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Review: The Making of Karateka

Platform reviewed: Nintendo Switch
Also available on: PC, Xbox, PlayStation
Price: $19.99

Digital Eclipse impresses me with how much history they incorporate into their games. Karateka, in particular, stands out. They demonstrate exceptional attention to detail in portraying Jordan Mechner's journey into game development. They extensively utilize video footage, and letters exchanged between Jordan and game studios, and even incorporate notes from Jordan's journals. This showcases the immense love and research put into creating The Making of Karateka. Furthermore, they take great care in staying true to Jordan's original vision when remaking the game. The Making of Karateka serves as a prime example of how to properly approach history and remakes.

The thing I love about The Making of Karateka is seeing Jordan's journey into the game development world. It wasn't always easy either. Jordan wanted to make it big in the industry, as his notes and journals from his early age show. He made his first couple of attempts at arcade shooters, particularly a clone of Asteroids. It's funny now to see how close his version of Asteroids was to the actual game and that he pitched it at the age of only 16 years old. What's really impressive is how he programmed it on an Apple II with very little, if any, formal learning. And it’s interesting to see the letters back and forth from Jordan and Hayden Software and the changes they wanted him to make - calling it Asteroid Blaster and eventually Star Blaster. The versions of these games are included and are still impressive.

Jordan's Deathbounce - another arcade-like game - is the next featured game. This time, Jordan pitches the games to Broderbund. The documentary includes correspondences between Jordan and Doug Carlston at Broderbund. At this point, Jordan receives suggestions about making games with story-telling elements. Since Jordan is a huge fan of movies, this direction is only natural - thus the start of Karateka. Digital Eclipse includes several different versions of Deathbounce and, surprisingly, a remastered version of the game too, which is fantastic.

Karateka is the documentary's main focus, and what is fascinating is the active involvement and support Jordan's family provided in making the game. Jordan's father, Francis Mechner, composed music for the game and physically acted out the actions of the game's hero. At his father's suggestion, Jordan utilized rotoscope animation for the game. The game includes video footage of Jordan's father and sister performing various scenes and actions, while Jordan acts out the villain's role. Additionally, the game features Jordan's traced images, allowing viewers to transition from footage to traced images to actual sprite images. This aspect makes it a real treat for aspiring game designers or anyone who appreciates video game history.

This masterpiece includes several different versions of Karateka, including a remastered version. The game features commentary, which can be turned on or off, but I recommend keeping it on. The commentary allows you to hear Mike Mika's passion for the game and how much he focused on keeping it true to Jordan's original vision. One comment that stood out was how we remember a game and how it plays. I often find that when I go back to a game from my childhood, it doesn't "play" the way I remember it. In truth, it plays the same, but because of modern gaming, we forget how different the game actually played. I appreciate that this was considered when making the remake, and this attention to detail pays off as the game plays well.

Final Grade: A+

Whether you're a fan of history, Jordan Mechner, or both, you must add The Making of Karateka to your collection. The creators put significant detail and research into this project, and the included games are well worth your time playing.

Review code provided by PR for Digital Eclipse


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