Karateka

Jordan created and programmed his first hit game, Karateka, as a Yale undergraduate. A 1980s classic and #1 bestseller, Karateka was one of the first games to blend fluid animation with cinematic storytelling. Karateka is now available for modern game consoles and mobile devices.

A modern remake of Karateka has been released for iOS, PSN, Steam and XBLA. You can see the trailer, and download the new game, at karateka.com. For iOS folks, here’s the direct App Store link. Note: Karateka requires iPhone 4S or newer, iPad 2 or newer, iPad Mini, or 5th generation iPod Touch.

Karateka Classic, a faithful emulated version of the original Apple II Karateka, is available for iOS and Android mobile devices in the App Store and on Google Play.

About Karateka


Karateka was my first published game. I created it on an Apple II while attending Yale in the early 1980s, and submitted it on a floppy disk to Brøderbund.

Set in feudal Japan, the story couldn’t have been simpler. An evil warlord had kidnapped your girlfriend and you had to fight his karate-trained minions to rescue her from his fortress. What made Karateka different was that it felt like a movie, with more fluid and lifelike character animation than any game before.

I wanted to bring the silent-film techniques I was learning about in my history-of-cinema classes — rotoscoping, cross-cutting, tracking shots — to the Apple II. My goal was to create a game that was visually sophisticated, yet so easy to play that even a non-gamer could immediately grasp the story, pick up the joystick and and become addicted.


Back then, games didn’t have marketing campaigns. Reviews and word-of-mouth drove sales until, by April 1985, Billboard magazine ranked Karateka as the #1 best-selling game in the U.S. With versions for Commodore 64, Atari, Nintendo NES and Game Boy, Karateka sales eventually passed 500,000 units. In those days when the videogame market was less than 10% of its current size, this was a real number.

Karateka was a life-changing breakthrough for me. Until then, programming computer games had been my hobby and passion. Karateka’s success proved to me (and to my parents) that this could be a legitimate career. It helped me decide, right after college, to go on and make Prince of Persia.

The Making of Karateka

My old college journal about making Karateka has been published as an ebook. You can read more about it here.

79 Comments

  1. 1-12-2009

    Wow… This game was a killer when I was younger. I remember my father was obsessed with the idea of giving my little brother and me a computer, and he bought a second-hand Apple (can’t tell what it was) and a bunch of floppy disks, I guess.

    Most of the time I played around Basic codes (INPUT, OUTPUT, NAME, GO TO hahahaha LOL), but the games were fun too. Stuff like Winter Games, Robocop (I think, not so sure) and Karateka. I never really got to the end of it though. The eagles pissed me off and never went much further than the first few enemies inside the castle or whatever it was…!

    Thanks!

  2. 1-20-2009

    I loved playing Kareteka on my old Apple IIe. I completed the game many, many times, and found a couple funny nuances of the game, namely:

    1. At the very beginning of the game, if you walked backwards, your player would fall off the cliff and die, immediately ending the game.

    2. If you approached the princess as if you were going to attack her, she would give you one swift kick, killing you instantly.

    Oh many, I loved the music at the end when you won.

    Great game!!! Port it to the Wii please!

    • 11-15-2010

      I too had found those fun little (as I thought at the time qwerks ) of the game. I loved Karateka and spent many fun hours as kid on the old Apple IIe playing that game.

    • 4-11-2011

      I always got killed by the gate which would fall on the main character. I could never figure out how to get past it, and to this day I feel like an idiot for not figuring it out. On an AppleIIe, the solution couldn’t have been that difficult. I never got to see the end or get kicked in the head by my girlfriend.

      • 7-20-2011

        To get past the spiked gate, you had to inch slowly toward it, until you triggered it to drop. It wouldn’t kill you when it dropped if you inched toward it one step at a time. The gate would then start to rise, and you could pass through the gate once your head would clear the bottom of it. The gate wouldn’t be retriggered as it was rising, so you had a small window of opportunity to get past it before the gate reached the top. I remember one time I played I was just a tad slow as I was passing through the gate, so it dropped down again as I passed thorugh it, but I had just barely gotten through in time, so it didn’t kill me. Btw, I had the same frustration with Double Dragon on the Nintendo. I could never defeat the last boss (the brother).

