Who knew that almost three decades after the original The Karate Kid trilogy, the saga would be given a new lease of life in the form of a premium YouTube series, Cobra Kai. Well, it’s been a phenomenal comeback, with the epic feud between Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence being embraced by a whole new generation. Subsequently, Cobra Kai has hit even greater heights since Netflix picked it up and now there’s a video game tie-in titled Cobra Kai: The Karate Kid Saga Continues.
Cobra Kai: The Karate Kid Saga Continues is a beat ‘em up brawler that’s simultaneously looking to pack a punch and satisfy the fans of the immensely popular show. With the fantastic Streets of Rage 4 only recently bringing the genre back to the forefront of gaming, can the Cobra Kai game capitalise on it and deliver a fun-filled, side-scrolling brawler too? Well, while Cobra Kai: The Karate Kid Saga Continues has a lot going for it, there’s not much point having the components if they’re not put together well. And, unfortunately, the impressive depth of the gameplay is seriously undermined by poor execution.
Whether you’re wanting to represent team Johnny or team Daniel, Cobra Kai: The Karate Kid Saga Continues has got you covered by presenting two story campaigns. Keep the excitement levels under control however, because it’s essentially the same narrative for both; just told from the alternate perspectives of Cobra Kai and Miyagi Do. After a member of the respective dojo of your choosing gets ambushed, the adventure leads you to hunt down whoever orchestrated it.
On paper, the storytelling should strike hard and strike fast, with several of the actors reprising their roles from the TV series, including William Zabka and Ralph Macchio – the two main protagonists. Sadly, a combination of lacklustre voiceovers and comic book style scenes will fail to draw you in to the barebones tale on offer. The only saving grace in this regard is how developers Flux Game Studio incorporated a lot of memorable moments and characters from Cobra Kai into the action in one way or another. The Demetri and Hawk shopping mall incident is a prime example, as is the All Valley Karate Tournament encounter. But, ultimately, its own narrative struggles to create new memories.
The actual gameplay is another matter entirely, with every tool in its arsenal that’s needed in order to create a deep, action-packed experience. As a beat ‘em up, you’ll traverse the levels in a side-scrolling manner, clearing out any enemies that are present, before advancing forward – a fairly standard trope for these types of games. Where it sets itself apart however, is in the whopping amount of different attacks available, which ensures the combat should feel fresh for ages.
Depending on the campaign you’re playing, the moves will either be fire-based (Cobra Kai) or ice-oriented (Miyagi Do), with both sides possessing four playable characters – that’s a total of eight – to switch between on the fly. Aside from regular combos using kicks and punches, there are four dojo-specific skills such as a ground pound that can knock enemies off their feet and cause elemental damage. Additionally, every character has four special moves to unlock, which are all very cool and easy to initiate; as an honorary member of Cobra Kai, I especially love how Miguel’s moves, like the flying double kick, fit him perfectly. Although they have a cooldown, you can use them multiple times, unlike the devastatingly dangerous Ultimate maneuvers that require a meter to be built up.
Hang on just a moment though, because I haven’t even mentioned the environmental interactions yet, seeing opportunities arise to slam foes into cars or chuck them into a cabinet and plenty of other damaging objects. Given that there are also attacks to perform when the baddies are lying prone, various offensive grabs, and weapons to pick up, the amount options are actually ridiculous.
What’s more impressive is the inclusion of fairly in-depth skill trees to upgrade, which then unlocks the full range of moves, makes them more deadly, and allows characters’ attributes to be improved. All you have to do is beat some people up to earn coins to spend on these trees, which are separate for each character alongside a dojo tree for boosts to the whole crew. This means you could just ensure one fighter is a real badass and pile everything into them, or share the love between all four.
So, what’s the issue? Well, there are a few, with the most disheartening being the hit detection – or lack thereof.
You wouldn’t believe the number of times a kick, punch or even the special moves just don’t connect with the enemy character models. In fact, it’s all too easy to walk through them and have multiple attempts at causing pain have no effect whatsoever. And that leaves you vulnerable when there’s a swarm surrounding you, with your health taking a real pummeling in mere seconds. It’s unfair when your chances of landing an attack are left to the flip of a coin, but what’s worse is when well-timed parries are also ignored. Hence, even the counter-attacks can be fruitless. These particular problems occur often enough to kill the fun, especially in some levels that are akin to pulling teeth as a result.
Whether you’re en route to LaRusso’s car dealership, the high school, or even the beach, the thing that becomes apparent rather swiftly is the pacing of the levels. Granted, the average one takes around 15 minutes to wrap up and ends with a decent challenge from a mini-boss. Those involving a boss however seem to drag on forever and, by the time you reach the major encounter, you’ve probably already had enough – the last thing you want is an opponent possessing powerful moves, multiple health bars to drain and the ability to call for reinforcements.
It is a shame really, because the enemy and boss variety is damn good on the whole. The regular enemies range from teens dressed in skeleton outfits and quarterbacks to hippies and mall cops; all offering different kinds of threats. The bosses are some of the characters you may recognise from the TV series, like Kyler, Tom Cole and the always devious Kreese. They’re no pushovers, especially when combat is literally hit and miss, but I do appreciate the effort put into differentiating them in terms of attack patterns.
Visually, Cobra Kai: The Karate Kid Saga Continues delivers an array of colourful locations and characters that stand out from each other. That’s great and everything, but it still ends up looking like a game from a previous console generation, which isn’t really ideal for a game priced at £34.99. To cap it off, you can even see the sprite stuttering as you move your character around the areas.
On the whole then, Cobra Kai: The Karate Kid Saga Continues on Xbox One gets about as many aspects right as it manages to mess up. There’s a surprising amount of depth to the movesets, the enemy variety is smashing, and the RPG-like skill trees are an added bonus. When the hit detection and technical accuracies are lacking though, it’s very annoying and off-putting. Throw in the phoned-in voice acting, budget graphics and bang-average story, and you find that most of the good work comes undone.
If there’s a patch anytime soon, you should be giving Cobra Kai: The Karate Kid Saga Continues a look, but until then I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it.