Codex Gamicus

Karate Champ, known in Japan as Karate Dō (空手道 "The Way of the Empty Hand"?), is a 1984 arcade fighting game developed by Technōs Japan for Data East. It is credited with establishing and popularizing the one-on-one fighting game genre. A variety of moves could be performed using the dual-joystick controls, using a best-of-three matches format like later fighting games, and it featured training bonus stages. It went on to influence Konami's Yie Ar Kung Fu and other fighting games.[8]

It is one of the first fighting games, and has been believed to be the first to use today's common side-perspective. However, Heavyweight Champ, released in Japan by Sega, used the same perspective and predates Karate Champ by eight years.[9]


File:Karate Champ.png

Gameplay of Karate Champ

The player assumes the role of a Karate competitor and fights against another player or the computer. Using two joysticks, players can execute a number of moves.

Gameplay consists of a two dimensional fight between Karate characters wearing white and red gi, followed by various bonus rounds for the successful player. This pattern repeats itself in the next, more challenging round set against a new background. Unlike most later fighter-type games, there are no health bar or hit points. A hit successfully landed ends the round and earns the player or his opponent either one point or half point (along with a numeric score for the top ten but this has no effect on winning a match per se). The first to score two points is the winner. The game also featured some early speech synthesis, in which the judge would call out such phrases as "Fight!" or "Winner!" It's also spoken in Japanese in the Japanese version.

Player vs. Player edition[]

Karate Champ — Player vs Player (対戦空手道 美少女青春編 Taisen Karate Dō: Bishōjo Seishun Hen?, "The Competitive Way of the Empty Hand: Pretty Maiden Edition") is a sequel to Karate Champ that was released for the arcades shortly after the original during the same year. The sequel is very similar to the original in the sense that they use the same hardware, have the same sprites and title screen, and the play mechanics are essentially the same although the computer AI is greatly improved along with control and hit detection. Whereas the original game started with the first level taking place at a dojo and all the following levels taking place at a tournament stadium, Player vs Player has the characters fighting it out over girls at locations around the world.

The main hardware upgrade is the addition of Oki's MSM5205 sound chip, clocked at 3.75 MHz.[7] The MSM5205 produces 12-bit PCM speech synthesis from compressed 4-bit ADPCM samples with up to 32 kHz sampling rate.[10]

Ports and related releases[]

The original Karate Champ arcade was ported to the Apple II and the Commodore 64 by Berkeley Softworks. Data East began publishing the home versions in the US on October 12, 1985.[1]

The Player VS. Player edition of Karate Champ was later ported to the NES by Sakata SAS and published by Data East and released in the United States on November 1986. This port was later released in Japan for the Disk System on July 22, 1988, but never made it to the cartridge-based Family Computer. An emulation of the arcade version was released by Hamster for the PlayStation 2 as part of their Ore-tachi Gesen Zoku lineup.

The arcade version was shown briefly in the movie Bloodsport starring Jean Claude Van Damme.

On May 7, 2010 it was announced for release on the iPhone OS platform by developer Revolutionary Concepts.[11]


After the release of World Karate Championship in the US in late April 1986, Epyx was sued by competing video game publisher Data East for infringement of copyright, trademark, and trade dress. The dispute was about similarities to the 1984 arcade game Karate Champ and its home computer adaptations published in 1985. International Karate used the same coloured fighters and had the same points system. The initial trial at the District Court for the Northern District of California began on 28 October 1986. In his decision of 28 January 1987, the court dismissed the allegations of trademark and trade dress infringement but found Epyx guilty of infringing upon Data East USA's copyright on Karate Champ.[6] Data East obtained a permanent injunction against Epyx, Inc., and an impoundment that restrained Epyx from further sale or distribution of World Karate Championship. Epyx was required to recall from both customers and distributors all copies of the infringing work.

The decision was appealed the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, who in November 1988 reversed the decision, stating that while the game was similar, it was not identical, and that one game company can not monopolise one entire sport.

As a result, Melbourne House did not sue System 3 nor Epyx, as the game The Way of the Exploding Fist is also very similar to both of these games, though the game itself also borrowed heavily from Data East's Karate Champ.

Later on, this case was referenced in the Apple Computer, Inc. v. Microsoft Corp. case.

High score[]

According to Twin Galaxies, Jack Gale, of North Miami Beach, Florida, USA, scored a world record 259,800 points on Karate Champ, on June 28, 1987, during the 1987 Video Game Masters Tournament. 


Ahoy! wrote that the Commodore 64 version "isn't quite as electrifying as the arcade version, but it's an entertaining action-strategy test", concluding that the "learning curve is steep," but when "the joysticks are in the hands of two practiced gamers, it is one of the most exciting games to hit the computer screen in a long time".[12]

See also[]

  • List of fighting games
  • Kung-Fu Master, a beat 'em up arcade game released later in 1984
  • International Karate, a home computer conversion which Data East took to court for copyright infringement in a case known as Data East USA, Inc. v. Epyx, Inc.


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