Games for the weekend: Karateka

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Games for the Weekend is a weekly feature aimed at helping you avoid doing something constructive with your downtime. Each Friday we’ll be recommending a game for Mac, iPhone or iPad that we think is awesome. Here is one cool enough to keep you busy during this weekend.

KaratekaKarateka ($0.99 Universal) is a remake of a classic side-scrolling fighting game redone in 3D. Taken from the classic Apple II(s AAPL) arcade title of the same name, Karateka retells the story of a karate hero trying to save a beautiful princess from an evil warlord and his equally evil pet hawk.

Gameplay is unique for touch-based iOS fighting games. Through the combination of visual cues represented as a sort of morse code across the top of the screen, combined with an audible cue represented by the plucking of the strings on a koto (a Japanese stringed instrument) you mount a defense against each of your opponents. For that reason, Karateka is best played listening to the in-game sound track in order to get the timing down just right. When you hear a distinctive plucking of the koto, you know that your opponent is about to attack. It is then that you mount your defense by tapping on the screen to block each of your opponent’s blows.

As you move closer to the warlord’s palace, the fighting style of each warrior gets more complex. Each opponent has a different attack signature that needs to be learned. It is important that you match the same style and pattern of your opponent’s attack. Tap the screen too quickly or too slowly, and you will certainly get hit.

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Blocking is important not only because it prevents you from getting hit and losing health, but it also provides you an opportunity to attack. Once you successfully block an attack, you have a chance to fight back by aggressively tapping on the screen until you are blocked and control passes back to your opponent. The variations in blocking patterns with each opponent you face forces you to play close attention to every battle. Once you defeat your opponent, you progress along an uphill path toward the warlord Akuma’s palace and the final boss battle to free the princess.

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There are two power-ups you can earn along the way that help keep you alive. The first comes with successfully blocking your opponent’s attacks. With each successful block you earn chi. Once you earn enough chi you can mount a special attack against your opponent and deliver a blow without having to block your opponents attack. The second is by collecting flowers that represent the princess’s cry for help. Each flower will restore health points you lost in prior battles.

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Unlike other games you may have played, you only get one life in Karateka. Just because you die, the story does not end, and there is still a chance to save the princess. There are two other heroes, a Monk and a Brute, that are also trying to save the princess. Each is ready to take over the fight right where you left off when you died. The Monk has a little more stamina, and the Brute is just about indestructible. Along your journey there are cut scenes that tell the story of how each hero is familiar with the princess. Their fighting styles vary.

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The only way to successfully complete the game and have the princess rescued by her true love is to make it all the way through the game without dying once. And that is the real challenge of the game. As you strive to complete the game and free the princess with her true love, the game turns into more of a memory/learning game where you start to memorize each of the more complex attack patterns inherent in each boss battle. Getting through the final boss battle at the end, when you face off against the evil warlord Akuma, will certainly keep you busy for a while this coming weekend.

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