Saturday Crapshoot: Bikini Karate Babes
Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, prepare to see beat-em-up action like you've never seen it before! With women fighting in skimpy, ridiculous costum- waaaaaaaaait...
Karate translates as 'Empty Hand'. Damn, no easy joke opportunities there! But is Bikini Karate Babes the gaming equivalent of Ronseal - primarily aqua and potassium tripolyphosphate? There’s only one way to find out, and we’re going to do so by trying something roughly 98% of online write-ups of it have never even dreamed of… actually installing the damn thing, and playing for more than ten seconds.
I know. It's a crazy idea! But it might... just... work...
By review law, any write-up of a game like this has to immediately slip into a comfy, well-worn auto-drive of moral outrage about its mere existence. Just look at it. It has boobies in it! Shameful! Won't someone please think of the children who shouldn't be playing it in the first place! Why, it's so shameful, there's only one way to express the innate indignity of it - to print about a hundred screenshots, especially of the mucky bits. While wagging the very sternest of fingers, of course! Tsk. Such naughtiness!
At the risk of losing my critic license though, I... don't have much of a problem with Bikini Karate Babes' existence. It's a dreadful beat-em-up, where the girls in bras can't hide the engine being completely pants, but it's at least honest about what it is and plays it up for laughs. That alone makes it less gratuitous than most 'respectable' beat-em-ups, which have been constantly reinforcing the far more toxic idea that outfits like these are how gaming's female martial artists should be dressed:
Next to this nonsense, it's tough to get a good head of outrage going about a game for using actual women in regular store-bought bikinis rather than freakishly chested mutants in fetish-wear. Is it some enlightened piece of social commentary? Of course not. It's a beat-em-up based on the revolutionary idea that guys - and some girls of course - like looking at boobs and will spend money to do so.
But, y'know, compared to many of its competitors, it does have some good points. The use of real models at least means the characters all have human proportions (and the almost unheard-of ability to stand on the edge of a cliff without instantly toppling to a rather nasty bounce), and a reasonably wide range of body types, from the model-proportions of Aphrodite and Venus to chunkier fighters like Sedna and Voluptas. It embraces the silliness, and - aside from a couple of moments here and there that are a little uncomfortable or push its luck to too far - does so in a cheery way rather than with the rampant sexism/misogyny of other games that have gone down this road - Variable Geo springing instantly to mind. It's not even particularly violent, with no blood and incredibly cartoony animations. Oh, and also due to the use of live actresses instead of cartoon sprites or 3D models, it's one of the few fighters that isn't an automatic member of the illustrious Boobs Don't Work That Way Club.
None of this is to say that Bikini Karate Babes is some kind of wholesome, enlightened game with any kind of message. It's pure, shameless fan-service that may as well have called itself Moretits Kombat, whose unlockables include short videos of a couple of the fighters a few seconds after agreeing to do topless jumping jacks, a boss whose special attack is to instantly win a round by ripping the bra off her opponent, and a dedicated game mode about doing just that several times in a row.
It's also a dreadful, dreadful beat-em-up. Not Tongue of the Fatman bad, but little is. It's also better than Catfight and I think we can assume Fetish Fighters too. Compared to grown-up beat-em ups though? Bad. Stinkingly bad. The use of video clips for everything means that most moves take forever and can't be cancelled if you accidentally trigger a combo, you're constantly bombarded with confusing discrepancies like getting down on the floor and pressing kick only to throw a punch instead, blocking isn't so much a question of pressing a key as sending the character a telegram asking them to kindly put their arm up above their face, and the AI ...oh god, the AI. It's like playing against the ultimate button masher, with your task being to find your character's one vaguely good move and spam it like you're a Nigerian prince. You don't even get a move list. Nope. You have to unlock that info.
At this point, if you just want to see boobies, you may as well quit, or type a couple of words into that internet thing that's been quite popular in recent years. At its most graphic, Bikini Karate Babes plays the peekaboo game. There are moves that involve characters popping their tops and using them as whips, the aforementioned bra-stealing, and one of the endings is of what looks like a slightly confused girl who just realised her contract included doing some topless exercises in the middle of a very cold field, but there's always an arm, a lens flare, a tree, or something similar to get in the way. Even in the Jumping Jacks videos, there are little digital pasties added to cover up the jumpee's nipples.
Shudder. Nipples. The most horrifying of all erotic skin protrusions!
If you want to see crazy though... hoo boy, does Bikini Karate Babes have you better covered than anyone who's actually in it. Boob lasers and bra whipping is just the start, with characters having the power to do anything from fire lightning out of their lady bits and creating duplicates of themselves, to tagging in the game's final boss to finish a battle instead. And there's a ridiculous number of characters - 19 in total, most of whom have to be unlocked. That's 19 totally different models too, no Mortal Kombat style palette swap ninjas here, all of whom have their own moves, a full range of animations, and most eye-poppingly, close-up Special moves where every combination of actresses does their thing with every other one in turn, from a tickle to a disorientating butt-bump, to a rather more practical headbutt, rather than simply doing their parts in a vacuum and having the artists stick the sprites together.
Sometimes there are even special versions between characters. Gemini's special for instance is a kiss, which most characters just look confused or slightly repulsed by. If she tries it on Zaria though, it just earns her an instant slap in the face, making it an attack that only damages her own health bar. Damn. Even Dan Hibiki usually has better moves than that. Not to mention better luck with women.
