what I mean. It’s almost like a trance. You enter the zone and become untouchable. Unfortunately, it only lasts a round or two before Blue puts you on your arse again and brings you down to earth.
The bouts are decided with a simple points system. A good, clean, honourable hit is rewarded by two points, while a sneaky back-stab is worth one. The player who gets six points first is the winner. If you finish last, you are kicked out of the tournament. After each round, your master shows up to let you know how you performed. As you gain points, you progress through the belts and your opponents go from Chuck Norris to Dan Inosanto.
Every three rounds the action is punctuated by a bonus round, of which there are two types. The ball deflection round has off-screen goons lobbing cannonballs and severed heads at you which you must deflect with an iron shield. The bomb round sees you placed in the middle of an arena littered with bombs which are to be booted of the screen before they explode. Make contact with either an explosion or the resulting shrapnel and it’s bonus round over. Survive either of these ordeals for a meaty points bonus.
With a funky and suitably oriental theme tune from Rob Hubbard (converted for the ST by Dave Lowe) and some crunching impact noises and screams sampled from Enter The Dragon, the programmers really have produced the goods with this soundtrack. Not only does it sound great, it really adds to the gameplay. The effects give each successful hit a really substantial feel and you’ll wince if you get finished off with a flying kick.
Three solid, extremely well animated sprites move smoothly over a well drawn Japanese rising-sun horizon. As ever, the important thing here is attention to detail. At first it just looks like a single static screen, but look closer, water ripples deflect the sunrise, leaves slowly fall to the ground, shadows slant away from the sun, fish jump out of the water, birds fly past, worms crawl by as spiders spin their webs, it’s a cacophony of deft touches that bring the whole screen to life. The intro screens are very funky too, with silhouettes playing out the action your about to take part in. Best of all, though is the care taken in rendering the fighters expressions as they fight, or lose their trousers. (Press ‘T’)
Very few fighters can boast the fluidity and ‘natural’ almost instinctive feel of IK+. Virtua Fighter and Soul Caliber have it, Dead or Alive was oh-so close, but IK+ embodies what beat-em-ups should be all about; great accessible controls, fast action, a touch of humour, tireless multiplayer and a heady challenge. If you haven’t played this then do so right away, but if you have, join me at the altar of MacLean. Ommmmmm…
Review written by: StickHead