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Karate Spirits 3D Review

Can mobile rock a hardcore fighting game?

With its number pad controls, lack of a joystick, and small screen not ideal for such fighting games concepts like "frame data," the cellphone is largely considered one of the least ideal platforms to host a brawler. Several attempts at the genre have been met with mixed reactions, such as Capcom's Street Fighter II, which certainly got the look right, but was partially felled by a control scheme that didn't match the expectations of the game's massive audience.

However, Bandai Wireless saw the lack of fighters on mobile not as a sign to steer clear, but as an opportunity to appeal to frustrated mobile gamers that aren't properly served. Karate Spirits 3D is a hardcore fighter -- at least, as hardcore as you're going to see on mobile right now -- that rallies hard against the limitations of cellphone gaming, but loses as much ground as it gains. Interesting mechanics like the need to strike technical moves to drain any health are undone by sometimes tricky controls that tip the favor to AI-controlled fighters. Which begs this question: If fighting games are hindered not by developer aspiration, but by the hardware itself, should mobile makers even keep trying?

Karate Spirits 3D's fighting system, as just hinted at, provided an interesting alternative to the basic mechanics of a fighter. Instead of chipping away at a health bar with quick punches, kicks, and throws, you can only eliminate one of your opponent's stamina blocks with a successful technical move -- a knockdown blow. Knockdown moves sometimes take some setting up, requiring you to keep your opponent busy with punches or kicks until you can execute that devastating attack. As you work your way through huge fighting contests, you learn new moves that are complex, but effective at defeating the increasingly more powerful enemies. Catch is, it can be quite difficult to set up these more powerful attacks, and that difficulty is not entirely due to the game itself. Juggling basic moves to busy an opponent then moving into the knockdown move on the number pad can twist even the most dexterous mobile gamer's thumbs. The technical nature of the action is really appealing, too, which doubles the frustration -- this is one of those games that makes you wish the development of gaming-centric handsets was a bigger priority within the industry.

Mercifully, Karate Spirits 3D offers a few modes for practicing your move sets, such as a proper training mode and a basic Free Fight that shunts you right into a fast match with little consequence. Also check out the Promotion tests, which throw up requisite goals like special attack chains to complete. This is a good way to test out combos and learn the deeper elements of the fighting system. You'll need the practice for the heart of the games : 100-Man Kumite. This is an extended tournament that pits you (choosing from five playable characters) against no fewer than 100 fighters -- in a row. You can save after every five fights and rejoin the tournament at a later time, but if you lose even one fight, you have to start all over again. That, my friends, is the very definition of "hardcore." Do not expect to plow through Kumite the first time to play the game. Or the fifteenth. It's hard as nails, but it's the only way to unlock extra moves, which will help you one day finish the Kumite tournament and post a winning score on the leader board -- a real achievement.

As the title indicates, Karate Spirits is indeed a 3D fighter, and developer Brizo Interactive makes good use of the extra dimension when stringing together the moves of its itty-bitty polygonal fighters. The game is attractive, with smooth (if not a little slow) animations and some nice use of color. The music is also a stand out feature.

Closing Comments

With as hard as Brizo and Bandai obviously worked to bring a technical fighter to mobile , it's not easy to bust on Karate Spirits 3D. But the fact of the matter is that this hardcore fighter is just not very accessible, thanks largely to a platform that just isn't equipped to host this kind of fighting game. Mobile is far better suited for lighter fighter fare, like Mobliss' Brady Bunch Kung Fu. If you're an absolute hardcore fighter fan that demands some numbthumbing action on the go -- and doesn't have a DS or PSP -- is your best option at the point. That's a halfhearted recommendation, but it doesn't necessarily come at the expense of the talent behind this game. Hopefully, one day we'll have handsets that match such vision, but until then, games must always work within the limitations of the platform to be successful.

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