The emergence of karateka is Digital Eclipse’s first title in its Gold Master Series, a series of interactive video game documentaries. Much of the format is similar to the studio’s Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration title released last year. While this game offered a comprehensive overview of a publisher’s legacy, The Making of Karateka delves deeper into a more unique focus. The result is a unique interactive documentary that is as innovative as the game it covers.

Released for the Apple II computer in 1984, Karateka was a landmark game. 20-year-old designer Jordan Mechner drew inspiration from Akira Kurosawa films and Disney animation for one of the most cinematic games of its time. Sure, the combat is a bit simplistic by today’s standards and the storyline is rather flimsy (you rescue a princess). Still, it’s a remarkable game for the time – one that changed gaming forever.

As the documentary reveals, karateka wasn’t Mechner’s first attempt at playing a game. He had previously attempted to create an Asteroids clone, which was eventually named Deathbounce. It’s fascinating to learn about Mechner’s early failures. We can see every document received, from publisher feedback to excerpts from his college journal. It’s a fascinating piece of history that shows that rejection forced him to innovate instead of chasing after the arcade trends of others.

The Making of Karateka features an interactive timeline that allows players to watch video interviews and featurettes, view historical documents, and even play prototypes and full versions of the games mentioned.

The real star of the video segments is Mechner’s father, Francis, a research psychologist and concert pianist who composed the soundtrack for Karateka and Prince of Persia. It’s a famous fact that Mechner rotoscoped footage of his younger brother in 1989’s Prince of Persia. But the documentary really shows what a family effort karateka was and how much support and understanding Mechner received from his parents. It shows that brilliant talents often still need to be encouraged and supported in order to reach their full potential.

Gaming industry legends help provide historical context. (Photo credit: Digital Eclipse)

The documentary does an excellent job of showing how quickly early PC gaming evolved during this period. Mechner, then a Yale student, was concerned about publishing karateka in time for it to have the impact he had hoped for. With so much innovation, something that looked promising can quickly become obsolete. Thankfully, “Karateka” was able to find the audience it deserved, allowing Mechner to create his magnum opus a few years later with “Prince of Persia” – which later also earned the Gold Master Series treatment.

Three versions of Karateka are included – the original Apple II, as well as the Commodore 64 and Atari 8-bit ports. They’re all fascinating time capsules that are still fun to play today, and Mechner even commented on the Apple release in a playthrough with his father. Even more interesting are the prototypes because as you can see they were repeated and how Brøderbund publishers helped make them the classic they are considered today.

However, the coolest addition to this collection is Karateka Remastered, a reimagined version of the original game that incorporates ideas Mechner discarded due to time and technical constraints. It’s a much more modern version of the game – you can even treat yourself to extra lives to make it less brutal – and even includes a scrawny leopard boss fight that proves to be an interesting puzzle. This is a great way to show how ahead of Mechner was with his design, as nearly 40 years later the AI ​​still proves challenging and rewarding to defeat. Unfortunately, there are occasional bugs in the remastered version (including one that forced me to reboot after an enemy disappeared from the screen), but it’s a minor issue that doesn’t detract from the really cool extra.

The special thing about “The Making of Karateka” is that everything is put into the right context. Simply playing the ports or even the original game isn’t nearly as impressive without having the proper historical context of where gaming was at the time. That’s what makes this release so special, as it captures the early years of Mechner’s incredible career in incredible detail and appropriately frames it.

It’s packed with fascinating historical documents, such as fan mail from Doom designer John Romero. I was very impressed with the level of care. I just wish the game had a longer ending section, since Prince of Persia and the rest of Mechner’s professional endeavors are only briefly mentioned. Still, I understand that the focus is primarily on karateka.

(Photo credit: Digital Eclipse)

The Making of Karateka Review: The Final Verdict

“The Making of Karateka” is not only a significant advance in the preservation and history of the game. This is a testament to what makes video games such an intriguing and exciting medium. When you learn all the work that goes into it, it’s all the more meaningful. This is especially true when the finished product comes after several prototypes and dozens of design documents.

Add to that the fact that Karateka has stood the test of time – and that the remastered version is a smash – and you have the perfect game to boost Digital Eclipse’s Gold Master Series.

SCORE: 9.5/10

As explained in ComingSoon’s Rating Guidelines, a rating of 9.5 equates to Excellent. Entertainment that reaches this level is top notch. The gold standard that every creator wants to achieve.

Disclosure: The publisher provided a PlayStation 5 copy for our The Making of Karateka review. Checked for version 1,000,000.

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