      • 2-18-2012

        I got past the gate on my Atari 8 bit by kicking underneath it, which made it drop. Then I ran under as it went up.

    • 8-27-2013

      I was not a big fan of this game. I was not able to cross the falling trap which comes after playing for about 15-20 mins. Whenever we try to pass that gate, trap falls on the character immediately and he dies. I played it on old game console. I am not sure was it a bug or something else.

      Was there any specific way to pass that falling gate or trap whatever we call it. I will be thankful to you.

  3. 3-14-2009

    I’ve only played Karateka once, and I don’t even remember exactly when or where. I don’t really remember because I quickly gave up on it.

    I didn’t exactly understood Cliff Blezinsky’s quote really… but David Romankow’s comment made me get it, and… hahaha.

    BTW, at the time of this writing, the link to this page (from the right side flash) appears to point to a non-existent PNG. I got here by manually typing the name of the game.

  4. 5-31-2009

    Karateka on the Apple IIc gave me hours of pleasure as a kid first on a monochrome screen and then in color. Thanks for making it!! Had forgotten how cool the box art looked too. Who illustrated it? Looks like it says OG which is strangely appropriate.

  5. 6-15-2009

    Picture Wayne and Garth bowing in front of Alice Cooper and saying, “We’re not worthy!”.

    That pretty much sums it up for me. I played Karateka for hours and hours. Won so many times but played again anyway. Has to be my all-time favorite game (Okay Silas Warner’s Wolfenstein might co-share the title with you). Thank you so much for helping me spend so many hours of my youth.

    I found this as a link from a What is the IIgs article.

  6. 6-18-2009

    I played Karateka on an Atari 800XL.
    I was so bad at the game but kept coming back for more since it was so utterly captivating.
    Me and a friend used to flick between this game and Archer Maclean’s DropZone frequently. Great days.

  7. 7-7-2009

    i use to love this game…every now and then i whistle the nice music that came with the new levels…
    was that the first motion capture ever used for a comuter game…i think i heard it some where anyway this little game made my childhood much better!!!
    your the man man!!!
    \roman

  8. 7-17-2009

    I remember our Karateka addiction in our computer lab senior year 1985 running on Apple II+s. There was nothing like it at the time on a PC. Anticipating the eagle was tough!

  9. 7-28-2009

    Karateka is an all time classic!! Right up there with Elite !!
    I am starting to write games for the Apple 2 as a hobby (I should have started 20 years ago !!) and Karateka is my measure of the “Gold Standard” in game development. I can only hope to create something this cool !!

    J

  10. 9-28-2009

    I was sitting in my office working hard at something, and all of a sudden, 20 years after I last played Karateka, I remembered how gorgeously hilarious it was that when you put the disk in the computer upside-down, you could play the game upside-down. What fun!

  11. 10-9-2009

    This game was wicked awesome. Before its time also. I remember “Miner 2049′er” as well, on the TI (texas instruments). I played it on my Commodore VIC-20 that i jacked up to run like the 64, then got a 64. Had a Sinclair 1000 also that i had built from a kit. Is there any version of Karateks to play now, just for nostalgia sake?

    • 12-5-2012

      Well yes as it happens! A brand new modern version just released by the man himself – check it on Steam

  12. 10-21-2009

    Esse foi o primeiro jogo de computador que me impressionou. Mesmo numa tela fósforo verde o gráfico era de impressionar.

    Mais impressionante que o gráfico, era o movimento do personagem. Andando, correndo, lutando. Parecia tão real. E era realmente fácil de jogar. Não era necessário praticar muito para adquirir um bom domínio dos comandos.

    E também foi a primeira vez que vi um jogo com história. Aquele karateka tinha um passado. Ele estava ali por um motivo. Acho que era esse o principal motivo da atração pelo jogo. Foi realmente um divisor de águas nos jogos de computador.

    Parabéns!

  13. 10-31-2009

    My sister and I both enjoyed this game in the 80′s. I heard that you are going to have a sequel. If so, please have a sequel available on the Playstation 2.

