Arcade games

Section for some of the great ZX Spectrum arcade games.

Home - Arcade games - IK+

IK+ (International Karate Plus)

IK+ in-game screen
IK+ - a slick beat 'em up with three fighters

  • Release year: 1987
  • Publisher: System 3 Software
  • Authors: Dan Michek, Rob Hubbard, Archer Maclean
  • ZXDB archive entry at Spectrum Computing


I've always been a sucker for a good beat 'em up. Whether it's a mano a mano affair like in Way of the Exploding Fist with an extensive moveset, or more simple bludgeoning multi-screen combat like Target: Renegade.

My enjoyment of the genre continued through subsequent 'console eras' up to this day, with the likes of the Tekken and Street Fighter series. My current vibe is Street Fighter V, though I don't claim to be very proficient at it (confirmed by a pitiful online ranking).

Anyway, I never played this game's prequel - International Karate - before playing this one (though I later found out it wasn't great TBH). Nevertheless, IK+ still had the likes of the impressive Way of the Exploding Fist to measure up against.

IK+ magazine advert
The IK+ advert had a great punchline (thank you I'll be here all week) - click image for a larger version

As you'd expect with beat 'em ups, you can play 1- or 2-player (simultaneous). I played both back in the day, but recently (i.e. for this article) I've only been refreshing my skillz by playing it single-player, as much as I'd love to see someone set up a competitive IK+ server or two.

The game

IK+ loading screen
A snazzy fast loader, complete with loading timer. Worth turning your emulator flash-load off for. Briefly maybe

The first thing you notice? That's right, there are THREE combatants on screen. It's either one human player and two computer-controlled players, or two humans and one computer player. Either way, it's a free-for-all - to quote the thrash metal band Kreator, it's "Everyone against everyone".

As you might expect, your goal is to score points (in the form of discs) by hitting, kicking and basically knocking down your opponents. To progress, you need to just not finish last in each bout. Or you're out. So, needing to score points, you need to be reasonably aggressive, especially as there's a time limit thrown into the mix.

IK+ in-game screen
You need eyes in the back of your head for this game... Mainly to avoid a foot in the back of your head

Connecting a body part with an opponent knocks them down for a few seconds, and earns you a couple of score discs - though only one for 'Oooooh.. nasty!' type attacks, e.g. whacking someone from behind.

As you advance through the rounds, you amass an additional (numeric) score, which helps you advance through the standard karate belt colours. Computer-controlled fighters' attitudes vary from passive to ultra-aggressive, and they can score points from each other, so you need to think about your approach. The Miyagi-Do style of only using your karate for defence won't cut it in this arena.

IK+ in-game screen
'FAME! I'm gonna liiive foreeever...' - taking out both opponents with a double-face kick is the pinnacle IK+ move, like the spinning neck-chop in Barbarian

Your combatant has an impressive 17 moves (if I've counted correctly). This includes blocking, which you can do by pressing backwards. The rest of the moves span the different joystick directions, varying depending on whether you're pressing FIRE. There's also a backflip which can hopefully get you out of trouble if things are getting a bit hairy, punch-y or kick-y.

After a couple of bouts, there's a bonus stage, which lets you gain more points, and potentially belt ranks, by deflecting a bunch of balls that get chucked at you.

IK+ in-game screen
In true Karate Kid style, your dustbin lid discipline will come naturally if you get attacked in a street alley

There isn't really any more to this game - just a fight stage, and a balls-chucked-at-you stage. I was originally trying to work out what else I could say about IK+. But I ended up playing it for quite a long time, and was wondering what caused me to be so engaged.

The bonus stage got me thinking. This stage reminded me of the 'destroy the barrels' interim stage in the Street Fighter franchise. So I started wondering what other game design elements were adopted by more modern beat-em-ups, whose gameplay has advanced to a high level of depth and technique. Here's what I came up with:

  • With practice, you get to learn the range of each move. The players move quickly but it's possible to react to attacks, and pick your moves carefully based on your position in relation to your opponents
  • You can chain moves together, like many modern beat-em-up game combos let you do. This isn't just mashing the fire button; for example, you can prepare and launch your next move after triggering a backflip.
  • You can cancel a triggered move - this can stop a move mid-animation, and let you launch a different one
  • After being knocked down, you can optionally delay getting up for a few seconds. This can help avoid a secondary KO if fists/feet are flying, and throw your opponent off-guard if they try to press their attack.

IK+ in-game screen
Is a headbutt really a bona fide karate move? I don't know, Cobra Kai maybe

These are all advanced beat-em-up game mechanics, which were adopted by modern franchises. Did other beat-em-ups of the Speccy's era have any of these features? Possibly, but if so I'm not sure if I played them. It struck me that the designers must have invested a lot of thought and effort into the core gameplay.

As you master the moves you seem to gradually and naturally progress in the game, though occasionally a lapse of concentration or a bit of bad luck can bring your bouts to a sudden end (I also recall being able to complete the 'ball' stage regularly, but I struggled when I re-tried it).

IK+ in-game screen
I appear to have fallen slightly short (and flat on my back) in this bout

Gameplay aside, there's only one set of background scenery in the game, albeit quite a pretty one. Nice and colourful, with the water rippling slightly, reflecting the sunlight.

For 128K owners there's a funky-sounding tune, courtesy of Rob Hubbard, to accompany the action.


IK+ in-game screen
Can't get into the hall of fame? Ah well, at least you get to hold the sign

Until I wrote this article I hadn't played IK+ for a while, so did wonder if it'd stand the test of time. I remember rating it as one of the best beat 'em ups on the Speccy, but figured that might just be 'nostalgia talking'.

It turns out that it had a richness of gameplay that kept me playing for some time. After a while I'd managed to advance through quite a few belt colours. But score didn't seem that important. Most of my enjoyment arrived through the slick and responsive gameplay. Something I ended up concentrating on so much that the lack of variety of backgrounds or stages didn't really matter.

So did the magazines of the time agree? Well, Crash obviously did, as they gave it a Crash Smash:

Crash review of IK+
Never before have I been so completely and utterly in agreement with a Crash review

Sinclair User and Your Sinclair were a bit less enthusiastic in their reviews (both 7/10). The main criticism seems to be lack of originality.

Sinclair User review of IK+ Your Sinclair review of IK+
Sinclair User and Your Sinclair - review summaries

Bit harsh I reckon. 9/10 would've been closer to the mark - the gameplay truly makes IK+ stand out from its competitors IMO.

Next time I end up at a retro event where there are ZX Spectrum machines present, I might see if someone will stick this on. I reckon it'd be an ace two player game for people to have a go at, and cool to play with joysticks.

IK+ in-game screen
IK+ has an entertaining attract mode

And perhaps I could eventually persuade someone to build me an arcade cabinet so I could play it on that. Yep, that'd be awesome...