Suffice to say, I’m a pretty hardcore Cobra Kai fan, and even though licensed video games have quite the spotty record, I was still eager to try publisher GameMill Entertainment and developer Flux Games’ Cobra Kai: The Karate Kid Saga Continues. Even if the game were a wreck, I assumed it would be an amusing oddity for fans like me. What I was not expecting is how shockingly competent a beat ‘em up this actually is. Flux Games clearly treated this project as a labor of love, and even though it has a lot of technical issues, Cobra Kai is a quality experience that I loved playing.
A mostly faithful, entirely preposterous Cobra Kai adaptation
Cobra Kai: The Karate Kid Saga Continues tells a non-canon story in the Cobra Kai universe set roughly around the end of season 2. You have the option to play the game as Cobra Kai or Miyagi-Do, and the premise is that both sides are being manipulated into thinking the other dojo is coming after them. Completing the story as both sides reveals what’s really going on.
The story and writing are ultimately simple. However, almost every character you can possibly think of from the TV show is in the game — and you will have to beat up all of them. They all show up as boss characters! It’s hilarious and preposterous! Johnny beats up his stepfather and his landlord. Daniel pulverizes a small child and a rival car dealer. Yasmine, the mean girl from the high school who has no fighting ability whatsoever in the show, is somehow the most difficult boss in the regular story. It’s insane and stupid and great.
A handful of actors from the series reprise their roles for Cobra Kai: The Karate Kid Saga Continues too, like William Zabka and Ralph Macchio, lending a stronger authenticity even though they’re not given Oscar-worthy material to read off. However, one of the best aspects of the game is that the composers of the Cobra Kai series provided its soundtrack, and it is fantastic all around. The opening theme alone is outstanding and gets you hyped up to play.
How to beat up Los Angeles
When you start Cobra Kai: The Karate Kid Saga Continues, you are locked into the dojo you select at the beginning until you beat the game, after which time you can do a “New Game+” sort of deal with the other dojo. Cobra Kai consists of Johnny, Miguel, Hawk, and Tory, whereas Miyagi-Do comprises Daniel, Robby, Sam, and (amusingly) Demetri.
With rare exception, you can swap among all four dojo members with a directional button press, though there is a slight cooldown so that you can’t spam it. When doing two-player, you share access to the four. Levels consist of lengthy (potentially half an hour long) story missions with quicker, smaller areas in-between, and you can replay them whenever you want. There are no checkpoints within levels though.
Cobra Kai: The Karate Kid Saga Continues provides all the beat ‘em up gameplay staples you would expect. There are punches, kicks, parries, dodge rolls, grabs, throws, floor attacks, limited-use weapons to pick up, two different sets of special abilities, and even context-sensitive environmental attacks (like throwing a dude in the garbage) that can all be used to develop huge combos. You can jump too, but I found admittedly little reason to ever use it in combat. At first I thought the controls for ground attacks were finicky, but through much trial and error I eventually determined it’s just very specific about what inputs it will accept. So all in all, the controls are responsive and reliable once you understand them.
Enemy mobs can get quite large and the AI can be unrelenting at times. They choreograph their strong, unstoppable attacks by turning red though, so you always know when it’s time to parry or dodge. There are no difficulty settings, but the difficulty curve is quite good; almost every time I thought the game was getting too hard, I ultimately realized I just sucked and was ignoring some important mechanic. My second playthrough, as Miyagi-Do, breezed by, though the game is also just outright easier as Miyagi-Do, since Daniel uniquely has a healing ability.
New enemy types keep appearing with great variety until about the last quarter of the game, when that disappointingly ceases. Among others, you’ll fight guys in skeleton costumes, martial artists, old hippy woman burnouts, preppy guys that throw cell phones, “let me speak to your manager” women who summon more goons, football players, mall cops on a Segway named Blart (really), and bikers that literally grab you with a chain and say, “Get over here!” like Scorpion. It’s all absurd and makes no sense, but it’s fun. The enemies, along with the bosses, all behave uniquely too, which is what counts.
The will to kill
Cobra Kai: The Karate Kid Saga Continues differentiates itself with its wide variety of customizable and upgradable skills. Every playable character in a given dojo has access to the same set of four dojo-specific abilities, and on top of that, every character has his or her own unique set of four more abilities (plus a unique ultimate ability, like Daniel’s Crane Kick). The game makes a point of emphasizing that using these abilities doesn’t cost HP — they just operate on a cooldown — so survival in later levels depends on spamming your myriad special abilities.
However, there is still finesse to combat. The game rewards mixing up lots of different kinds of attacks by increasing the letter grade on your combo, which yields many benefits: The end of a combo restores a bit of health to your character in proportion to its grade (and instantly revives any dead characters if you get “B” or better). The game records your best combo in a given level segment, contributing to your final level score. And a good combo generally just gives you more points to spend on customizing your abilities.
Dojo and character-specific skills alike can be leveled up and customized along forking paths, and those paths also include a variety of character buffs to choose from, like increased attack power or faster access to an ultimate ability. It’s not extremely in-depth, but it kept me engaged until I’d more or less maxed them all out, which admittedly did occur a handful of levels before the game was actually over. However, maxing them out early was the result of satisfying various in-game achievements offered at the dojo, so it balanced out.
Bugs and jank
Cobra Kai: The Karate Kid Saga Continues has quite a list of technical quirks and issues. To start, I personally don’t notice frame rate in games much, but it’s fair to say this game doesn’t run perfectly smoothly all the time. Animations are a bit jerky in places, and the more things that are going on at once, the more the game may start to stutter a bit. In fact, there was a short level with pretty trees that caused so much slowdown that the physics for enemies falling down just kind of broke somehow, temporarily. But that was an outlier.
A more prevalent bug was that, sometimes, I would grapple an enemy on the ground and start punching — but the enemy didn’t react and no damage registered. It was never a serious problem but did deliver some frustration. Likewise, enemies can get knocked off screen or just kind of walk off on their own, and I sometimes would have to wait for them to come back.
Cobra Kai: The Karate Kid Saga Continues actually crashed on me three separate times: in the customization menu (playing docked), early on in a level (docked), and, most significantly, during the secret super boss final battle (handheld). It’s a crazy and fun battle against a character that is very much Akuma combined with M. Bison, but the game just couldn’t handle it. There were too many explosion effects, which tanked the frame rate, caused the audio to quit, (Audio stopping or doubling itself is a common bug in the game.) and finally triggered a crash late in the fight.
The final level is a half-hour-long boss rush, so I wasn’t willing to go through all that trouble to reach the super boss again and risk another crash. I’m just hoping that, given better luck and/or playing docked, it would run better, but consider yourself warned.
There are also somewhat lengthy load times in the game — not terrible but enough to be irksome. And there is persistent and annoying lag when navigating the customization menu.
Cobra Kai: The Karate Kid Saga Continues is a distinct and worthwhile beat ‘em up
Despite the litany of technical issues I just outlined, this quirky licensed brawler is one of my favorite games I have played all year. Cobra Kai: The Karate Kid Saga Continues delivers a satisfying combination of engaging beat ‘em up gameplay, authenticity to the TV series, and preposterous humor that results in an experience unlike any other on Nintendo Switch. “Cobra Kai never dies” thanks to bonkers extensions of the IP such as what Flux Games has produced here.
A review code was provided by the publisher.