Fist of the North Star is a manga/anime series which, in the West, has niche appeal at best. We’d wager that if it wasn’t for the explode-o-heads, coils of wiggling intestines and spurting arteries, it’d be more like no appeal whatsoever. But this unremarkable scrapper romped to the summit of the Japanese charts last April, burying Western pretenders like God of War III. Might devs Omega Force (so long derided for hack-‘n’-slash efforts like Dynasty Warriors and Bladestorm) really pull off an almighty development coup?
Predictably, the answer is a big fat NO. Ken’s Rage is, in the main, a steaming pile of inscrutable silliness – but it’s also a marked departure from Koei’s Dynasty Warriors template and a genuinely laudable piece of fan service. For starters, the Legend mode makes a damn good stab at covering the epic events of the Hokuto saga – all the way from righteous Kenshiro’s fight with corpulent Mr. Heart through his sandy showdown with Souther and the testosterone-packed sausage fest with gargantuan bro-turned-evil despot Raoh. Along the way, millions die. Hideously. The combat is dated, flawed and impossibly slow paced initially – but somehow still satisfies. It’s probably because Ken grinds the legions of post-apocalyptic punk rockers who descend upon him into baddie chowder; you’ll guffaw/gag as their identikit bodies hemorrhage a hideous jagged jam this game calls blood before their wailing forms explode into so many blocky giblets. Boss battles are even better, especially when you lay down Ken’s patented ‘Ra-ta-ta-ta-ta!’ finishers and watch your foes turn to grisly mush.
Rack up skill points and the previously molasses-like combat finally begins to resonate, Ken’s pals begin to tag along on his adventure and our hero ducks and dives around arenas like his usual sprightly self. In another first for the Musou games, you can smack environments right up – hurling baddies into splintering concrete walls with bone-crushing force and driving them through sandbags and into spiked barriers. After mastering main man Kenshiro, you’re able to blast through the various other story arcs of numerous other characters from the Hokuto pantheon, like catty Rei, sexy Mamiya and heroic Toki. Although Ken’s Rage isn’t exactly a visual delight – at all, ever – this rates high on the homage-o-meter.
So, we end where we came in: if you’ve never seen, heard or given a flying Fudou about Fist of the North Star, you’re simply not going to get this – and even for Manga fans it’s very much a gorily-acquired taste. But at least, unlike fellow Omega Force tie-in Gundam Musou, it’s not complete crap – and for those of you who get the shivers whenever you catch sight of a steely-eyed, scarred wanderer who’s stepped right out of a homoerotic 80s soft metal music video, you might just want to stay... for a short while.
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Nov 3, 2010