By far the weirdest character in the game is called Thalia, who is named after the Greek muse of Comedy, but... damn. She's like Harley Quinn's even more deranged kid sister, who she has to tell to take the tea cosy off her head and stop pouring jelly down her nose before the neighbours call Batman. She spends the whole game dancing around in a Stars and Stripes bikini and waving at the fourth wall instead of paying attention to the fight. Her main victory animation is pulling a lit torch out of her... uh... herself, with attacks that involve mad clowning around and hitting people with her pigtails.
Oh, and she also has a projectile attack. This is her projectile attack.
Gotta give Bikini Karate Babes credit. It's a shockingly poor game, but at least it's not dull.
Speaking of which, did I mention there was a sequel earlier this year?
Well, there was a sequel earlier this year. It's called Warriors of Elysia, and the weirdest thing about it isn't that it's rubbish - in fact it suffers from exactly the same flaws as the first one, only in a 3D world and at a higher resolution - but how goddamn boring it is in comparison to the first.
Actually, no. Boring's not quite the right word. The first game is crap, yes, but campy and goofy in a way that's easy to find entertaining - much like a dreadful B-Movie. It's not a game to like or respect, but against the odds, its heart is closer to the right place than you'd expect. At the very least... honestly, probably the absolute most as well... it feels like everyone involved had fun making it.
Warriors of Elysia suffers from Magnum Opus Syndrome - up to and including its pompous title. It's as if someone spent too much time between takes working out the lore of this world and some great epic story, and came to the mistaken conclusion that the the only thing holding the Bikini Karate Babes back from the top tiers of PC gaming was that people might think it a bit silly. For the sequel then, everyone involved had to first find a pair of socks and put them on, and then pull them up, to create an epic adventure worthy of these characters... none of whom had ever had a single line beyond "Hiyaaaa!"
At least, that's how it feels, watching the more grandiose presentation of it all, complete with proper physical sets, extras, special effects and all the other bits and pieces crammed into it. And maybe... maybe... it could have worked, with a storyline and tongue-in-cheek style borrowing from something like Xena: Warrior Princess and creating quirky relationships and proper cut-scenes and... y'know... a script and dialogue and plot. In the game itself I mean, not stuffed online in a wiki somewhere.
Instead, what the game offers is the most mind-numbing blather this side of... okay, of half the Street Fighter IV endings. There are cut-scenes, but all they ever show is Stuff. Nonsensical, unexplained Stuff - and I checked, my download didn't come with a manual or anything to explain it. All you get, you get in the intro, a mad montage made up of scenes from the characters' ending videos. There's a small army of unidentified girls who appear to be some kind of army whose uniform is bright pink bikinis and weird glowing Tron style bracelets, boobs, ancient temples, boobs, random fights, boobs, dungeons, boobs, more random fights... it's like like the fan-service fairy forgot to take its Ritalin...
In game, all of this... is completely forgotten. None of the characters have an introduction to say they're working with X or trying to accomplish Y. The only story bits you get are at the end of the Arcade mode, where it's revealed that none of the clips make any more sense in context. One winning character just ends up fighting the Pink Bikini Army for a few seconds. Another apparently crafts the ultimate battle bikini out of glowing blue goo, while another gets to either set up a lesbian prison or be beaten up by her prisoners... but why are these people suddenly working together? What are the stakes in this conflict? What does everyone want from this? Is BLECE involved? What the hell is going on?
Even if you think there are more important things to focus on than plot, the atmosphere of the game is completely broken. One of the only reasons the first game even vaguely works is that it's a good natured, incredibly silly game, to the point that you can see the characters occasionally forcing back smile or trying to avoid collapsing mid-shot. Characters punch and kick from a distance, and there are some up-close martial attacks, sure, but far more are about bouncing the other character off or spinning them around, to the point that while M. Bison gets a Psycho Crusher and head-stomp, the final boss of Bikini Karate Babes' up-close special is to... stamp on her opponents foot. Not even in shoes.
Warriors of Elysia goes in much more for gut-punches, kicking opponents on the ground, and trying to make things look like it hurts. One of the endings consists of pretty much nothing but one woman - who we're never given any back story for or anything - being surrounded and beaten up by a gang of Pink Bikinis, complete with shouts of pain, with her arms held behind her back, her face repeatedly punched and lifted back up for more punching, before being thrown to another girl to be painfully kneed in the crotch and then finally thrown to the ground and surrounded, presumably for more beatings.
Remember the whole 'context-over-content' thing that makes the first game funny and even entertaining despite itself? Dumb and badly choreographed as it is, this is its evil mirror universe double.
Context is always king in games like this, which is why Leisure Suit Larry 7 is a naughty, funny, silly, sex-positive adventure, while Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude is a pile of misogynistic shit. Warriors of Elysia isn't that much of a shift - exploitative in a filmic sense perhaps, though with little that would trouble a PG rating in terms of actual content - but it's a similar kind of slide.
The fact that it's a terrible game in its own right barely seems to matter, since I doubt a single person would ever buy it expecting the next Tekken, but its weaknesses there certainly don't help. On the default Normal difficulty, you can literally beat the whole game on every character by mashing either the punch or kick button, making it even easier than Bikini Karate Babes. There's an obvious 'playing one handed' joke to be made there, though nothing in the game that actually warrants it. Instead, I used Twitter for a while and sighed a lot. That was the most satisfying T&A here: Tweets and Aaahs...
Unlike a lot of the games we cover in this column, both Bikini Karate Babes are still actually sold, both on Direct2Drive. The first costs £6, the second a less-than-arousing £15. You can even buy DVDs of behind the scenes footage for around $25, though exactly what wonders they contain, I have no idea. Probably girls in bikinis. Seems a fair guess. But there's only one way to find out. If you care.