  14. 11-12-2009

    I also enjoyed this game in the 1980s. Fantastic. Also Price of Persia. Wonderful experiences of technology in that period of recent history! Thanks for creating …

  15. 11-17-2009

    I liked this game a lot. But maybe you can answer the question, why in the world was it so SLOW on the C64? It felt like it was programmed in BASIC.

    • 4-19-2010

      Because the Commodore was clocked at 0.5 MHZ- half as fast as an Apple- one fourth as fast as an Atari.

      • 8-3-2010

        The C-64 was 1 MHz, not 0.5 MHz, and this still doesn’t explain the slowdown. You don’t have this kind of problem with other C64 games that were ported properly.

    • 12-1-2010

      The game itself wasn’t slow. It was the freaking slow load time of the Commodore diskdrive that made it seem that way. Once the game was actually loaded the gameplay was just fast as the Apple II version.

      • 9-8-2012

        I had both a legitimate copy, which took ages to load, and a cracked copy, which loaded in seconds. The legit copy was also a good test of my floppy drive’s alignment, as small problems meant this game wouldn’t load. I’m guessing the slow and brittle loading was an artifact of the copy protection.

        I still have all this stuff in my garage. The hardware still worked ten years ago when I last tried it, but I have to wonder about those floppies.

  16. 11-20-2009

    Oh! I just had a flashback to the first time I finished Karateka! I was at “computer camp”, two weeks in Dobie at UT dorking around on computers (mostly just playing games) and hanging out at the pool. It was the summer of New Coke and I was 11.

    Man, life before puberty was awesome.

  17. 1-18-2010

    Jordan,

    Karateka was my favorite game as a kid–truly an innovative game for it’s time! Any chance you’ll port it to the iPhone? It would be amazing on that platform!

    Rich

  18. 3-17-2010

    I actually went looking for Jordan Mechner’s address as a youngster to ask if there was ever a sequel in the works!

    It was my favorite game for a long time, even attempted speed completion challenges with my friends on the Apple IIe.

    Dare I say – Revamp? XBLA? PSN? I know I’d buy it.

    To quote the letter I had written as a young lad “Thank you Mr Mechner for making such a fun game. Me and my brother really like it and want you to know how happy we are when we get to play it.”

  19. 3-26-2010

    Hey Jordan. The obligatory thanks first up for making one of my fave Apple II games.

    I just put up on Youtube a vid of me playing the game demonstrating my ‘superpunch’ technique. I knew a lot of kids who played Karateka at the time and I never saw anyone else doing this, which made me dare to think this might be my own thing. Some comments I received recently on an old Karateka review of mine inspired me to get off my backside and finally show what this superpunch deal was all about. I’d be keen to know if you ever tried this yourself:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-ThZbenw0I

    .. I recently stuck my orig Apple 2 Prince of Persia box in an obvious place in my workspace as I find it inspiring to have around. I’m working on a new horror adventure game for the Apple II (call me insane) and I often think of the slog I read about in your PoP journal as I’m doing it, because, no kidding, it’s freaking difficult!

    Cheers,

    - Wade Clarke

  20. 4-8-2010

    I LOVED Karateka as a kid! Played it on my Apple IIe so many years ago. I would love to see it on the iPhone now…

    And congrats on your success with Prince of Persia! (I’m ashamed to admit that while I could remember your name from Karateka, I didn’t know you made PoP too).

  21. 5-22-2010

    I loved playing this game at my best friend’s house in Emerald Harbour. Thank you.

  22. 5-28-2010

    This is my best game when I was a kid.
    I was passing many hours playing with my friends, I was a lot of dificil to win the enemies.
    The best play!
    And, good times those.
    (sorry about my bas english!)

  23. 5-28-2010

    Karateka was a really impressive game for me, until it I´ve played pacman and sopwith for instance, but Karateka was the first game that obsessed me enough to play it to the end, after it only POP and POP 2 was really good to play the same chords on me. I´ve never play another game to the end until today, and I´m 41 now. Really thanks, I spend really good moments with my counsins and friends playing those games. I really miss platform classic games.
    P.S.
    Have you think about a movie based on karateka??

