The finest aspect of Karateka, and one that hasn't lost anything due to the game's age was how well Jordan Mechner could tell a tale with nothing but visuals and musical cues. There is no dialogue, not even text. Characters merely make gestures and the music plays their mood so wonderfully that one knows what the characters are 'saying' without hearing/seeing a single world. It's brilliant and such an achievement has only been achieved a few times in the history of gaming. For their time frame, the graphics were well done. Crisp, clean, and effective, they were exceptional for when the game came out. [And] at the time, the basic concept (running down the hall fighting opponents in a very simplified fighting game style) was enjoyably fresh.
The Bad: gameplay is very repetitive, as you face off against tone lackey after another with minimal to no difference between emplyess. The fighting style, an early fighting game type of engagement, lacks finesse or true style. You more times than not wind up just mashing buttons until you connect...often using the same maneuver again and again in rapid succession. Aside from a few surprises (like Akuma's falcons attacking), there's little difference between your opponents or how you fight them. The difficulty level, mixed with the controls and repetitiveness, might [also] scare away many poeple who will find this game somwhat hard and frustrating."
Overall, Karateka is one of the earliest side-scrolling fighting/action game that is a classic in the way it tells the story, and bodes well for Mechner's later classics. Highly recommended!