The magical appeal of Cobra Kai as light entertainment is that it’s totally aware of what it is: garbage. It’s Sunset Beach crossed with Saved By The Bell, driven by the one-note parody of Johnny Lawrence being stuck in the '80s. For anyone old enough to remember the original Karate Kid movies, there’s a throwback attraction about its cheesy soap opera amateur theatrics and cyclical plot threads, using the lore of the original films and their rivalries to create an enjoyable junk-food watch.
Cobra Kai 2: Dojos Rising loosely adheres to where the show is at the time of writing, now in its fifth season. With an overarching original plot, you can work your way across all three dojos — Cobra Kai, Miyagi-Do, and Eagle Fang — and take the reigns on their associated characters on different pursuits. In a nice touch, many of the characters are voiced by the show’s actors, lending authenticity to the world of this brawler.
In most cases, you can swap between more than one character at a time, giving you added health bars in the midst of battle. It only takes half an hour before you’ve assembled a four-strong team through recruitment, making it easier to survive battles with multiple enemies. There isn’t a great deal of difference in fighting styles, however, with almost all characters utilising the same basic set of commands. These include tap combos with the 'Y' button, with a long press releasing a heavier attack; a dodge, which needs to be used almost constantly; and super attacks engaged by holding 'ZR', that consume your Chi Meter. There’s also a grab option with the shoulder button that allows you to take hold of an enemy, duff them up, or, at certain clearly outlined junctures, fling them into scenery objects. New skills can be acquired through the collection of coins and specific items, and there’s a spot of parkour involved, letting you spring off walls and scale certain boundaries in search of hidden items.
The initial training section starts well enough, giving you a brief moveset introduction, before choosing a mission from the map overview. A bit like the show, this isn’t a game you’ll be playing for the plot, although ultimately you’re charged with winning the All Valley Karate Tournament. The recruitment idea is fine, since the show tends to focus on this theme from season to season, and the standard battling is occasionally broken up with weird minigames like human bowling, whereby you pound an enemy to knock down a stationary swarm behind.
In addition to Story Mode is Cobra Classics, allowing you to take part in skirmishes that mirror key fights from the show, including Season Two’s school battle royale. They’re not as cinematic as they could be, though, feeling segmented, choppy, and forcing you to switch between different characters. You can also dive right into the All Valley Tournament, where almost all the characters are unlocked. Here, two-player local or Online Versus options are available, and the rules mimic the out-of-bounds routine present in the show. All the characters feature some kind of unique special move, from flying roundhouse kicks to eye stabs. It works in 360-degree 3D space and offers very few tactical strategies outside of blocking appropriately.
Sounds good so far? Sadly, Cobra Kai 2: Dojos Rising is pitifully poor in execution: a perfectly fine concept that’s utterly, contemptibly broken. Unlike its predecessor, Cobra Kai: The Karate Kid Saga Continues, which worked owing to its 2D plane and relative combat simplicity, the sequel puts you in 3D arena-like spaces where multiple assailants come at you from all sides, bombarding you constantly with barely a moment’s respite. This would be fine if the game was competently programmed, allowing you to focus a combo on one enemy before switching to the next, but it’s such a godawful mess that there’s barely any structure to it. We can’t comment on how it runs on Steam, but the Switch version is woeful. It’s hard to see what’s going on or to keep track of your adversaries, with much of the battle tied to wrestling the camera. Trying to angle the scene in such a way that you’re not obscured and can see what’s going on around you is an ever-pressing task. The collision detection is fluffy and unrewarding, lacking energy and punch in the animations and sound effects. Battles are scrappy, confusing messes where you’re constantly tapping the dodge button in an attempt to centre yourself, and it's hard to decipher range or key openings for attack.
Additionally, the frame rate is absolutely appalling, grinding all over the place and regularly freezing completely for seconds at a time — all of which is inexplicable considering the low quality of the graphics. It chugs and stalls whether there are enemies on-screen or not, and it’s chock-full of bugs and glitches. At one point we swapped to a teammate who was standing in waiting nearby, only for the same character to suddenly be on screen twice, side-by-side. The platforming sections are terrible, failing to work or sticking in weird spots, and there’s even slowdown on the sliding image story intermissions.
Fighting is frustrating, the minigames are horribly conceived, and the entire time one can’t help wondering how the finished product was released in such a state. It’s possible, of course, that many of these issues will be patched over time. But even then, the game isn’t good enough to recommend to fans of the genre.
Could it be recommended to fans of Cobra Kai, though? Not really. If you’re an absolute die-hard who lives and breathes it like there’s nothing else, you might get a kick out of the attention to character likenesses (although the modeling isn’t exactly great), the theme and plotting, the music and the vibe. But working through it is tough for all the wrong reasons, knowing that each new location will throw up the same camera issues and fiddly combat confusion. Yes, ultimately you will improve at and work around the in-built deficiencies, be able to dodge and counter, react accordingly, and only occasionally feel like hurling your Joy-Cons at the screen. But one needs to consider whether or not that small gain is worth the substantial price tag.
There’s nothing at all wrong with Cobra Kai 2: Dojos Rising in terms of concept. An arena battler set in the TV show’s small world of dojos, shopping malls, schools and parks with a theme of recruiting a team on your way to a mega tournament is all well and good. But the quality is shockingly under par, and far poorer than the Switch hardware is capable of. One could argue being sloppy, confused, and trashy is very much akin to what the show is all about, but when we’re transcending mediums into the realm of video gaming, half-assing it doesn’t land the right kind of blow.