Martial artists have for centuries honed their bodies, minds, and souls to the very height of human potential. Entire lifetimes are dedicated to the understanding and perfecting of the human form and all for one very distinct purpose. If the new launch game, Mad Karate Man, is to be believed, then that purpose is to waylay cell phone yapping, briefcase lugging, penny-loafer on casual Friday wearing businessmen, and kick them so hard they actually go into orbit.
In this interesting take on the old launch game mechanic, you exact your frustration on the hapless businessmen in a series of steps. First you juggle your victim into the sky by clicking the mouse when the location arrow reaches as close to the center of the meter as possible. Now it's time for you to get in some choice combo action by clicking on various locations of the businessman's body. The bigger the combo, the more power you build up, but be sure to avoid the briefcase since every time your strike is blocked, your combo counter is reset to zero.
Once you've landed, you are finally ready to launch your khaki-clad foe by clicking when the angle meter comes as close to the forty-five degree mark as possible. If you were able to build up enough power during the combo portion of the game, you can click on one of two special attack icons on the left to prolong the businessman's flight. A flying kick will send him upwards while the fireball will speed him along horizontally.
As if you weren't given enough to deal with already, you'll also want to work on keeping your living projectile from getting slowed down by the many obstacles hurled at you. Oh, and ninjas. You might want to fend off the ninjas while you're at it. Use the mad points you build up from launches to upgrade your fighter and improve your stats in between launch, rinse and repeat. Maybe, somewhere along the line, you might stop to figure out exactly why Mad Karate Man is so mad, but that's up to you.
Analysis: As you have likely figured out by now, what sets Mad Karate Man apart from other launch games is the complexity of the launch process. Where most other games are merely point and shoot, here you have to go through this multi-layered process where each action has a profound impact upon later steps and the subsequent flight. This process brings with it both positives and negatives. On the upside, the complexity involved is what makes Mad Karate Man an interesting game. More to the point, the process is genuinely fun once you have gotten the hang of things. One of the successes at work here is how each step along the way impacts the following steps and the over all launch itself, forcing you as the player to invest yourself throughout its entirety. No step is a wasted step.
Another thing that Mad Karate Man gets right is its visuals. These graphics are a perfect blend of parody and homage to the Street Fighter II era of fighting games complete with rippling pectoral muscles and melodramatic stances that mimic the discomfort of constipation. My one qualm here is that on the vertical scale, the graphics just quit. Once you leave the skyline there's a brief star field and then nothing but blackness.
Mad Karate Man's real flaws, though, come at the very beginning of play and towards the end. It's common for your opening launches in these kind of games to be fairly weak, but here the learning curve is quite steep and your first few launches will likely be frustratingly pathetic. Conversely, on the back end the game can get too easy and therefore boring. This problem is exacerbated by the lack of an ultimate goal to keep working towards.
But in between the rough start and ambivalent ending, Mad Karate Man is an excellent example of its genre. Learning the game once you've broken through the frustration barrier is a rewarding experience, and the depth of the gameplay gives this launch title perhaps more longevity than you would find among others of its type.