    Best Regards

    • 6-10-2010

      Yeah, with Chuck Norris in mind… :D

  24. 6-8-2010

    Another vote/request for Karateka on the iPhone. The Prince of Persia Classic port is wonderful, and I’d love to be able to play Karateka again. Thanks!

  25. 6-10-2010

    Could you please make the game for the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic?

    I salute you for this magnificent game!

  26. 6-17-2010

    I just reminisced about Karateka here: http://www.gamecouch.com/2010/06/karateka/

    I would love to see this ported/updated for modern consoles!

  27. 6-18-2010

    Jordan, I’m very happy to have the opportunity to congratulate you for this great software. Every time I see the game now, It takes me back to the 80′s and I feel young again!. Today in 2010, I still like it!. All the best!!!

  28. 7-30-2010

    Yes…..that was the one of the BEST games before more than 15 years.
    I still like this game.

  29. 8-22-2010

    Jordan, I am glad I found this site and I want to congratulate you for writing such a great game. I remember I was a little kid and my dad bought an Apple IIc and it came with many games and one of them was Karateka which I played for years and finished many many times.

  30. 10-6-2010

    How about porting this game to the iPhone? Any plans on that happening?

    Thanks!

  31. 10-15-2010

    I made a review on Karateka for the Famicom. I was just being fair with it. I love your work and I am one of the greatest hardcore fans of Prince of Persia ever.

    Thank you for the magic!

    Mr. S

  32. 11-15-2010

    Please make the exact original game Karateka for the iPhone. I would pay for it in an instant. This was the first real Computer game I played and I couldn’t quit. I played it over and over and over. When my parents bought a new computer I wouldn’t let them get rid of the old Apple IIe. I set it up in my room just for playing Karateka. That was the only thing I did on that computer. It was the best.

    Thank you for the fun memories.

  33. 12-4-2010

    I got a bootleg copy of this game for my Apple IIe while attending a computer summer school at Stanford in 1985.. I played it incessantly with my old mono monitor – I was shocked to see it in color a few years later.. It was one of the best games ever.. Loved it!

  34. 12-8-2010

    My parents made me finally take everything out of their house that belonged to me, one thing being my Apple IIe. I booted it up and the first thing I did was play Karateka. I don’t know whether to be proud or ashamed that I managed to beat it first try. In any case, my kids found the graphics amusing but loved the bird.

  35. 1-4-2011

    I can’t tell you how many times I finished this game. It was beautiful, challenging, and fun. It made me want to make games. I later tried to copy some of the artwork using the primitive art tools of the time.

    A few year ago I was in the mall and discovered that the game has been put into a cheapie game collection housed a joystick-only game system. It was labeled as ‘Tekken’. I told the guy selling it, “that’s not Tekken, it’s Karateka!!” He was like, “No, it’s Tekken!”. I argued with him, but I walked away, angered.

  36. 2-27-2011

    You are a legend.

  37. 3-15-2011

    I do not know if it’s just me or if perhaps everybody else experiencing problems with your website. It appears like some of the written text in your content are running off the screen. Can somebody else please comment and let me know if this is happening to them as well? This might be a issue with my web browser because I’ve had this happen before. Thanks

  38. 3-25-2011

    I grew up on this game. I loved it. When will I be able to download it on Nintendo’s Virtual Console!!!! Or where can I download it now????

  39. 5-16-2011

    my childhood!
    it would be great to be able to take a look at the source code!

  40. 5-23-2011

    I played this game on the Atari 130XE so many times, despite having won it over and over, I’d still come back to it!

    Now granted, this was a LONG time ago, but one thing that jumps out at me, that no one has seemed to mention, is the music! None of the videos I’ve seen on Youtube show how good the music was on the Atari, at least on the XE. I’ve looked for a recording of this music for years, just to hear it again, with no luck. I just remember that I had never heard music done this well on any Atari game at the time, it was brilliant!

