Gamers love to nostalgia-wank about the good old days of gaming, back when everything was bits and women weren’t interested so it didn’t even matter that they weren’t allowed. I’m not immune to it, myself: I adore pixel art and I’ll always remember where I was when I first found out ninjas kidnapped the president. Games weren’t better then. The good ones were, and still are great — and if you have anything bad to say about Chrono Trigger I will pick up my best friend, who is a frog with a sword, and throw him at you. But there was also so much forgettable garbage that you, perhaps understandably, have forgotten about.
Let’s talk Karate Blazers.
104% of all games in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s were just reskinned arcade brawlers that the developers knew you would never beat, if only out of disinterest. They weren’t designed to be good, they were designed to bilk you out of seventy-five cents because Super Hang-On was busted. And Super Hang-On was always busted. It was the McDonald’s ice cream machine of the arcade. Here’s the secret: There’s no such thing as Super Hang-On — it’s just a demo screen and a plastic motorcycle, there to lure you into the arcade where you’ll settle for Day of the Punch or some shit.
Karate Blazers is the perfect example of that mindset. It actually starts kind of awesome, before it becomes quickly apparent that the game does not want you to play it.
Look at this amazing cast of characters in the intro screens:
Okay, not Mark. I honestly forgot about Mark, just like the casting director of Degrassi Junior High did when Mark was up for his dream role: “boy in background.” Mark is a cunning design trick: He’s a quarter-burner. Sometimes you’ll panic while hitting continue and accidentally pick Mark, and then you have to kill yourself as quickly as possible to pick someone cool again.
Hell yes, that’s better. Glen’s got a flat top, thunderous fists, total invincibility, and flat top again. You’d be an idiot to pick anybody else.
Oh. Oh, but you didn’t know about Gil! What’s justice, to a man like Gil? I didn’t have that question in my heart before, but now that’s all there’s room for. What is justice, to Gil? Is it a righteous wave that does not break early? Is it a crowded, sandy handjob in the back of a VW Bug? Is it some kind of conditioner? Gil is a question, and my quarter is the answer.
Good god, this is Sophie’s Choice. The only thing I like better than an unkillable flat top or a mysterious himbo is an idiot ninja. You can’t make me choose between these three amazing warriors and also Mark — it’s just not fair!
If Karate Blazers is skimping, it’s not on characters. It’s not story, either. In the early ‘90s, a video game was only as good as its story was short. If you needed more than two sentences of plot, you were making a Kojima game. And even Kojima only got four sentences back then. Here’s the story of Karate Blazers, in its entirety, and I promise I’m not leaving anything out:
I did not omit a single screen, I didn’t crop out any text. The story of this game is “girl has scrolls, then bad guy, then no scrolls and girl glows.”
You must stop him! Rescue her! Or wait, rescue the scrolls and avenge her? Hmm. That glow is suspicious. It could be rescue her from the power of the scrolls. Listen, all of these questions have the same answer: Uppercut.
But hold on, let’s go the wikipedia page that this game hilariously has:
Oh, so… yeah. “Girl has scrolls, then no more scrolls and girl glow.” Actually a pretty good way to convey that story, Karate Blazers.
Incidentally, Karate Blazers only has a wikipedia page because some of the characters later make a guest appearance in a better game. A fitting legacy for Karate Blazers, also known as “they moved Final Fight two spots down and I didn’t notice in time.”
Shit, I forgot the most important test. Before we go any further, we have to make sure this is a proper ‘90s brawler. Where is the racist Jamaican caricature we beat up?
Oh okay, cool. It has to have at least one Jamaican or it doesn’t count as-
A-all right. Well, it can have more than one Jamaican so long as-
Well, dang. I’m wrong about everything. This was actually the best ‘90s arcade brawler. It had the most racist Jamaicans to beat! That’s the law, I didn’t make it!
I suppose we should get started talking about the video game I’m talking about.
Here’s Mark again. Haha, you forgot about Mark already didn’t you?
I got as far as seeing Mark’s walk before I restarted the game for anyone not Mark.
He walks like you’ve only ever told him about walking, but he’s never seen it done before. That’s what an AI thinks walking is, if you only feed it photos of people fighting diarrhea. Mark, there was no test, you offered no answer, and somehow you still got it wrong.
Let’s go with Glen:
Mark, watch this shit, are you watching? This is how you fucking walk:
Glen walks like he’s practicing for tits. It’s kind of a sexy werewolf prowl. If you saw that motherfucker walking towards you like that, you’d have no idea what was about to happen to you, only that you did not properly prep your holes for it.
Here’s how Glen jumps:
In Karate Blazers your only jump is also an attack, so every time you want to jump — and you will want to jump a lot — Glen does that fucking mental air-plank thing. Every one of his fights looks like documentary footage of a salmon going up a waterfall.
Once again, I do not understand how you’re possibly going to beat what Glen is bringing to the table. But we owe Gil a shot.
Here’s Gil’s walking animation.
This is not off to a great start, Gil. We’re barely registering above Mark levels here, and Mark levels are what we use to calibrate the scale. How about that jump, buddy?
That’s almost a normal jumpkick, you beautiful idiot. Gil, unless you summon a giant neon hair scrunchie and hula-hoop across the battlefield right now, thi-
That’s Gil’s super move, and I didn’t mention Mark and Glen’s because they were nothing. I didn’t bother recording them. Mark did a jumpkick that shot out force waves, and Glen punched the ground which glowed a bit. There was simply no precedent for Gil to turn himself into the spokes of a glowing hair wheel and drive across all who oppose him.
