The idea is simple: you have 30 seconds to defeat your martial arts expert opponent by pull off points-scoring moves from the Karate handbook. Whoever scores 2 points first wins and if the counter times out before the points are scored, the person with the highest score wins!
Two wins will then earn you a new belt and move you onto the next stage in order to face off against an even more skilled opponent. So, no health bars here, just fighters score points on one another. Attacks can either score a half point or full point depending on the attack. There also a two-player mode where you and a friend battle it out in 90-second bouts of vengeance!
International Karate is great, offering a lot o stages to fight against an opponent. The game offers 16 different Karate moves. During an attack movement you need to keep the joystick pressed into the corresponding direction until the fighter has ended the move. It is possible to block breast and head kicks / strokes of the opponent by backing away (foot sweeps cannot be blocked and avoided only by get out of the opponent's reach).
Each stage resembles famous pieces of scenery from different countries such as Mount Fuji (Tokyo), Sydney Harbour (Sydney), Statue of Liberty (New York), Forbidden City (Beijing), Christ the Redeemer (Rio de Janeiro), Palace of Westminster (London), Venice (Italy) and the Great Pyramid of Giza (Cairo) and Hawaii (Atari ST only). Note that the original C64 version offered the Parthenon (Athens) instead of Hawaii.
International Karate is great. For a fighting game in the mid 80's, this was nothing short of the total package.
The graphical presentation is very respectable for a game issued as early as 1986 and the Atari ST version replaces the original aesthetics with a more cartoonish look. As mentioned above, the fights take place against a variety of backdrops representing different locations in the world, and the ST version offers 10 in contrast to the 8 offered in theoriginal. All stages here are nicely drawn offering more colors and with more details than the original C64 version (which also looks great). More on that, The Atari ST version offers a few animated objects/scenes at the backdrops too. Sprites are wonderfully animated and move relative fast. You may notice that in the original C64 version, sprites look much like the successor title (IK+) whilst in the ST version sprites look different. This is because International Karate was developed by a different development house (Andromeda Software) and published by System 3.
The sound is good, offering a nice introductory tune and some (low sampled quality) digitalized fighting screams of the opponents during fighting.