  41. 8-31-2011

    thank u JM for making this game !
    karateka will always be a good memory. i absolutely love everything about this game.
    i even built a fan page on facebook a while ago after i couldn’t find an official one.
    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Karateka/19682837187
    now that i visited this site, i saw there’s an official karateka page, i am more than willing to hand over my page (which has more likes than the official page) to it’s rightful owner.
    plz contact me

  42. 9-14-2011

    Este jogo para mim é mágico. Lembro bem de suas cores fortes e história cativante para a época. Ficava babando na vitrine das lojas que o colocavam como propaganda para vender apple ii. Ter ele em casa era um sonho de consumo. Até hoje, de vez em quando, jogo via emuladores. Foi o início de tudo. Muito obrigado.

  43. 2-15-2012

    I played Karateka on my Apple ][+ back in the day and really hope that it’s coming to iOS/Mac. So many great memories.

  44. 2-15-2012

    Hey Jordan, i just wanted to say thanks, i’ve played your games SO much that it is nice to get to your blog and thank you as close as thanking you in person can get for me.
    Greetings man and keep up the great work!!

  45. 2-18-2012

    I played this on the Commodore 64, and I enjoyed it immensely. I eventually beat it, too. Remember the bird??

  46. 2-24-2012

    Could not have recalled the name with a gun to my head but I remember the graphics oh so well. Great game.

  47. 3-30-2012

    Hi Jordan,

    You don’t know me but I’ve been a BIG Apple ][, Karateka, and Prince of Persia fan for a long time. In my spare time I work on AppleWin -- an Apple ][ //e //c emulator for Windows.

    Anyways, back in the day "Nibble" magazine published an article called "Nibble Duet" demonstrating how to fake 2-voice music out of the Apple's "squeaker". I loved the Karateka end music so much that with that article I was able to "reverse engineer" the notes and produced a .MIDI file in Cakewalk years later. =)

    http://peopleofhonoronly.com/michael/music/Karateka_End_Theme.mid

    Thanks for all the pleasure and gaming years with Karateka and Prince of Persia.

    Michael “Code Poet” Pohoreski

  48. 4-17-2012

    Karateka and Prince Of Persia (nowadays, it would be called “Prince of Iran” (laugh)) are two eternal classics, bar none. POP II: Prince & The Flame was a favorite of mine on my Power Mac 6100/60. I loved the graphics of Karateka on the Atari ST, too.

    To be able to revisit some of these classics, on today’s platforms, would be a great thing.

  49. 7-29-2012

    I loved this game as a child. As most games are being released on smartphones (even Miner 2049er that is mentioned above), it would be good to write this for the iPhone / Android.

  50. 8-28-2012

    Wii U remake coming to their eshop this year when the system releases

  51. 11-29-2012

    WOW! That was the first game, i spent HOURS playing as a kid. It was also the first game I beat. I had to talk my sisters into pooling allowance to get it (they did it for my birthday and felt like they were off the hook) I was just thinking about that game last night too. I am going to have to go hunt the PS3 download when I get paid next…

  52. 12-3-2012

    Hands down, this is why I game. I remember the great fun I had with the original, and this…this takes me back on so many levels. Great use of the modern gaming PC. Great work Mr. Mechner. Thanks for reminding me that games can be so much more than they are. If I could, I direct deposit all my money to you.

  53. 12-3-2012

    Every 1 million cycles or so the volcano in the background would erupt. Yes, I played this in 1984!

  54. 12-5-2012

    I have played the 2012 version yesterday, took me 34:33 minutes to finish.
    While the comic style character design (the princess looks like MULAN) looks good, I would have preferred something more “sincere” – as in the original.
    I just cannot believe that grandmaster Jordan Mechner himself was involved in its production, the game is utterly disappointing.
    While the 1984 original was won through tactics and using timed high mid and low punches / kicks, the 2012 version is a mere series of QTE (quick time events): First block the enemy’s attacks – then attack. You just hit the punch/kick buttons – it does not really matter which. Funny how it seems today’s computing power often hinders great game design & balance nowadays… Jordan – we beg you to re-focus on your strengths… please show us that you still have it… it is not polygon-count that counts…

  55. 12-13-2012

    I watched the promo vid and had the biggest grin on my face the whole time.
    I never played the original but ive played alot of classics with the one life dynamic and ive always wondered if wed ever return to that sort of difficulty. I think what you guys are doing is awesome and the solution of making it hard while leaving it easy that you have come up with is utterly perfect and i cannot wait to play this game and get my ass kicked.
    Hopefully in time ill be able to rescue the princess as the True Love.

