Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage review
Certain things are synonymous with Koei games; combos and kills in the thousands, stylized characters that are able to take down 50 guys with one blow, and over-the-top guitar riffs that complement the action. Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage only shares the latter though, and tries to differentiate itself from its Dynasty Warriors ancestry.
Nuclear War has befallen our once heavily populated Earth, leaving it a barren wasteland where only the tough survive and the weak are preyed upon. The story, which is based on a manga and anime series, follows Kenshiro, a muscular tough guy and master of the devastating martial art, Hokuto Shinken. The game follows the source material, but the presentation is confusing. Unless you’re familiar with either the manga or anime, you might as well skip the story segments.
Legend Mode is the game's main mode, which trails Kenshiro and his band of allies as they make their way through the wasteland, each with their own motives. Fist of the North Star still follows the tried and true Dynasty Warriors formula, though not as one would expect. Instead of giving players a myriad of colorful characters, North Star focuses only on a handful.
You go from map to map, mostly in linear fashion, pulverizing every enemy to a bloody pulp (or a bloody explosion) with your fists until you reach the boss. This formula stays true for each character, which makes pounding through cloned packs of Mad Max-wannabes that much more monotonous.
Koei has taken a step back when it comes to combat however. It is completely devoid of fluidity. North Star’s combat is slow, clunky, and unresponsive. After each combo, each character does about a two second finishing animation, which leaves you open to attack. When you’re surrounded by 20 enemies, that can be a problem.
Boss fights will relieve you of worrying about dispatching smaller enemies, and instead only worry about the hulking bad guys and their repeating attack patterns. They’re not overly challenging, but it’s a nice change of pace after battling droves of indistinguishable henchmen.
Kicking ass and taking names will net you karma points, which are used to upgrade each character. This is an area where the game excels, due to the extensive and extremely customizable skill-map. Coupled with a bunch of finishing moves to unlock and skills to equip, it almost makes the slow combat worthwhile… if only a little.
Dream Mode lets players experience the untold story through the perspective of the different bosses encountered in Legend Mode. It’s an excuse to take more characters on a romp through the same stages you already beat before, and tackle them with a friend.
Elements such as clothes ripping off after taking damage is a nice addition, and had me purposefully letting Mamiya, the busty female character take as much damage as possible. Post apocalyptic cities filled with rusted oil drums, eroded cars and crumbled buildings serve to provide atmosphere, but fail to do so in detail, as the textures are muddy and grainy.
If you’re one of the two people who couldn’t wait for Fist of the North Star to get its own game on next-gen consoles, your time has finally come. Everyone else will find a mediocre brawler, hidden under a coat of post-apocalyptic paint.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]