Hokuto no Ken


Thought of by many as one of the worst pieces of crap to ever be packaged and sold, Hokuto no Ken certainly isn't a quality game by any stretch of the imagination. However, it deserves at least some credit, because despite its emphasis on violence and little else, it does remain true to its anime counterpart's premise and plot.

One punch tears the enemy messily in half...

...then explodes him into a shower of bloody chunks

The anime, Fist of the North Star/Hokuto no Ken, takes place in a post-nuclear setting, featuring a nearly unstoppable martial artist named Ken. Ken ventures to stop his evil brother Raoh, leaving a trail of carnage in his wake as he reduces any who stand in his way to slush. He achieves this by using the Fist of the North Star technique, which basically allows him to turn an enemy inside-out with his fists by striking at specific points on the enemy's body. It translates pretty well into the game, as well- one punch rips an enemy open, then turns them into chutney. One kick, on the other hand, will send them flying offscreen to their doom. Hitting an enemy's projectile in either manner will send it right back at them, and from there- well, it's not pretty, that much is certain.

Anyway, that's the story in a nutshell, and as we can see from the screenshots above, there's not a lot going on besides just that. Enemies show up, you unload some martial-arts on them, and then some more appear to get splattered. This basically goes on during the entire game, with the only occasional break coming in the form of a boss. Due to a quick hack-job in the game's ROM, though, these all simply end up being the equivalent of a slightly-lengthened duel with your average foe.

The first boss, Heart, hammers me into a corner with a few slaps from his fatty palms
I appear to be struggling in this battle, but not so

About three seconds later, it becomes evident to Heart that I'm unstoppable.
Note the newly-refilled life bar at upper-left

What is this hack, you ask?  In a word: Immortality. That's right, Ken is completely unstoppable, and no amount of punches, kicks, projectiles, or god-like energy blasts can defeat him. In fact, should his life bar ever hit zero, it will instantly be refilled with no discernable penalty to the player. Needless to say, not only does this reduce the game to a level of difficulty comparable to that of Barney's Hide and Seek, but it draws many a player away from it.

In the non-hacked version of the game,  your life bar is indeed finite, and you must build up your attack power to do any significant harm to the bosses (your power being indicated by the stars at the upper right, which can be increased by collecting icons that float away from defeated enemies).  Without powering up and avoiding a lot of hits, you probably won't make it past the first couple of levels.

In either case, the uninspired gameplay makes it a pretty low-quality game.  However, were it not for one more fact, most who have played this game would likely pass this off as just a bad game rather than among the NES' worst.

Heart is quickly turned into dog food by the indestructible Ken

The most common complaint about Hokuto no Ken is not about its main character's immortality and dry gameplay. In fact, it is a common misconception that the game simply consists of running around a single awful-looking map and destroying such foes endlessly. This is only half correct. Contrary to what most believe, there is some method to the terror that is Hokuto no Ken, though most never happened upon the means to finish the game without some outside guidance (myself included). What you must do to proceed further into the game is to follow the girl that occasionally appears into the doors. This is accomplished by standing beneath them and pressing Up, A and B at the same time (an unconventional control setup, to say the least). Despite that fact that you have advanced by doing this, it's not readily apparent, as enemies still thoughtlessly leap straight into the range of your lethal fists every step of the way.  Even worse, many of the later stages are set up like a maze, which can cause you to run through the same areas over and over fighting endless waves of enemies until you chance upon the right sequence of doors to proceed.

Ken exits the awful-looking map.
No, that's not a graphical glitch, that's a post-apocalyptic look gone horribly wrong

So, what are the upsides to this example of carnage replacing substance? If nothing else, the controls are pretty responsive. There is little to no delay between pressing a button and seeing the result onscreen. In addition, Hokuto no Ken's mayhem can prove entertaining for a few minutes, especially to fans of the series. After said amount of time, though, it quickly grows stale.

Rating: 2/10
One-line synopsis: How they kept the Hokuto no Ken series going for six more titles is beyond me- you can see everything the series has to offer within thirty seconds.

©2003 Spoony