Since videogames were but a tiny blip on a flickering screen, fighting and martial arts have been a key part of countless titles. From early titles like International Karate, to the genre’s mainstream uprising via Mortal Kombat’s controversy and Street Fighter 2’s mass arcade popularity, to this day beating up an enemy with fists alone is the foundation of numerous classics. Now, with so many movement-based fitness games on the market, THQ and Blitz Games have attempted to combine the popularity of the fighter with fitness in a karate simulator. Does it outwit Mr Miyagi, or is this a wax off?
Thankfully, despite the name, Blitz have avoided loading All-Star Karate with Z-list celebrities, and created original characters for the game's story and subsequent fights. It is a shame, though, that these creations are so flat and generic; there’s a typical show-off of a young man or woman (depending on which you choose at the beginning), a cocky rival, and an eccentric fat bearded karate teacher - not exactly the height of originality. It certainly doesn't help matters when the cut-scenes themselves are incredibly basic, with flat cut out portraits and voice acting that is cringe-worthy at times. The story itself isn’t anything exciting; ninjas attack a mysterious man in street, you happen to come along and save him, and said man takes you back to his beach hut to teach you karate. Whilst it is true that fighting games in general rarely have explosive or award-winning plotlines, it is a shame to see one that uses story as a basis end up falling flat on its face.
Thankfully, the game goes to admirable lengths to redeem itself where it really matters; the fighting itself. Make no mistake, playing All-Star Karate won't suddenly turn you into a martial arts guru, but credit to the way this game will exercise your arms, and quite a bit too. The story is structured into levels, with each opening up as you hit a high enough pass grade for the previous one. Each level more-or-less consists of set instructions from your teacher to follow set arm movements, and correct timing here judges your grade. Each gesture diagram tells you which arm to thrust outwards, and the direction it needs to go in, all within a set range of movements. Holding down assigned buttons changes your on-screen movements to kicks, and although mere punch and kick sets sound simple on paper, the game does show an impressive amount of instructional variation throughout, particularly when you reach sparring matches and all the mini-games in the storyline. Earning new coloured-belts through the main story also feels very rewarding, given how tricky it can get later on.
All-Star allows you to choose between two control configurations: Remote and Nunchuk, or two Remotes simultaneously, the latter being the wisest choice without the interference of a cord. The game works well with both schemes. As with most motion games, you'll most likely be flailing around at first trying to find your bearings, but All-Star Karate rewards patient players with results. In fact, if anything, the controls work a little too well, as in later stages where quick and precise movement is essential, even a small twitch is noticed.
As stated on the game's box, Wii MotionPlus is supported, but disappointingly not in the way you might think. Set within the storyline are mini-games that open up when you have a MotionPlus unit connected, and each follows the same idea; you wield a bamboo sword and swat away ninjas that leap or throw Shuriken at you in a cinema, pointing at the screen every few seconds to avoid losing health (perhaps to also sneakily keep MotionPlus calibrated). Think of it as being like Wii Sports Resort's free-roaming sword-fighting game. At first this mini-game is just as fun, but having to play it every six levels or so with few changes between each one means the novelty wears off super quick. In fact, this annoyance also counts to the rest of the mini-games that don't support the accessory; they all crop up far too often and with minimal difference. It is unfortunate to see MotionPlus' potential, especially for a game like this, to be wasted on just one mini-game, instead of the practical precision it could have brought to the main mechanics of All-Star Karate.
All-Star Karate's main storyline is rather extensive, so those that get hooked on the fighting mechanics have quite a fair few hours ahead of them in this respect. Helping this mode's longevity are the extras you can earn for obtaining good pass grades, ranging from new costume colours and accessories, to pages that tell the history of karate. There is multiplayer support also, offering either sparring matches, or set challenges for two players. Both modes use the same reliable control as the main one player game, so it is a welcome addition to the game as a whole. As such, this game is very well suited to the younger crowd, or those that can look past horrid presentation to see the goodness within.
This game's strongest trait; punches and kicks can be delivered with precision and satisfaction, at least before things speed up. MotionPlus potential is squandered, and mini-game repetition quickly grates.
Colourful and pleasing to the eye, but ultimately the generic and bland characters, and repetitive and uninspired backdrops will tire any player.
Largely forgettable and all-too frequent background music, and overdone voice acting that will make you reach for the mute button ensure you wouldn't be getting this game for what emerges from the speakers.
A respectable number of unlockables amidst an extensive, if highly repetitive single player campaign, and some enjoyable multiplayer options pad out the time you'd put into All-Star.
On first glance, All-Star Karate looks like it might be right at home on the shelves between Cruis'n and Ninjabread Man. For those willing to persist, however, the game rewards players with fun gameplay and exercise potential, if falling short in areas of presentation and MotionPlus usage.