During the late 1980’s, a unique Japanese magna series titled Fist of the North Star ignited both the international comic book and television markets respectively. Eventually this popular franchise caught fire in the US and successfully branched off into different mediums to engage various consumers from all walks of life.
One of those ventures included the release of a jumbled beat em’up video game called Ken’s Rage way back in November of 2010. Now after years of development, Tecmo Koei has released a followup sequel that’s even sloppier then the original. Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 is simply put a bloody mess of a game. Here are a few reasons why you may want to pass on this one.
Ken’s Rage 2’s campaign mode (referred to as Legend mode) follows the story of Kenshiro, the master of an ancient martial arts style of assassination called Hokuto Shinken. With a narrative originally crafted by manga artist and series creator Tetsuo Hara, the sequel delivers a deeper look into the aftermath of a war-torn world in shambles. In dealing with his own personal battles, Kenshiro is often thrown into countless situations where he must use his unique combat skills to save the day.
In an effort to switch things up, the developers have also granted players access to several different playable fan favorite characters at certain segments of the story. On top of all this, the campaign is fairly lengthy as it spans across 36 chapters and splits them up into 4 overarching storylines. While all of this may sound intriguing for some, there are several areas of flawed game design and development that hold this game back from reaching it’s fullest potential.
Starting with the story itself, the decision to stay faithful to the source material is admirable but still feels way too generic. Many times you will come across a supporting cast of characters who meet their untimely deaths all too sudden, thus never really giving you a chance to fully care about them. There are of course some exceptions to this rule, but the problem is that these concepts are recycled over and over again from the very beginning to the brutal end. This may be of minor concern to some people, but it definitely is something that I found to be quite predictable and annoying.
Graphically, this game is painfully ugly to look at in many instances. Stage backgrounds and textures are extremely murky and dated. Some boss character designs are nothing more then ripped off versions of fighters in other games and look consistently horrid throughout. Performance hiccups also ruin the presentation quality, and cut scenes showcase distracting texture-popping issues at times. In all honesty, if you had told me that I would be playing a game with this level of graphical quality late in the current cycle of consoles then I would have thought you were joking. Unfortunately, the sad thing is that this joke is a reality and a dismal one at that.
The single biggest problem with this game lies heavily in the gameplay mechanics. One big decision that the creative team made with this sequel was to pull all of their inspiration from the Dynasty Warrior games. As a result, the player is constantly surrounded by swarms of enemies on the screen at once and receives a letter grade based on how fast they defeat their adversaries. The AI is extremely easy to overcome, providing no challenge whatsoever for the ridiculously overpowered Kenshiro.
In addition to the chaos that ensues in these close quarters battles, the camera is also an enemy that refuses to go away. This becomes particularly more apparent as you get into later portions of the game and some of the more challenging boss battles. Take these two concerns and add a bunch of repetitive gangs and boss types here and there and you have a recipe for disaster.
With so many negatives to speak of, there are at least a few things that are somewhat positive about this game. When you do end up winning boss battles, you use timed quicktime button prompts to administer the final blows. In many instances, these targeted attacks are pressure point sensitive and cause your opponents to explode. These tactics are repetitive throughout but they never seem to stop being funny to look at.
Defeating these enemies also unlocks new signature moves that can be used in later battles. There is also a cool level up system that you can build up by acquiring scrolls throughout every stage. These end up becoming vital in the end because they allow you to customize your ability to use special attacks more frequently. Lastly, if there is one thing that magna fans will appreciate about this game it is that all the dialogue is in Japanese with English subtitles. This may or may not excite some people, but I was cool with it given the content of the genre and the game as a whole.
Once you have finished Legend mode in it’s entirety, you could explore what the Dream mode has to offer. This mode allows you to play bonus stories from fighters unlocked within the campaign, and participate in both Co-op and Team matches online with up to 8 players total. It’s important to note that the same issues I described above are also apparent in these modes so I would highly suggest that you play at your own risk.
Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 is a subpar brawler that fails to surpass the bar set by the previous entry in the series. While offering a meaty campaign mode is great, the core gameplay mechanics and dated graphics will easily discourage many from sticking with this game for long. If you’re a fan of beat em’ up games and you absolutely have to have this game, then I would highly suggest that you wait until the price drops.
This review was based on a retail copy of the game for the Xbox 360 provided by Tecmo Koei.