Fist of the North Star has a pretty interesting history. Starting out as a manga in the 80s, it swiftly grew in popularity and spawned a popular anime series. Unusual at the time of Thundercats and the like due to its martial arts ass kickery and heavily Mad Max influenced style, which too grew in popularity. It’s since had a number of video game adaptations, mainly in arcades, and it’s now the 360’s time to get a dose of the action. It’s just a shame that the entire game felt like it was developed for a generation behind the 360 and for those with no knowledge of the series like myself (I was too hooked on the adventures of Snarf, Lion-O and Mumm-ra) it makes very little sense of the series.
Ken’s Rage follows Kenshiro, a martial arts badass who lives in a post-apocalyptic world where everyone dresses in leather, chains and spikes which make me want to avoid surviving the apocalypse if the world becomes so BSM obsessed. As a Hokuto Shinken, Ken is able to use points on any enemy’s body to make them explode in a gory fashion. Legend Mode is where most of this comes to light, which follows the story of the manga series. It’s just a damn shame that none of it makes any sense. I’m sure with knowledge from the series some areas may make sense. Unfortunately, however, the narrative shifts sporadically from one area to the next, even throwing me out of a mission halfway through without any warning to be whisked away to a cutscene of something entirely different. Nothing seems to flow and, whether this is the narrative technique or a complete failure on the writer’s part, it makes the game even less interesting than it already is.
And why is it already uninteresting, I hear you cry in droves. Well, my dear reader, everything about it is as plain and generic as Shredded Wheat without any sugar on it. If I could end my review there, I would. We all know how boring Shredded Wheat is without sugar on to liven things up. Alas I have a word count to adhere to, so I suppose I should elaborate.
The game is extremely linear. There is no diverting from the path set for you. Ken goes from point A to point B whilst making enemies explode in blood and guts along the way. At the end of each level, you attempt to out shout the boss as you try and perform as many special attacks as you possibly can before performing a QTE finishing move. A few little missions are brought up along the way but these are rarely anything more than “save X number of villagers” or “defeat all enemies in the area”, the latter being one you have to do anyway. Combat rarely moves from the light and heavy attacks, which can only be linked together with a few combos. Admittedly, the Signature Moves are pretty spectacular. When the spirit gauge is maxed out, Ken can perform some truly devastating attacks. Hyper moves can also be performed which ties in the focus gauge and results in Ken ramming his thumbs into an enemy’s head, causing them to explode.
There are a number of other characters to play as, with different skill sets. One is better at ground combat, whereas another is better at crowd control. It all feels very Dynasty Warriors, in its strict linear maps, repetitive combat and different characters offering different skills. As someone that really does not see the appeal of Dynasty Warriors, the same occurs here. You find yourself fighting in levels that look pretty similar to each other, fighting bad guys that look like they came out of an office photocopying prank gone wrong and generally becoming more and more bored with the repetitive nature of everything.
If there is one positive to Ken’s Rage, it’s that there is a lot of stuff here, regardless of the boring Legend Mode. Not only are there other characters’ scenarios to play through, there is a mode known as Dream Mode. This really is the epitome of Dynasty Warriors, with large battlefields with a large number of enemies on it. But it’s interesting due to its narrative being much more engaging. It plays on a “what if?” scenario, seeing how groups from the manga would shape certain battles. As a non-North Star watcher/reader, some went over my head but for a fan this would most definitely be the most interesting part of the game.
Everything here feels too generic. Maps and characters, other than the primary ones, all look the same, combat is dull and repetitive and it feels like it was designed for a much earlier console. Still, if you’re partial to a bit of old school beat-em-up and have dried up all other options, I guess this could be worth a bargain bin pick up. Unless something better is in the bin… then you should pick that up. In short, save your money.