Fist of the North Star

Fist of the North Star USA Fist of the North Star NES Nintendo Review ScreenshotDeveloper: Shouei System

 April 1989
US Cartridge ID: NES-HO-USA

Players:  1
Genre: Beat ‘Em Up
Supported Peripherals: Controller

ROM Size: 1 megabit
Mapper: UNROM (128k PRG)

Requires Flash10

A localized version of the sequel to the Japanese only 1986 Famicom release, Hokuto no Ken, Fist of the North Star bases its premise on Toei Animations’ popular serial manga based anime television production. Kenshiro must save Fist of the North Star USA 001 Fist of the North Star NES Nintendo Review Screenshothis people from Emperor Heaven, fighting his way toward his tyrannical adversary through eight side scrolling stages.

These eight stages each take Ken through a variety of locales, including a concentration camp, the imperial gate, and several areas named after their respective guardian boss characters. Using the millennia-old art of Gento Karate, Ken can kick and punch his opponents (star power ups increase attack power), or shoot at them after having killed twenty enemies. Ken can jump the height of the entire screen by pressing Up (a necessity for some of the boss fights), and has the unique ability to make people’s heads explode when he punches them.

Considering that Fist of the North Star is based on a revered anime and manga, the graphics are extremely generic and nondescript. The level backdrops are primarily made up of tiled uni-colored patterns dotted with the occasional window or brick. The sprites are large and well defined, but they animate poorly, making it difficult to anticipate enemy moves. Compounding thisFist of the North Star USA 015 256x224 Fist of the North Star NES Nintendo Review Screenshot issue is the fact that everything moving on the screen flickers in and out of sight constantly, causing projectiles and powerups to often become lost in the mayhem. The sound isn’t much of an improvement: the game makes no attempt to use the amazing music from the original anime, replacing it with tunes that are not only insipid and lifeless, but also never play longer than about eight seconds before looping. The only notable sound effects are those that are reproduced via the digital channel: when Ken punches or kicks, a squeaky “shout” sound effect is made, and this same effect is repeated several times whenever an enemy head explodes (though these effects are often played back at different pitches).

Fist of the North Star‘s gameplay shows promise, but is largely buried under the sheer number of glitches that plague it. The first stage is fun and plays well, Fist of the North Star USA 010 256x224 Fist of the North Star NES Nintendo Review Screenshotdue to the simple level layout and the predictability of the enemy movements. However, things quickly become messy: in addition to excessively flickering, enemies have an illogical tendency to disappear and reappear in different places on the screen, jump or fall straight through obstacles, or jump through the top of the screen, only to reappear at the bottom (usually hitting Ken in the process). It is common during a boss fight to die and be sent back to the beginning of the stage, even when the gauge shows that Kenshiro still has a fair amount of life remaining. The bosses have weak points on their bodies, and hitting these will cause them massive damage, but this interesting idea is effectively killed by the terrible collision detection. These spots usually don’t register a hit, even when the sprites have clearly connected in the appropriate place. The fact that Ken controls well is insignificant, since in any of the several areas where enemies and projectiles swarm, he’ll invariably take several hits because of his inability to reliably make contact with the enemy.

Fist of the North Star USA 071 256x224 Fist of the North Star NES Nintendo Review ScreenshotNeedless to say, these issues all tend to make a game that would otherwise be easy very frustrating. Even though a fun boss battle mode included, it’s short-lived and does little to mitigate the damage done to the game by the platforming stages. With such a great license, Fist of the North Star squanders the potential it had to be an exciting and enjoyable game. Even though it is not broken beyond playability, it’s hardly reason to endure a game this poorly made.

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flag us Fist of the North Star NES Nintendo Review ScreenshotFist of the North Star
Taxan, 4/1989
flag jpn Fist of the North Star NES Nintendo Review Screenshot 北斗の拳2世紀末救世主伝説(Hokuto no Ken 2-Seikimatsu Kyuuseishu Densetsu)
Fist of the North Star 2: Legend of the End of Century’s Messiah
Toei Animation, 4/1987