Karate Spirits 3D
Karate Spirits 3D is much better than most other 3D mobile fighters, but that isn't saying much...
Karate Spirits 3D is Bandai Wireless's second attempt at a mobile 3D fighter, after the fairly dismal Blade Slayer. That game I criticized for just being 3D for 3D's sake, the lack of a real fighting system with any depth, and the overall lightness of total content. Karate Spirits fixes all those issues and then some, creating a much more enjoyable pocket fighter, but it's still tough to recommend too strongly.
Rather than give fighters traditional health bars, Karate Spirits' fighters have what the game calls "stamina units." You can punch or kick your opponent all day long, but unless you perform a knockdown maneuver, they will never lose any of their health units (which vary in number, according to the enemy's difficulty). At higher levels this becomes especially interesting - the powerful moves required to take enemy health also take a long time to pull off. It becomes necessary to chain normal punches and kicks (that are quicker) and then finish off with a knockdown move.
Like much of Bandai's mobile library, Karate Spirits' control set-up at times feels needlessly complex. It's literally impossible to play with one hand. Left and right handle left and right movement. Down blocks, and up sidesteps. 3, 6, and 9 have been assigned punch, kick, and power attack, respectively. Additionally there are a handful of advanced maneuver, including throw (forward + punch). Counter attacks or parry attacks can be pulled off after a successful block or sidestep.
Bandai did an excellent job of stretching the game's replay value by adding incentives to keep gamers coming back. The meat of the game is the "100 round kumite," which tasks gamers with fighting one opponent after another, with their high score Game Lobby-enabled on Sprint handsets. As players progress their fighter also progresses from a white to (eventually) a black belt, opening up access to new moves. This keeps progression subtle but fairly constant - the moves you unlock during one 100 round kumite session should help you progress farther the next time around, to open up more techniques, etc etc.
Each of the game's five playable characters also have give promotion tests to unlock and complete. These tests enhance replay value by presenting difficult challenges (such as performing five parry attacks in 24 seconds), but they also serve as a good way to slowly introduce gamers to the intricacies of the fighting system. The task "perform a 7-hit combo" might seem impossible, until you learn what moves can be chained together in what ways.
The game's big fault is that even when punches, kicks, and blocks are being traded at their most furious, the action still feels a little sluggish. The experience is meant to be more like that of a technical fighter (hence the lack of health bars), so some of that lack of speed is forgivable, but not all of it. It ran slow enough to affect the overall fun factor, for me. Additionally, having a 100-round endurance mode as the central experience has its benefits, such as the rewarding structure for unlockables outlines above, but it also has drawbacks. It makes the experience feel too much like a chore, and it's extremely frustrating to lose, even though you can save every five matches.
Karate Spirits 3D reminds me of some of the titles released back on the PS1 in the mid-90s, when 3D gaming was still coming into its own. The games were a little clunky and lacked the polish and finesse of their 2D counterparts, but it was still clear that they represented the future. If Bandai's 3D fighters continue to improve at this pace, their third effort should be just about perfect.
What's Hot: Fighting system contains decent depth. Good music.
What's Not: Gameplay is somewhat sluggish.