The Karate Kid movie series always seemed like a bit of a hard sell to this writer. Not to detract from the inarguable skill of said Kid, but there are plenty of films out there starring at least one Karate Adult. It stands to reason that the Karate Adult would simply be better at Karate than the Karate Kid, and therefore more worthy of attention. Which brings us to the hit YouTube Red/Netflix/KickAssTorrents series Cobra Kai, upon which this brawler is apparently based. We’ve heard it’s quite good, but can the tie-in game hope to achieve such lofty heights? The lofty heights of "quite good"?
Now, there’s no doubt that Cobra Kai: The Karate Kid Saga Continues is a game with some problems, but to our genuine surprise, they don’t really get in the way of what ends up being a really fun, knockabout punch-‘em-up which offers a pretty strong pugilism experience while not quite scratching the itch that the true greats manage effortlessly (Streets of Rage 4 springs to mind). Here, you initially pick between the titular Cobra Kai or the (frankly, far less cool) Miyagi-do Dojos, then get to work beating up every single living human being in your path.
Immediately, there are noticeable issues. The game runs okay, but considering the generally not-great visuals, we’d have expected better. The animations are strange in places, too – you can move in eight directions, but jumping into the foreground or background snaps your character to a weirdly rigid stance; probably more sensible as a crowd-control tactic (you can attack left or right while moving “vertically”, so to speak), but it never stops looking unusual and more than a little cheap.
Otherwise, though, the proceedings are snappy and intuitive. You’ve got your usual punches and kicks, as well as the ability to run as a modifier. Holding the right trigger lets you unleash devastating special moves that can hit enemies multiple times, decimating their health bars. You can also dodge and parry with the A button, letting you interrupt attacks and return the favour. ZL and ZR together activate a "Mega Crash" style move that'll clear the screen – useful in a pinch.
In a neat touch seemingly cribbed from Netherealm’s recent fighting games, you can also interact with the background to smash your opponents into otherwise innocuous scenery, which is both useful and quite amusing – unfortunately, doing this seems to make the game engine soil itself somewhat, with the visuals chugging like mad.
In fact, there are plenty of cribs from and nods to classic brawlers here – the legendary Turtles in Time move where an enemy is launched into the screen turns up here, and the way you can kick scenery into your foes recalls the soon-to-be-rereleased Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. There's even the character-switching of this year's Battletoads, but we're prepared to call that one a coincidence. It’s a patchwork of other, sometimes better games, but it comes together as enjoyably accomplished. Combos and juggling are a focus, and the ability to simply roll out of dodge at any point gives a pleasant sense of control – if you get caught between a couple of enemies, that's always on you.
It’s fun to make your way through the game, collecting dropped cash to exchange for stat upgrades, but Cobra Kai has a few issues with pacing. There’s no real happy medium between difficulty and progress, because the levels are so bloomin’ long. This is far from ideal in a brawler and is exacerbated by how easy the game is on the default settings. Breeziness is nice, but challenge is paramount and this game seems to make you pick one or the other. You’ll want to crank up the difficulty, but doing so just makes the already too-long stages even longer. Bring a friend to expediate things, and double the pain factor.
Still, we can’t pretend we had anything close to a bad time with Cobra Kai. It’s daft, over-the-top nonsense but it all works. It feels good to play, it doesn’t condescend to the player, and there’s plenty of it to battle through, with extra challenges you can check out in the Dojo between levels that will earn you plenty of currency to buy upgrades with.
Don't think this is anything less than full-featured just because it's a licensed game; there's a ton of stuff to do and none of it feels lazy or sub-standard. It's clear that this was a game made by a team which understands what makes for a fun belt-scroller, but we'd speculate that the budget and development time wasn't quite there to make it truly essential.
Cobra Kai: The Karate Kid Saga Continues might look like a lazy cash-in, but in reality, it's a strong effort that breezes through the cheesiness of its license by making said honking gorgonzola work for it with its brilliantly evocative '80s soundtrack paired with a cheeky, silly style to match its cheeky, silly gameplay. With no shortage of levels, plenty of playable characters and respective upgrades, Cobra Kai: The Karate Kid Saga Continues goes above and beyond the standards set by licensed games. Grab a friend and wax on, wax off. (Actually, that sounds a bit rude.)