Review: Karate Phants: Gloves of Glory (WiiWare)

A fighting game based upon a licensed property -- what could possibly go wrong?

As a general rule video games based upon licensed properties tend to be bad. For every decent game you'll find dozens of hastily churned out movie show tie-ins where the license is more important than the underlying game.

The fighting genre has had some notable exceptions to this rule of course, with the VS Capcom series of games being highly regarded and having strong fan followings. It's probably for this reason that the developers of Karate Phants used the license for Otto’s Ottifanten to create a fighting game.

It's unlikely that you've heard of Otto’s Ottifanten if you live outside of Germany because neither the television series or feature film seems to have been translated into other languages. Imagine The Simpsons as freakish elephant caricatures and you've got the general idea.

The game wastes no time with introductory movies or anything else. After starting, press any button and you're immediately given a selection of characters to choose from followed by the stage, a screen with the controls and the option to turn down the in-game music. There are no options for anything else: no control configuration, no difficulty settings, no win conditions -- not even the choice to adjust the volume for the sound effects!

Your selection of characters are all Ottifants in the style of various cultural stereotypes with matching stages. You have the Chinese Ottifant dressed like a 19th century Mandarin with long moustaches -- naturally wearing a hat associated with a field worker, whose stage is a Chinese pagoda; the American Ottifant wearing shades, cowboy hat and blue y-fronts with a matching stage of New York City; a Japanese Ottifant in a Buddhist temple made up like a sumo; a Russian Ottifant wearing what looks like overalls and a hat with earflaps and a Soviet-era badge on it (the flag for the stage is also the Soviet flag for some reason) with a matching stage featuring a wall, snow and the Kremlin in the background; and last, but certainly not least, a German Ottifant who is naturally wearing a yellow raincoat like a fisherman and is in a stage consisting of a nice sunny beach with sailboats in the distance -- no this makes no sense, but it's part of a general theme as will soon become apparent.

The characters are all 3D rendered and have various cute starting moves and victory moves and are generally well animated. The backgrounds are fairly static but have occasional Ottifant spectators waving and such. You're able to tell your character from your opponent via the colour of boxing gloves worn: red for the player on the left and blue for the player on the right. You can fight matches with the character against themselves (and you will in the single player tournament), but the character models are identical outside of glove colour.

Music seems to fit the stages and is largely forgettable, but the real auditory treat is the sound effects. The characters make various grunts, groans and victory noises with struck blows resulting in the sounds of battle! The characters make various barely comprehensible comments in their native languages (well, at least the Russian sounds like he's speaking Russian and the American seems to be saying things in English; as for the rest, who knows?). It's cute and somewhat amusing, but this is pretty much the end of fun time.

It's when you actually start playing the game that the realisation that something is terribly, terribly wrong sets in. The game uses the Wii Remote as the sole interface and whilst you may naturally assume this means playing the game with the Remote held sideways NES-style you would be sorely mistaken. Instead the Remote is pointed at the screen and the game is almost entirely controlled via motions in four cardinal directions. Waving the Remote causes your character to launch a punch left or right with up performing uppercuts and down doing...something else -- anyway, hold A and do a motion to move and press B to block. You won't need to move too often because the game helpfully moves your character AUTOMATICALLY. So if you're under pressure you can move away from your opponent (with a nice backflip animation), but the computer will helpfully start you running right back into the fray as soon as the move animation stops. The motion detection itself generally works, but frequently gestures won't be picked up at all or result in the wrong character action and this has a tendency to happen even if using slow and deliberate movements.

In addition to basic punches, jumping belly flops and other attacks that can be performed in combination with movement (if you can be bothered trying to figure them out) your character also has a unique special attack performed by holding A+B and then motioning up. All characters can also perform a special chargeable attack by holding A+B and rotating the remote which results in your character swinging his head in circles and spinning into your opponent when the buttons are released. The longer you rotate the remote the more damage you do, though if you do it too long your Ottifant will puke his guts out. Charming.