This is it: This is what’s justice to him.
Akira, that is a tough act to follow.
Look, you’re clearly awesome. You’re both a dipshit and a ninja. You’ve got purple jeans and you’re wearing pantyhose for a shirt. Torn pantyhose. But Gil brought Magical Girl energy to a Double Dragon clone. This walk better be something else:
Akira! You walk like a crab trying not to wake up the kids. You walk like your underwear is around your ankles and you’re trying to fuck something that’s only slightly faster than you. Are you trying to guide an invisible, drunk bear toward freedom? That’s what happens on Fun Fridays when the physical therapy nurse asks patients to try the Running Man. This walk alone easily puts Akira in the lead. But let’s see that jump:
Pretty funny. It’s not “nature is telling Glen to spawn” funny, but it’s up there. That’s not a double jumpkick. That’s how modern dance communicates the joy of spring. Keep in mind this is an attack, so all of Akira’s battles…
Look like the theater kid snapped. There are six racist caricatures in this gif and one of them is wearing Prince’s laundry-day outfit. Whatever’s happening here is clearly a hate crime, but which one? Or rather, how many?
You may have already noticed that Karate Blazers has like four enemies, and its secret is putting eighty of them onscreen at the same time.
Quick, how many Andrew Dice Clays do you see here? Three? You’re wrong twice: There are six, and they’re all Joe Piscopo.
This isn’t just lazy, it breaks the whole game. When all 17 of the same guy converge in the same place, there’s no way to tell their attack animations apart. You can’t time a counter when one punch is actually ten punches, so you end up just getting mobbed by more minority hunks than a Lindsey Graham wetmare.
But the game isn’t hard. It’s just cheap. There are a lot of leather-clad dudes, but they’re only dangerous when they gang up on you, and they’re all dumb as shit. It’s like fighting an Idaho biker gang, or 4chan.
Like check out this guy, who spends an entire boss fight pee-dancing behind a box.
Here’s that boss, by the way.
He is disappointingly bland. He’s got kind of a wrestler open-mic night vibe going on – like he’s really just trying out some new material on Thursday to see what’s worth bringing into the ring on Saturday. “Eyepatch? Is it eyepatch, you think? Eyepatch and rave hair? Surely not eyepatch, rave hair and dick board. Two out of three. What do you think?”
But it’s just the first level. The bosses are the only place games like this really get to shine. They’ll ramp up as we go. They must!
Anyway, here’s our next gang: The portly weebs.
Their main and only form of attack is attempted handshake:
And when the game puts thirty of them onscreen at the same time it looks like a Limp Bizkit mosh pit.
It looks like a teenage employee trying to survive a Wal-Mart Black Friday. This is every Juggalo meetup when the girl arrives.
There’s just no elegant solution to this game’s terrible combat. Well, not mechanically elegant:
Welp, here’s the next boss:
I guess it scans that the boss of the portly weebs is just the portliest and weebiest. Dressed in a skimpy Mai Shiranui costume and so dedicated to his craft that he rolls everywhere like a fat Katamari.
Please meet your fourth enemy type: eight hundred robots.
And that’s… actually pretty cool. I really did not see robots coming into this mix. So what are they gonna do different? Laser eyes? Plasma swords? Rocket cocks, which I call Cockets? No? Nothing? Just ordinary mobbing and punching? Here, you know the words. Sing along:
You know, I’ll give you this one, Karate Blazers: The best way to defeat robots is actually through interpretive dance. They understand neither love nor art, and Akira’s battle frolic is both.
This is getting old fast. Let’s just air-sass our way through the robot level until we get to the boss, which is probably some lame scientist or something.
Holy shit, Karate Blazers, this is legitimately awesome. I never would have thought to put Wesley Snipes in charge of the robot army — in all my books, he fights the robot army. Wait, what’s that you say? There are actually two Wesley Snipes standing in the same spot? Fuck. Yes. Has somebody been reading my screenplay, Passenger 114: Always Bet on Double-Black?! But I was told it was unfilmable! That Wesley Snipes had too much dignity! That I was misunderstanding the basic tenets of both movie-making and roulette!
Surely, there’s no way to beat the Multi-Snipes.
Honestly, the rest of the levels after this were a letdown. How could they not be? It’s just like the tagline for Passenger 114 says: “Once you go double-black, you can never double-back.”
Let’s skip right ahead to the final boss of the whole game. Eyepatch Dickboard wasn’t very good, and Dinner Roll: King of the Weebs was directly terrible, but Karate Blazers gained a lot of goodwill with Blade II: II Blades. I’m pretty amped to see what form their crazy final boss will take…
It’s Eyepatch Dickboard again???
Karate Blazers truly never thought anybody would get this far. They never thought anybody would want to get this far. Who would waste sixteen dollars in quarters just to hit the prance button all afternoon?
And that’s Karate Blazers. There were five enemies sixteen thousand times, you beat the end boss at the very beginning, and from start to finish the only move that worked was a war jete. I burned a solid day romping through pixel stereotypes just to bring you this ending, which I present here in its entirety:
Again, I did not omit a screen. I did not crop out text. You and the boys are giving the casting director of Cats your best sex-yowl, and then there is girl.
Wait, also scrolls!
Nevermind, this ending works.
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