Karnov / Karnovj

An Uber Kickass Game

Karnov is one of 4 game boards I own. I became a regular Karnov player in 1988 at the residential college I used live during my Uni days. It was one of about 8 games on campus. Karnov had a small but dedicated following. It took several months to master the game. At one point we were stuck at the TRex and dragon at the end of level 3 until someone discovered that the boomerang could be useful. Another trouble spot was working out a pattern to get past the lava blasts in stage 4. The biggest sticking point was level 9. At one point we could all get up the end boss (Wizard) on one 1 credit with no loss of life and then would lose the lot trying to kill off the boss. It took us over a month to work out how to kill him.

Karnov is an underrated game and one of those games that people don't know much about. Most people try it once and get wiped out before leaving the first screen and never play again. The 3rd button (item select) causes that extra initial confusion that takes some getting used to.

We loved the game so much that when the item select button was broken for a week we played anyway. I have the distinction of getting to the last boss on one credit using only normal firepower and no items at all - it can be done!

The game highlights for me are the groovy items, each having a specific purpose in a particular situation. The ladder is cool. Great bosses, cool backdrops. It is a game where you have to think about the best way to handle a situation - i.e. the best solution is not always to mindlessly hammer the fire button. Today's game designers could learn quite a bit from karnov.

Differences Between Karnov And Karnovj

The main differences are that -

  1. Karnov has more enemies so you can get higher scores easier. In level 1 the ostrich is unique to Karnov. The red serpents are unique to Karnov.
  2. Karnov hurries you along if you dawdle by dropping invincible plants that fire at you and red serpents - this doesn't happen in Karnovj.
  3. In Karnov when you use Boomerang or Flame, after it is used up you return to your original triple fire. In Karnovj, you go back to base single fire.
  4. Some of the placements are different for the random items.


There are 3 buttons, fire, shoot, select and your 8 way joystick. The third button does take some getting used to if you are used to the classic 2 button games.


There are 11 items: Powered up shot, K's, 5 selectable items and 4 special items. The special items (outlined in orange border) can only be selected at specific locations. The others you can select whenever you have them. You select an item by tapping the joystick left or right until the cursor is on the item you want and then press the select button. Only the bombs can be stockpiled. Items appear almost everywhere in the game. Some are clearly visible, others must be triggered by jumping at specific locations. Some of the triggered items are random - i.e. change from game to game.

Cherries (not shown in the inventory)
These power up Karnov's shot. He begins with a single shot, the 1st cherry gives double shot and the 2nd cherry gives triple shot. The triple shot is lost when Karnov selects boomerang or flame in the clone karnovj but not in karnov.
Collecting 50 of these items gives you a free life. On the more difficult game settings, this may be 70, 90, or 100.
Jump Shoes
The shoes allow you to run fast and jump higher than normal for about 15 secs. A useful item for getting out of reach items but not necessary until the final boss. You can get an extra large jump by jumping and at your highest point selecting the jump shoes.
Another useful but not essential item. The number of bombs you currently have is indicated by a number above the bomb icon. When you use a bomb, it drops at your feet - i.e. the bomb is not lobbed like in some games. The most common use of the bomb is to fell a tree in Stage 3 to form a bridge across a chasm. In the final stage, one of the many paths through the level has a wall that can only be blasted through with bombs.
The most important item in the game. It allows you to collect out of reach items and get to new areas. Only use it when required then put it back in your inventory (by climbing up it a short way and climbing back down). Don't do anything stupid while your ladder is up. Losing your ladder usually means losing the game or missing out on several items/areas. You can have two ladders in some places by putting up one ladder and then collecting another and placing it at the top of the first. I have never seen anything up that high though. The ladders height is variable, it only goes as high as your current view area. When you climb it, your view area may rise. So, when you climb the ladder and find you still can't reach an item, climb back down and reset the ladder - it should now reach further up. In the karnov version of the game, overuse of the ladder triggers the appearance of a serpent. The serpent is easy to kill so repeatedly raising the ladder and shooting the serpents is a good spamming trick for getting high scores.
The boomerang is a powerful weapon and can destroy any enemy in the game (except the last boss) in one shot. You must jump to catch the boomerang on its return. The boomerang can be used from 3 positions - ducked, standing or jumping. If you jump and throw it you won't be able to catch it on its return. After using the boomerang you lose your triple shot in the clone karnovj.
The flame weapon is the 2nd most powerful weapon after the boomerang. When you select it you have 30 flame shots - useful if you've lost the boomerang. Again after using the flame you lose your triple shot in the clone karnovj.
The wings special item can be used in stage 2, 4 and 6. You have great fun collecting several out of reach items.
Diving Suit
This special item can only be used in Stage 5. The diving suit allows you to swim quickly underwater.
I have found places to use this special item in every stage except stage 3. When it can be selected, hidden items appear, flashing for a short time.
A special item that you can only use in Stage 4. When you are on it the enemies are knocked dead - you are only vulnerable to bullets.

Play Hints

Note that Karnov is mostly one way scrolling. At certain points you can't go back to the left. Make sure you collect everything before moving on.
Which way to go
Sometimes the paths diverge and you can't play both paths in the same game. The underground sections in levels 2 and 3 are better than the corresponding upper sections - more items, but also more enemies.
In level 2, 3 you can shoot the red eye of the statues guarding the dungeon. Put up the ladder and climb up until your shot is at eye level. Then shoot one shot at a time. With each shot the statue sheds 1 tear that turns into a K and shoots one shot from it's mouth. Don't shoot too quickly or you won't get all the K's.
Volcano section
Trick here is to realise that when you are up against a volcano in a ducked position the volcano's lava can't get you. Then it is a matter of timing. There are a number of different sequences, but the basic idea is that the volcanoes erupt in order so use that to your advantage. You can't move forward all the time, sometimes you must go back before going forward. You can use bombs on to destroy the volcanoes on the ground but you will have to time the eruptions of the overhanging volcanoes.

The Final Boss - The Wizard

This guy is a SOB. The 9th level is quite large and there are several paths to the boss. It takes a lot of practice to find a relatively safe method and path to the boss. You need to reach the bosses room with at least 20 seconds left. When you enter the Level 9 Wizards room there are 3 portals where he can appear, two low and one high up. Once you pass a certain spot (near the large mouth) you trigger the Wizard and lose all of your powers - left with single shot and no items. The Wizard appears in the top portal and blows a ring of slow moving stars that spread as they move out. He then (almost) randomly appears at any of the portals. It is quite difficult to avoid his shots, but there is a pattern to them. The way kill him is to select jump shoes and boomerang just before the trigger point and then jump and shoot and move forward to trigger him. You lose all of your powers but the boomerang slices through the Wizard on its return flight, killing him outright in 'easy' mode and wounding him severely on the harder settings.

Note: I do not believe that MAME emulates the dip switch settings correctly as even in easy mode the Wizard will not die with one boomerang shot. I have the Karnovj board at home and on easy setting the Wizard DOES die with one boomerang. In the arcades when I played it years ago, we could always kill the Wizard with one boomerang.

Now, if he is still alive, you have to finish him off with single shot. Stand near the mouth and wait until the Wizard appears in the left or right lower portal. Do not get caught on either edge of the screen or you will get shafted. You have to jump and shoot quickly when he appears, but time your jumps so you don't get hit. You only have time for one 'jump and fire' sequence per appearance of the Wizard. If you are good/lucky, you can finish the Wizard off after his 3rd or 4th teleport.