Cobra Kai: A rough start with a worthy finish

Cobra Kai The Karate Kid Saga Continues is the most recent licensed title from developer Flux Games and Publisher GameMill Entertainment. After the experience I had with their other published title, GI Joe Blackout, I was skeptical about giving them another chance. But as promised, I ran this one through its paces. I was provided a code by the publisher and I did everything I could to play it front to back. Here are my thoughts.

Initially, I was very much not impressed. It was what is to be expected visually from a smaller developer. There was the obvious applied cell shader to models that gave it a look reminiscent of other popular titles. The controls felt clunky and unresponsive and for a brawler/beat em up, which the entire gameplay is predicated upon its control, this was not a good thing. But, I stuck with it and after the first hour or two, I must say….it really pulled me in and ended up being pretty enjoyable.

Now, I will admit I stuck with it because I enjoyed the series, and having the actors lend their voices to the game really helped. Both Daniel (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny (William Zabka) are present, along with a good majority of the actors for the Miyagi Do and Cobra Kai kids. Even the ensemble characters like Kyler, Tom Cole, Armand, Xander, and Yasmine are accounted for, with plenty of series call backs like the front wedgie, boba tea, and the nickname “Rhea”.

What matters most, however, is the gameplay, and this is where it took a bit to open up. Once it did, it became very fun. The way the game works is you pick one of the two dojos, Cobra Kai or Miyagi Do, and progress through a unique narrative depending on the side you choose. The narrative needs to be played from both sides in order for the full story to unfold. You start with one character from each side, Miguel or Sam, then as you progress you recruit 3 partners from each side. So eventually Miguel teams with Hawk, Tory, and Johnny, and Sam teams up with Robby, Demitri, and Daniel. At any point during gameplay you’re able to actively switch characters while in combat. This switching serves to save you from enemy attacks (using invincibility frames) and to manage enemy groups using each character’s unique skills. What this means is that the game doesn’t truly become something YOU are playing until you have all four of your characters readily available. Problem being this takes a few hours of gameplay, that will likely initially turn most players off.

Once all of your characters are available, there is then a quite robust skill tree for each of them and also a specific tree of skills that are shared for each dojo with two different paths to be chosen for each skill. Cobra Kai is geared more towards offensive style play, with high damage and burning attacks that deal damage over time while Miyagi Do is geared towards defensive play, with ice based attacks that slow enemies and have passive/active buffs placed on the characters themselves. This is not to say that, via the skill tree, you can’t alter how each dojo is played. I ended up tailoring my Miyagi Do school to be all about fast paced offensive play by making Robby a glass cannon that dealt high damage and charged my team ultimate attack quickly, Sam, using complete crowd control with her area of effect spinning kicks, Demitri, raising damage with his buff skills, and Daniel, cleaning up by being able to instantly heal damage. The beauty in this skill tree/upgrade system is that at any point in time you can choose to re-spec your characters to your choosing to completely alter how they play. So if you don’t like how your team is shaping up, change it all out and see how that alternative goes. There was obviously a lot of care put into this aspect of the game and they wanted the players to feel as if they have agency over how they progress.

Unfortunately, this same level of care was not given to another major aspect of the game; the dojo challenges. Shared between the schools is a pretty lengthy list of gameplay related challenges that you are….challenged to complete. These range from beating a certain number of enemies using a particular skill, finding hidden areas in certain stages, finishing a stage not getting hit, and so on. This seems easy enough until you realize that there is no explanation for how to complete certain challenges or the grind-y nature of others. This is at its most egregious when certain challenges are also how you unlock the games trophies(PSN) and achievements(XBL). They do not explain to you that if you miss certain ones there is absolutely no way to go back and get them, lest you start the game completely over, which means having to do that initial phase of gameplay over again. Case in point, I like to earn the platinum trophy whenever I can on my games, well one of the trophies/challenges in this game is to “Defeat Johnny with Daniel or vice versa”, simple and well enough, can do. But another separate trophy is to “Defeat Daniel using Johnny’s Cobra Ultimate”.

Meaning not only do you have to beat him, but you have to do it using a very specific attack. I did indeed beat Daniel, I had my ultimate charged, but I ended up killing him with an attack before using it, so I missed that one trophy, locking me out of getting the platinum. But I figured that once I played the New Game + mode with the other school and finished it that I would then be given the option to replay each stage with either school. This isn’t how it worked, though, as when I did finish the game with the true ending, I was allowed to replay stages, but ONLY as Miyagi Do, which tells me I would have to replay the entire game from scratch to get the missed trophy. This oversight in game design really soured me on the experience.

Overall, after a rough start, I found the game itself to be worth playing, but I cannot say that it is worth the full $40 asking price. This price point seems to be what this particular publisher favors with their titles. So if you’re a fan of Cobra Kai, I say play it, but wait for a sale.

Cobra Kai: The Karate Kid Saga Continues is available as of this writing on PlayStation 4, XBOX One, and Nintendo Switch.

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