Playing the single player tournament can be a tedious affair. The AI isn't too bad, but the waving side-to-side does get fatiguing. Luckily there's a massive flaw that can enable you to play through an entire tournament in about 5 minutes. If swings are timed properly you can simply flick the Remote as if chucking a frisbee over and over again in the direction of your opponent. Once you land one blow you simply hit them again and again driving them right up against the right side of the screen (Player 1 is always red, though if you're left-handed you could always jump over your opponent and drive them to the left) until they have no health left. The attack timing is such that it cannot be blocked and whilst your opponent may land a single recovery attack after being knocked down, it's not going to cause enough damage to be bothered about. Of course if your initial attacks are blocked you can hold A+B and motion towards your opponent to do a grab move and then throw them about, because this attack -- like special attacks -- cannot be blocked. This is likely the only time you'd be able to perform a throw because the animation takes so long to complete you'll only open yourself up to attack otherwise. In the unlikely event you're defeated you can simply continue and battle on!

This wonderful fighting strategy will work against all comers, including the supposed "boss" character, Super Fant (though it's possible the SF on his chest stands for something else). After defeating Super Fant you've completed the tournament and unlocked the character. Next comes a message of "Congratulations!" and the credits. The End. Of course you now have a new character to play with and there's also a seventh character to unlock which appears to be a werewolf Ottifant (Sonic has company!) who howls a lot and has a moon for a symbol. There are no additional stages so both Super Fant and Were-Fant simply appear on one of the existing five stages you've already seen.

If you're bored of playing the single player game you can always play with a friend for a bit of excitement! This can be done even during a tournament with the 2nd player simply activating their Remote. Player 1 gets the option to accept the challenge at which point both players get to choose new characters and a stage to fight in. This is a single best-of-three match just like the tournament. A human opponent can be more challenging than the computer AI -- for instance they're more likely to block attacks; they can also do the continuous punch attack described above to demonstrate that even human beings can sit there helplessly and be pummelled into oblivion. Having this flaw does help equalise the game since even a world champion Street Fighter player can be felled by a doddering granny using this technique. After a match is over you have the option of continuing the existing match, starting a new one with new characters and stage or Player 1 can resume the interrupted tournament, though this will be with the character chosen for the 2-player match rather than the one originally selected for the tournament. Flailing about and feeling like you're barely controlling the action can be quite amusing with a friend, but after 10min. it has to be conceded this game is a giant waste of time.

It could be that the game isn't targeted at gamers per se so this criticism may be unfair. After all with the motion-based control scheme it could be aimed at young children who might lack the fine motor control required to use a D-pad or analogue control stick. Of course if that's the case why choose a game genre for a licensed property in a country that has some of the biggest issues with violence in media? The PEGI rating for the game is 7+ because it's a fighting game, though there's no blood and little in the way of obvious brutality; indeed after landing your winning blow your opponent simply stands there staring like you just tapped them on the shoulder! But even if we put aside the question of whether or not children so young they cannot handle a joypad should be playing video games in the first place, any game-playing child old enough to meet the age rating for the game is probably not likely to want to play a game based upon a 15 year-old animated TV show they never heard of anyway. They'll be playing Ben 10 or the latest Harry Potter game, surely?

The game could appeal to adults who enjoyed the TV show, but if that's the target market, why are none of the principle characters from the show in the game? Where's Mutti, Papa, Opa or even Baby Bruno? It's like having a Simpsons fighting game with a choice of generic yellow skinned characters, but the Simpson family themselves are absent. And if you did enjoy the show, would you want to play a fighting game based on it? Why not an adventure game or a platformer -- heck even a mini-game collection featuring characters from the show would make more sense than this!

Conclusion

Karate Phants is thankfully a rarity on the WiiWare service: a terribly executed game which uses a license that no one outside of the country of origin is likely to have even heard of. Abysmal controls and fatally broken gameplay combine together to form a game which doesn't appear to even have a target audience. It is hard to imagine how it is possible to make such a mess of creating a themed 2D fighting game with so many successful examples to draw on in the genre from gaming history -- Snap Dragon Games have excelled themselves in this department. There really isn’t anything to recommend about this shambling mockery of a game whatsoever, it is a complete waste of space.

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