Fist of the Northstar (aka Hokuto no Ken in Japan) is a cult, manga-based anime property that's thrilled millions with its post-apocalyptic action and special brand of head-exploding hyper-violence. It celebrates its 30th anniversary this year and, naturally, there's an associated video game courtesy of developer/publisher Tecmo Koei. Unfortunately, Ken's Rage 2 features incredibly repetitive gameplay, mediocre graphics, and stripped-down movesets that make this $59.99 game feel like an overpriced budget title. It's a shame, really, as Platinum Games' recently released Anarchy Reigns??manages to be a better Fist of the Northstar game than Ken's Rage 2 in nearly every way. I reviewed the Xbox 360??version, but Ken's Rage 2 is also available on the PlayStation 3??and Wii U?.
Ken's Rage 2's beat-'em-up mechanics are standard fare for modern, stylish action games. Characters have light and heavy basic attacks, a grab/throw, dash/dodge, taunt, special moves, and signature moves. You can create a variety of devastating combos by mixing your attack inputs. The problem is that you may not want to do so.
The game is a banal chore. Legend Mode?which shines light on the manga's more overlooked story arcs?moves you from one graphically uninspired enclosed area to another and requires you to dispatch dozens of lookalike enemies in each section who only differ by stance and weapon. Environments are full of muted colors, repetitive set pieces, and characters with odd skins that make them resemble mannequins more than people. Ken's Rage 2, at times, looks like a late-era PlayStation 2 game.
Some stages require you to kill 100+ enemies which results in mindless spamming of your most powerful attack so you can complete the task as fast as possible. Dream Mode does the same, but boasts original stories. Ironically, this repetitive violence does capture the spirit of the filler-laden 152-episode Hokuto no Ken TV series that's also a grind to get through. Anarchy Reigns avoids this by tossing in tons of side-missions, weapons, and random environmental events?such as a jumbo jet which crashes into the city or a rampaging robo-Chthulu?that may change the tide of battle.
Protagonist Kenshiro absorbs glowing blue "Karma" balls as you dispose of enemies. These fuel your Life, Aura, Attack, and Defense attributes, and levels them depending on how a foe's killed. For example, if you defeat an enemy while your health gauge is in the green, you receive a boost to your Defense. Ken's Rage 2, thankfully, supplies these nuggets of information during loading screens, so you don't have comb GameFaqs.com for tips.
Trunks scattered throughout the playfield serve up all manner of useful item, but the most useful are scrolls that act as attribute boosts. Each warrior can equip five and carry sixteen. Learning to mix and match scrolls is key to tailoring Kenshiro to match your style of play.
No Jump Button, But Lots of Mook Grinding
Not that it means anything in the big picture. The low-level mooks are fist-fodder who pose no true threat to Kenshiro. In fact, racking 3,000+ hit combos is not uncommon if you apply a little effort. You'll find yourself longing for a boss or mid-boss character simply for the challenge. Granted, Kenshiro does wreck grunts with ease in the anime, but this is a video game, an interactive product. No challenge equals a snoozefest. Boost the game's difficulty up to one of the higher levels to stay awake.
Another gripe: Ken's Rage 2 lacks a jump button, something that was a part of the original game's combat. The only time Ken goes airborne is during quick time events or as part of a combo animation. Oddly, the game lets you execute stealth kills on unexpecting opponents. If you stealth kill a patrolling goon, the action spares you from fighting dozens of other goons who come to his aid should you be spotted.
It's Already Dead
Unfortunately, Fist of the Northstar: Ken's Rage 2 comes just weeks after release after another stylish, post-apocalyptic PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 game: Anarchy Reigns. Platinum Game's insane action game features imaginative enemies, random events that keep you on your toes, tons of multiplayer modes, a thriving multiplayer scene, superior combat, and a wallet-friendly $29.99 price point. Ken's Rage 2 isn't a horrible game?the fighting is solid despite the lack of a jump button?but you may wish to wait for it to enter the bargain bin before considering a purchase. Ken's Rage 2 is only for Hokuto no Ken diehards.
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