|You are a Champion of Karate: Karate Champ|
posted by B on 4/18/01
“Stop! Judge… White.”
In the mid-80's, these three words caused a young boy to dance around the local Express Mart screaming out narcissistic, almost epic poems of joy. Today, it sounds like I was achieving an immoral victory in a Los Angeles court room. But in 1984 the landscape was one of racial indifference for me, and a lonely game in the back of a southern Virginia convenience store was defining my life. The game was called "Karate Champ," and each victory for "WHITE" sent my self-esteem through the stratosphere. What can I say, in the 1980's Ronald Reagan was in the White House and we sent Sally Struthers to another country. It was a great time for all of us.
My Mom would always take forever in stores like these, browsing around for her brand of cigarettes or something from Satan like a "honey bun" that would make me gain thirty pounds upon consumption. I love to read as much as the next sycophant of the media, but after twenty minutes of flipping through the wrestling magazines I would stealthily make my way over and, feet firmly planted, shoulder-width apart, beg and plead like a Chinese refugee for quarters. I once heard that a Monk set himself on fire when his Mom wouldn't give him quarters to play Karate Champ.
Karate Champ began its life as a one-player contest versus a computer opponent. Player WHITE (dressed in white) and Player RED (dressed in red) faced off in a martial arts dojo under the supervision of a tournament judge. The two "Ryu and Ken" trendsetters battled back and forth until a blow connected...any hit worth 100-500 points gave the scoring player a “half point” in the match. Sometimes you'd haul off and hit a super fire convoy back spinning magical dream kick and crush the guy's face with your big toe and the judge would scream out "half point!" This is where I learned to curse. This is also when I learned that throwing a can of Pringles at a store clerk with misdirected anger was a costly venture with your Mom present. Hits worth 600-1000 points earned a “full point,” and two full points won a match. These were better.
The controls were revolutionary as well. Instead of the standard "joystick and buttons" combination still around with today's arcade games, there were a pair of sticks...each direction (and combination of directions) would produce a different karate move. There was an intricate system based on thousands of years of martial arts studies and technological innovations. Having said that, most people played the game by grabbing a stick in each hand and swinging them around in circles until they kicked the guy in the nuts.
It was really fun. If your player won two matches out of three, the round was over, and White moved on to face his next opponent. And so on you went, roundhousing and leg-sweeping your way through round after round, hoping to move on to the championship. It was a lot like high school, really, only with fewer guns.
It was a simple task...that is, until Data East shocked the world and, shortly after Karate Champ's initial release, released a SECOND version of Karate Champ, now with two player one-on-one capabilities. The shockwaves were instant and obvious...now players who'd mastered the computers intense strategy of just standing there while you kicked it had to do battle against OTHER players, who were wildly swinging the two sticks in circles trying to connect with a nut. But first, the gamers had to get friends.
My friends included the young idiots in my first grade class and the usual ne'er-do-wells who frequented the Express Mart. You know the type, the guys who would stuff honey buns or twinkies into their stonewashed jeans while the clerks weren't looking. Being six or seven as I was I OF COURSE made mincemeat out of all of them. Karate Champ taught me a lot about being a gracious winner, and even more about the wonderful world of sprinting away from angered potheads.
The revamped Karate Champ also sported a few changes in graphics and motivation, because the time honored tradition of "theme stages" were introduced. WHITE and RED could kick each other in the nuts in an alley, a dock, a log bridge, even a cruise ship. The picky ass judge was still there to call things, but a NEW and EXTREMELY SEXUAL improvement was made...now players weren't fighting to see who was the most disciplined or dedicated...there was a beautiful woman waiting to congratulate the winner. So when WHITE spun around and smashed one of RED's testicles against the back of his eyeballs the superficial bitch was there to proclaim "MY HERO!"
There were three major bonus rounds:
- Ducking thrown objects
Nothing says "pride in my heritage" like Chinese guys throwing things at you. This was the easiest and most illogical round to complete...with two joysticks there wasn't much of a "crouch" feature to just duck under the shit. So it was either break out the spinning nut kick or get hit upside the head with a vase. So THIS is what the Chinese have been doing for the past 500 years.
