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Retro video game review: Best of the Best Championship Karate (NES)

NES Best of the Best Championship Karate video game


In 1989, movie critic Stephen Holden of the New York Times had this to say about the recently released film Best of the Best, specifically concerning lead actor Eric Roberts' performance: “Though his face is a mass of emotive tics and teary-eyed twitchings, he fails to project a drop of genuine feeling or to suggest a real character beneath the mannerisms. ”

In behind able to display twitchy tics and other animations yet completely lacking any real character or value, the video game version of the flick would live up to the legacy of its source material. Best of the Best Championship Karate was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1992, and it is not good.


Whether you are a novice or experienced NES gamer, the likelihood of wanting to be greeted with an overly complex yet under-explained menu screen is very slight. It is bad enough that the title screen is so dim, like it was lit by a producer with very little confidence in their product. Yet, here you would be, trying to start the game but faced with options for training, selecting a move set, viewing statistics, changing the player designations, changing the names involved, starting the actual match, and a couple of other options I cannot be bothered to list here because this already feels like so much tedium.

To make it worse, half the menu options are remarkably misleading. For example, changing the moveset for your protagonist not only seems to not make any difference, but the controller inputs during the training sessions do not match the result once real matches begin. Supposedly, there are eight sets of two moves each to choose from, but with some standard ones common across the board, but none of them are activated with simple presses of the A or B button alone but only in conjunction with the directional pad, and even then not always consistently, and...

This game is a mess. There are sixteen one-on-one martial arts matches to conquer, but zero incentives to bother. There are controls, technically, but the latency is infuriating, as you are forced to wait a second before anything results – by then, of course, you are being kicked in the face. The instruction manual acts as though this is a really well-defined simulation, using sentences such as, “A circular kick will hit your opponent if he stands in the blow trajectory.”

This is bull, of course. This is just a really puffed-up way of saying, “Hey, if you press a button, something may happen, and there is a slight possibility that your move will miraculously damage your opponent. However, the much more likely event will be the computer opponent already having punched you in that time. Also, please do not ask why we elected to use a series of dimming lights to display your health points. That was a silly decision.”


Ah, the best ingredient of this game: Cool visuals. The character animations are very fluid, and there are colors used in the graphics. Really, though, how many ways are there to say “the character animations are very fluid?” Something about dynamic, sprites, smooth, frames, detail, pixels, art, design, whatever. You can put a thousand different pretty dresses on a serial-killing monkey, but it will still be a serial-killing monkey.


The music has those odd trills of a Camerica cartridge. The impact sound effects are somewhat gratifying, even if landed hits are rare. Let us put it this way: The soundtrack is not good enough to outshine the flaws of this so-called Best of the Best.


There is nothing original or innovative here whatsoever. The developers may have thought they were creating something interesting here, but they were wrong. If you want a movie license game, there are dozens to choose from, even just on the NES, and many of them are superior. If you want to play a one-on-one martial arts tournament that is difficult, has timed rounds, an overly complicated moveset, and an inflated sense of self-importance, go play Karate Champ. It even has horrible hit detection, too.

Overall rating: 1.0/5 stars.


Eric Bailey blogs at, where he is reviewing every American-released NES video game. He also serves as Editor-In-Chief of retro gaming features site, and can be followed on Twitter @Nintendo_Legend.

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