  56. 12-23-2012

    When I was 12 a friend gave a bootleg copy for my ][+, and I played it for hours. To atone for my sin, I just purchased the new version for iOS. Sorry, Jordan. Please don’t kick my ass.

  57. 12-23-2012

    Huge fan of the original and dying to play the new one… but how can it be that a game originally developed on an Apple computer has a beautiful new remake that won’t play on OS X? A little disappointed here, particularly since my iWorld consists of an original iPad, original iPod Touch, and an iPhone 4. Help us out!

  58. 1-12-2013

    How much room is actually needed to run the app? 644 mb app I have well over 2 gb available on my iOS device and yet my iPhone 4S states there isn’t enough local storage. Just wanna be sure before I go erasing and installing, etc.

  59. 1-17-2013

    I copied this game off 5 1/2 floppy from a friends older, BBS savvy brother. I played it and nothing else for months until I beat it. There was never a Kareteka 2, but some of the early Cinemaware titles came close. Thanks for this amazing game !

  60. 1-24-2013

    Will the sequel to the newly released modern version be like Tekken where the characters are able to do authentic karate blocks and strikes? Tekken uses various moves from actual karate schools that is slightly exagerated to make playing enjoyable. However, it’ll be better to watch and play a karateka with these abilities but in a realistic way and not too dramatically. Like the original version on floppy disk, the characters simply fight and if defeated fall to the ground– there is no facial expression, no fancy sound effects, no flying around– simply blocking and striking like the way a fight takes place in a real life tournament setting. It would be great if the fight scenes reminisce movies like karate kid or kuro obi, where there is less drama and more realistic karate fighting.

  61. 1-26-2013

    Please fix the iOs version. Crashes when end boss is defeated. I finally want to rescue the princess!

  62. 5-5-2013

    Oh man, do I miss this game!! Bought another classic that mentioned Karateka in the making of video and immediately had to search it up. It wasn’t until now that I realized the new “version” is a remake of it.. Now I wish I still had the original. Oh the good ole’ days!! :)

  63. 5-16-2013

    CRASH ON IPOD 4G!!!!!!
    Update, please.

    • 5-16-2013

      The remake, or Karateka Classic?

  64. 5-26-2013

    THE Remake!
    Crash after the “Touch to Start”

  65. 10-2-2013

    Hi Jordan,
    I think it’s important when someone has a profound impact on your life, you let them know. So, here I am… letting you know.
    I began skimming over your Making of Karateka Journals today. I say skimming because I’ll admit I’m not a huge reader… but I think I’ll likely make an exception here. I read the first couple pages, which were interesting, then scrolled quickly to have a peek at the pictures (though there aren’t many)[not complaining], and then it happened…
    I came to rest, by chance, on page 217. The words “Do. Something. Now.” Hit me like a ton of bricks. I read that chapter thoroughly, and every sentiment was like it was pried from my own thoughts. I’m a game designer also, but of Table Games not video games, and I have been struggling for a very long time on moving forward with any of my work. It meant so much to know that we all have times when we’re stuck in a rut, and have to fight our way out. To progress, to move forward.
    After reading that chapter I let my eyes fall from my computer screen down to the large piece of scrap yellow note paper that is sitting in front of my keyboard, placed there over six months ago so I would have to look at it every single day as I reached over it to type. That note has scribbled on it in large bold letters, “DO SOMETHING!”.
    Perhaps, inspired by you, I will add the word “NOW” to the end of it.
    Perhaps, better yet… I won’t have to.

    Thank-you Jordan.

  66. 7-14-2014

    It’s an awesome piece of writing designed for all the web
    people; they will take benefit from it I am sure.

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