|Developer||Flux Game Studio|
|Genre||Beat 'Em Up|
|Platforms||Xbox One (reviewed), PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch|
|Release Date||October 27th, 2020|
The saga of the Cobra Kai television show is an interesting one. Originally premiering on YouTube Red in 2018, it initially seemed like a strange idea aimed at capitalizing off of nostalgia. After two seasons, YouTube informed Sony TV that they were no longer interested in a fourth season and began moving away from scripted content. With season 3 already in production, Sony took the show to Netflix. Cobra Kai became a hit, and news recently broke that a third season is on its way with a fourth to follow.
Personally, I decided to finally check out the show when it came to Netflix and finished both seasons in four days. Around the same time, I got a press release promoting a video game based on what I had just watched. As I was already aboard the hype train, I thought, “I don’t care how bad this might be. I’m going to play it” I received a review copy a few months later, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. Cobra Kai was my favorite show of the year, but I hardly expected a licensed product based on it to be high quality. Cobra Kai: The Karate Kid Saga Continues is no Streets of Rage 4, but packs a punch that makes it worthy of having a seat at the table of modern additions to the beat ’em up genre.
Violence: Seeing as it’s based on the Karate Kid franchise, Cobra Kai contains a fair amount of martial arts violence. Players will punch and kick their way through enemies with the use of fire and ice abilities, along with the option of using weapons and parts of the environment to take them down. Opponents scream in pain and fade out of existence, but the game does not include any blood or gore.
Language: Dialogue includes words such as “a*s”, “b***h”, and “bastard”.
Suggestive Themes: One character mentions the “front wedgie” moment from the show. Another speaks a french word that translates to “Do you want to sleep with me?” A character mentions that “babes” are an easy way to lure enemies into traps. One of the bosses is a teenager that attacks with hearts and behaves in a very flirtatious manner.
Drugs/Alcohol: One of the stages in the game takes place at a bar. Most of the player characters are underaged but fight their opponents around alcohol bottles and can sometimes use them as weapons.
When I first watched the show, I made a joke on Twitter noting that Cobra Kai is essentially a modern television interpretation of River City Ransom, and the video game follows suit in this idea. Centered around the events of Season 2, players can choose between the Cobra Kai and Miyagi-Do dojos and battle through various locations from the show and Reseda, California. You’ll want to play through both campaigns because doing so unlocks the “true ending.” Sadly, the option to alternate between the two is not available, so you must decide which initial path to take at the very beginning of the game.
Unlike the River City games, you won’t be roaming free around the town or purchasing items from vendors. Instead, a map guides you to important areas that help the story progress along with some that branch out from the main path. Streets that lay in between those key areas act as smaller stages that players must complete. These areas do a lot to help the game’s pacing and ultimately provide more action. Through this map, players can also go to their dojo to upgrade their skills, complete challenges, and view collectibles.
The dojo you choose determines the characters you will be using and the type of abilities they have—fire-based abilities for Cobra Kai and ice for Miyagi-Do. On the Cobra side, you’ll get Miguel, Johnny, Tory, and Hawk; on the other, you’ll get Sam, Daniel, Robby, and Demitri. As you progress through a stage, you’re able to switch between these characters on the fly. Both the dojos get a set of shared special moves and a set that is also unique to each student. All of those moves are available to learn and upgrade via a currency that is rarely in short supply. The volume of playable characters and their arsenal of attacks is astounding and shows that where the game lacks in presentation, it makes up for in gameplay.
The presentation of Cobra Kai is severely lacking, unfortunately, with generic-looking characters, environments, and low-quality textures. Its graphical style includes some light cel-shading in an attempt to resemble a cartoon or comic book, but most of the characters look as if you could create them in The Sims. Excluding some of the more unique locations, many of the stages could easily fit into a generic beat ’em up. On the plus side, it successfully carries the show’s personality and style—which is why we’re here in the first place. Some actors also return to reprise their roles, adding a sense of authenticity to the experience.
The controls are simple to understand, but the gameplay can get deep as you learn more special abilities and gain upgrades. On the face buttons, you have punch and kick attacks along with a jump and a timed parry that counters attacks while replenishing health. Special moves are executed by holding one of the triggers; left for dojo-specific and right for character-specific. The left and right bumpers activate environmental attacks, pick up items, and use weapons. Those are only the basics, but the game goes a step further and requires you to think creatively as you throw down with endless hordes of goons.
Playing Cobra Kai is much more than just mashing buttons. The game includes a dozen different enemy types that push you to change up your tactics. This can be daunting, but the game helpfully provides you information on each type when you first encounter them. Another welcome feature is a power-up system that involves picking up karate gis and belts—you complete the gi’s objective to earn the powerup that the belt offers. One of my personal favorite mechanics is the ability to revive your fallen characters when your combo chain ranks up to a B. I also enjoy the rush of skillfully executing a successful parry to keep myself alive when I’m at the end of my rope. Learning these mechanics well is important, and using them creatively can mean the difference between making forward progress and staring down a “Game Over” screen.
Cobra Kai might be fairly generous with the health pick-ups but it can provide its fair share of challenge too. The smaller stages restart you from the beginning when all of your characters are defeated. Still, the longer story driven stages provide some decent checkpoints that prevent you from losing too much progress. Also, the combo system is much more forgiving than any other brawler I’ve played. It takes a while to reset the combo meter without an attack to keep it going, but the moment you take damage it boots you back to the beginning of the chain. I’ve never seen a brawler have such a balance of welcoming new players while providing depth for the veterans all at once. Many games are not successful or don’t even try, but this game deserves a black belt in this area.
Being that it’s a brawler, we don’t need much reason to know why we are fighting so many goons, but the game manages to deliver a comically exaggerated story with references to the show sprinkled in. Many of the enemies you’ll be fighting don’t make sense, but seasoned beat ’em up veterans like myself will know that has been the case since day one. Don’t dwell on that too much and embrace the fodder presented to you. I found it quite humorous that characters from the show that don’t do any fighting make an appearance in the game as bosses and sub-bosses—some of which probably could’ve used a beat down. An important part of enjoying the game is embracing the nonsense and having fun doing what these characters were taught.
I had meager expectations when going into Cobra Kai: The Karate Kid Saga Continues, but it ended up becoming a personal sleeper hit. The price tag might be a little steep at $40, but I would’ve been happy with this purchase if I hadn’t received the review copy. It may not look like much on the surface, but Cobra Kai has an impressive amount of depth that had me hooked until the end. I might not recommend it to someone who hasn’t seen the show, but I know that anyone who appreciates both the source material and the genre will find plenty to enjoy here. Suffice it to say that this game manages to successfully embrace both the philosophies of Cobra kai and Miyagi-Do, making for a well-balanced experience.
Review copy kindly provided by Sandbox Strategies
The Bottom Line
The Cobra Kai video game is definitely not the best around, but it brings honor to a classic genre that keeps fighting.