Our View on KM2
Karate Master 2: Knock Down Blow is Crians Soft’s take on the classic 90s arcade fighter. With an art style reminiscent of King of Fighters and the old Street Fighter games, it’s drawing on some legendary inspiration. Does it compare, or does it fall short?
Karate Master 2 is based entirely on the classic ‘Karate Kid’ idea. Your character decides that they want to become a master of Karate - so he drops what he’s doing and he joins a dojo. He’s guided through his journey by a Sensei with a dodgy command of English. At first it comes off as charming. My natural assumption was that they were going for humorous ‘Engrish’ dialect - although as you get further into the game it becomes apparent that the mistakes are disappointingly accidental. The story is one of progression through a vicious mixture of competitive combat and the occasional heroic deed.
The setting is all very masculine. Your character is suitably buff, there’s lots of tough talk - “Beating boys is good for your body!” says your Sensei. Thematically though, Karate Master 2 is a dinosaur. There’s no female presence in this game, outside of the tight-sweater wearing girlfriend that you very occasionally interact with in cutscenes, and the similarly designed audience members that appear in the background. It would have been good to have an option for the player to have a female character, or for there to be a strong female presence somewhere in the game. Mortal Kombat does it - some of the primary and strongest characters are women.
Classic Street Fighter 2 Look
The art of the game is classic 90s fighter; 2D characters but accurate representation when it comes to animations. The blood is a bit unrealistic, even on the moderate setting but it does help to give that authentic hit of nostalgia, taking you back to the arcade cabinets of childhood.
Karate Master 2’s greatest achievement is the combat. It’s a concoction of an outward appearance of simplicity with layer upon layer of hidden depth. Outside of the basic attacks and moves you’re taught in the tutorial, there are hidden attacks, grapples, counters and specials. Taking a ham-fisted approach to combat will backfire on you - but picking your spots, making use of the guards and dodging and learning to spot when your opponent is going to launch an assault can make you feel like a master of Karate.
Risk and Reward
There’s an element of risk and reward, too, that can make the combat supremely engaging. Landing with a big kick to the head, an uppercut or a powerful shot to the ribs can result in a fight-changing critical injury, stunning your opponent and leaving them extremely vulnerable to an all-out assault. Of course, there’s the chance that this can also happen to your character. This inspirational mechanic brings an edge of your seat feeling to combat, especially when you’re under strong pressure from your opponent. It is, in short, a combat system that is worthy of the classics that Karate Master 2 is trying to emulate.
For all that praise, there are some major drawbacks. Minigames filled with awkward button mashing objectives that can actually cause physical discomfort in your hands are spread throughout the game. The need to go to work and complete a repetitive and immensely dull task is an unfathomable distraction from the fantastic combat. Progress is slowed by meagre rewards for success in tournaments, and the training system, with its vague and unhelpful commands combined with the limit on how many times you can train between tournaments are also barriers to progress. It feels like they wanted to pad the length of the game out, and went about it in all the wrong ways. Rather than creating challenges with specific rewards, they took a somewhat lazy approach and just looked at the different ways in which they could torture your hands with a controller.
Overall, there’s more to dislike in Karate Master 2 than there is to like. That’s a real shame, because Crian Soft have genuinely developed a good combat system. Sadly, the mismatch of bad translation and serious nature of the game’s cut scenes comes across as outright weird at times. The near total masculinity shows an antiquated view of the gaming public, and the needlessly frustrating and irritating reliance on uncomfortable button mashing outside of combat really hold the game back. You’ll enjoy playing a tournament but if you need to earn money to get into the next one, you’ll seriously consider just quitting the game and doing something else that shows more respect for your free time.