- Breaking Boards
This is more like it, a competition-stereotype that exists in all modern martial arts experiences. A pivotal battle between Sean Penn's fat younger brother and a Chinese guy with a mullet was decided with a board breaking competition in Best of the Best, and in modern video games no bonus round is more famous than the "test your might" segments from Mortal Kombat. Unlike Mortal Kombat, however, Karate Champ board breakers did not huff and puff like they were having heart failure before screeching and trying to break a block of diamond. They were just boards. Also unlike Mortal Kombat, Karate Champ did not have two awful movies and seventeen-hundred homersexual cartoons.
- Taking on a Charging Bull
I thought Karate Champ was the only game to throw a bull in where a bull doesn't belong for YEARS, until recently making it to the "Bullring" stage in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2. What makes more sense, a martial arts tournament fighter trying to kick a charging bull in the nuts before getting gored, or a skateboarder doing a madonna judo fakie ollie grindy no hand eggplant parmesan double rosie o kick flip off a bull's head? As technology gets better things just get more bizarre. Another thing I haven't figured out is what kind of a fucking beach are they on where kung-fu fighters fight bulls. Look at the guys in the boats, they could at least call animal control.Karate Champ in YOUR Life
Karate Champ's influence didn't stop with me. I mean, yeah, nowadays I spend my spare time trying to knock out animals at the zoo with a single blow but I'm a special case. It would take more than deviant potheads and underprivileged children in convenience stores across the country to cause the revolution that would influence Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter.
Karate Champ attained nationwide infamy with it's role in the Jean Claude Van-Damme classic "Bloodsport," a movie so good that it features Van-Damme, Ogre from "Revenge of the Nerds," and a Japanese guy that looks like the "Mouth of the South" Jimmy Hart and I STILL like it. Taking a break from snorting coke and trying to have sex with men, Van-Damme challenges Ogre to a game of Karate Champ before the big Kumite.
Of course, since he's great at martial arts in REAL life, J.C. the V.D. trashes Ogre's red player with a series of humiliating exchanges.
"Aren't you a little young to be fighting in the Kumite?"
"Aren't you a little old for video games?"
Or, more accurately, "Ahn YOU a lillah olt (long pause) for VEEdio Gay-hems?"
Van-Damme can do splits on chairs so if he liked the game EVERYBODY had to like the game. Karate Champ had entered the home of the slack-jawed yokels that went to see the Muscles from Brussels slow-motion spin-kick along the lines of homoeroticism and tough-as-nails competition. The message of "Bloodsport" was that if you believe in yourself you can accomplish anything.
Van-Damme hits a big sumo guy in the nuts and his bland blonde love interest screams "MY HERO!"
Wonder where they got that?
In the end, Karate Champ machines were sent to the eternal graveyard of Galaga-era classics. It's rare to find a game so complex and bizarre in such an unassuming package.
I have a dream about Karate Champ.
I walk into a Food Lion or a Piggly Wiggly somewhere in the Midwest...Kansas, maybe. Eventually I get tired of flipping through the wrestling magazines and there it is. A brand new one player Karate Champ game. No ho-ho-robbing cretins to hog the glory. No clerk to bitch out my Mom if I hit him in the back with a can of Pringles in disgust. Nothing but Karate Champ and I.
I spin kick the bull in the nuts and he drops into that beautiful beach's sand.
It's been too long.
I would imagine that Heaven is full of Karate Champ games. Correction...if anyone can place undying faith in the Lord above there are Karate Champ games in Heaven's convenience stores, and for the rest of my life I'll stand there, mesmerized, while Kurt Cobain and that guy from "Blind Melon" cram ding-dongs into their jeans.
Jesus is in one of those sailboats and he proclaims me his hero.
"Stop...judge. Eternal bliss."
Jesus loves me. This, I know.