Review by xenodolf
"Proof that neither nostalgia nor violence can substitute for a decent game-play experience."
I'm a huge fan of the 80's Fist of the North Star (aka Hokuto no Ken) Anime film. Nothing leaves an impression like watching gigantic, muscled punks swell up - eyeballs and veins contorting - before bursting into geysers of blood. The formula of the movie (and related Manga/animated series) was ideal for something of a beat 'em up video-game, and as a result six different side-scrolling brawlers were eventually crafted out of the license. Hokuto No Ken (known as Last Battle outside of Japan) was one of the earliest beat 'em ups for the Sega Genesis/Megadrive, so I'm going to be more lenient on its flaws than I would a game released later in the console's lifetime. It is worth mentioning that the Last Battle version had the storyline altered, the blood censored, and the enemies flew off the screen when hit instead of bursting. Since the American and European releases were so butchered, I'll be judging this game by its original form. Onto the review..
Hokuto no Ken features moderately large sprites, and each of them has enough detail slapped onto them to impress me for such an old game. The background environments are only about average, and the majority of the brawling uses less fluid animation than the norm. I'll give the game credit for at least throwing in some variety of enemies if you stick around to the later levels, and exploding bodies are always a plus.
The music is pretty standard fare, although the tune that plays upon completing a level is kind of catchy. You'll hear Kenshiro's trademark scream if you can manage to upgrade his abilities, but the majority of sound effects are average at best. I wouldn't have minded the inclusion of enemy death cries, even if just for the bosses.
Until you upgrade Kenshiro's abilities, he plays like a slower and less efficient version of the game character of Kung Fu Master. This makes fighting anything besides the cannon fodder awkward, and transversing the dungeon levels feels especially sluggish. There wasn't anything like response lag or slowdown, despite the poor handling of the protagonist.
The majority of the game functions like a Kung Fu Master / Vigilante side-scrolling brawler. You move around a grid, akin to the map feature in Super Mario Brothers 3 - entering levels in a branching path method. Most of the levels feature a bunch of cannon fodder, which will explode with a single punch or kick - while others pit you against a formidable boss in one-on-one fighting. The boss fights are a real pain, with your limited range and martial art grace you'll have to resort to hit and run strategies to make it through alive. If you power yourself up enough, Kenshiro's shirt will implode from his bulging muscles and you'll have a slightly better roster of abilities to use. Still, even functioning at his full level - the protagonists pales in comparison to the abilities of many single-plane beat 'em up heroes. Aside from the regular scrolling combat, Kenshiro will have to navigate annoying dungeon levels. These are made up of jumping over boulders, dodging axes, and looking for some person as quickly as possible so you can get out of these drab portions. I'd also like to mention that you only have one life - and dying will send you back to the title screen empty handed. Overall, even for such an old title - Hokuto no Ken is inferior in just about every manner to even earlier games like Altered Beast.
Replay value 2/10
Even if you're a hardcore Hokuto no Ken fan, you'd probably want to invest your time in the other games - specifically the Sega Master System and PS1 brawlers. The average Joe would probably get a kick out of the violence for 10 minutes or so before the weak game-play dampens the crude level of enjoyment.
While Hokuto no Ken might have been a more tolerable guilty pleasure when it originally came out, there really isn't any reason to play it today. The Fist of the North Star gaming franchise has expanded much further, so if you're in need of a nostalgic fix - try one of the other titles, even the popular 2D versus fighter. I wouldn't spend any money on the American/European version - but if you have a modded Genesis or Japanese Megadrive, I guess you could drop some pocket change for a copy of the uncensored version.
Reviewer's Rating: 2 - Poor
Originally Posted: 08/28/07
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