I think we’ve all seen a game that we immediately assumed would be trash. Movie tie-ins, shovelware, rip offs of more popular titles, anything on Steam that’s in Early Access and has “survival” and “crafting” in the tags. When my editor asked me to review Cobra Kai: The Karate Kid Saga Continues, my first thought was “this is gonna be trash”. I was wrong–so, so wrong.
Now I’ve never seen Cobra Kai, but after reading some plot summaries, this game is basically just following the story of the show. Since you can play as either the Cobra Kai or Miyagi-Do dojos, you get a slightly different story with each side, but it still follows the plot of the show in either case.
At the beginning of a new game, you get to choose between either the Cobra Kai or Miyagi dojos: the former focused on higher damage, better combos, and fire-based attacks, while the latter is focused on higher health, better parries, and ice-based attacks. Each dojo has four characters you gradually unlock, who you can switch between at will during a level, as well as a set of special moves all the characters from that dojo can use. There is a slight cool down, so you can’t be constantly switching between characters.
The big thing for me is how solid the gameplay is and how fleshed out the characters are: besides the aforementioned dojo special moves, you’ve got a punch and kick, as well as a set of four special moves and an ultimate attack unique to each character. In addition, each special move has a huge upgrade tree with different paths to take. What makes this all work so well is how fluid the combat is: while you have the basic punch and kick combos, you can also combo into your special moves and ultimate attacks, leading to some insanely high combo counters. You can even cancel out of your special moves seemingly at any time, opening up even more possibilities. This isn’t Street Fighter by any means, but compared to a lot of other beat-em ups it might as well be.
In addition to your regular attacks, you also have access to grabs, parries, and ground attacks. Grabbing is performed by merely touching an enemy that isn’t aware of you or has been stunned, which then allows you to punch them, vault over them, or throw them. Pressing B puts you into a parry stance, and if you’re hit by an attack you’ll counterattack, which can be an instant kill on lower enemies. Finally there’s ground attacks: if an enemy lands on their back, they remain vulnerable for a brief period of time, during which you can press LB near different parts of their body for different moves: near the legs has you pick them up and throw them, near the stomach has you stomp on them, and near the head has you mount them, at which point you can punch them in the face.
All of this together makes the game a joy to play. It’s kind of amazing how many of your moves you can pack into a single combo, including grabs and ground attacks, and you aren’t limited to starting combos with just your punches and kicks: certain special moves can also set enemies up for combos, and with the ability to reduce move cooldowns with attacks, you can create these insanely long strings and juggles that would make Mortal Kombat blush. The over the top ice and fire effects just add to this, making ever combo feel even more over the top.
My only real gripe is the art style/graphics: it’s not good. I don’t know if they burned the rest of the budget on having the actors from the show or what, because the graphics are what made me think this game was gonna be garbage: the characters just look like plastic dolls, and the lighting isn’t great so everything looks really flat. It’s disappointing, because the art style used in the character portraits looks great, and if they’d done something along the lines of the new Streets of Rage, or had even done something with pixel art, it would have looked a lot better.
A pretty common practice nowadays is to judge a game by your first glimpse, and a lot of the time it makes sense. Gaming isn’t a cheap hobby, and putting down $60 for a game only to realize it’s crap isn’t a great feeling. When I first saw Cobra Kai: The Karate Kid Saga Continues, I assumed it was a cheap TV-show tie-in, but it’s actually a solid beat-em up with a great progression system and a crazy amount of variety. I’ve never watched any of the Karate Kid movies or the Cobra Kai show and I’m kind of addicted to this game, so if you’re a fan I’m sure you’ll get even more out of this game than I have.
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