Developer: Jordan Mechner / Karateka LLC
Major features: If you asked me to name the games that stand out from my Apple ][+ era in the early 80s, right alongside Castle Wolfenstein would be Jordan Mechner's Karateka. The game was simplistic yet completely addictive as you would at first try to win by any means, then as you improved you would try different tactics, techniques until you could eventually make it all the way through with without losing any health.
When I heard Karateka was being remade I was skeptical even though Jordan Mechner was involved. Too often the need to either let something remain totally static or remake it until it is unrecognizable takes over and the result bears little reason to play.
Fortunately, the developers have managed to strike the proper balance between update and faithful remake. The cutscenes tell the same basic (and I mean BASIC) story, but the graphic style is amazingly updated. The core gameplay is similar to the original - you battle through an ever more difficult series of enemies until you defeat the main baddie to release your true love ... or you die trying.
One of the differences is that while the original game had different keys for punching and kicking at three different levels, now you need to defend the initial enemy attack and counter with your own series of attacks. As you progress the enemy can make multiple attacks and becomes more efficient at blocking and countering your attacks.
The other difference is that whereas in the original it was just you against the army, now there are three different protagonists: the 'true love', the monk and the brute. As your heroes fall you get a stronger hero ... but a worse ending. Each ending is different, but ultimately there is only one 'good' conclusion.
Ease of use/Overall performance: If you have played a rhythm-based game before you should adapt pretty quickly ... but mastering the game is much more difficult. I was pleased with myself as I made some progress during my first playthrough, but quickly was humbled as my 'true love' character fell and then my monk ... and finally my brute. The next time I completed the game with the monk; and the following time I managed to just squeak through with the 'good' ending. It was very challenging for me to accomplish, and I have kept playing since completing the game.
The only issue is the length - you can likely make your way through the game completely, even including dying, in about an hour. At the normal $2.99 price that makes it a more expensive experience, but at the $0.99 sale price it is an easy recommendation.
Would use again/recommend?: Absolutely! Aside from the nostalgic pull, this game is just loads of fun. I have it on both the iPhone and iPad and it plays amazingly well on both.
Suggested changes/wish list for updates: Nothing.
Price: $2.99 ($0.99 current sale price as of 01/07/13)
Here is the trailer: