Fist Of The North Star: Ken's Rage (Hokuto Musou) review

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Fist Of The North Star: Ken's Rage (Hokuto Musou) reviewIn terms of the perfect inspiration for a bloody martial arts videogame, it’s hard to think of a more suitable source material than manga classic Fist Of The North Star. But while hugely popular in Japan, this tale of a Bruce Lee lookalike in a Mad Max dystopia is better known for its spectacularly violent anime adaptation – which depicts mohawked thugs exploding in torrents of entrails as Kenshiro strikes their hidden pressure points with maniacal speed.

So, by adopting such a highly revered mythology into its latest Dynasty spinoff, has Omega Force done enough to please the fanatical Fist fanbase and the dedicated Dynasty die-hards – as well as gamers with no ventured interest in either? For the most part, yes, because Hokuto Musou is a classic hack-and-slasher combined with the series’ brutal fighting styles.

The eight playable characters are split between Hokuto Shinken, Nanto Seiken and Freestyle disciplines, and, for Hokuto brothers Kenshiro, Roah and Toki, this translates as light and heavy combo strings that do paralyzing damage. Nanto fighters Shin, Rei and Souther, meanwhile, are faster and excel at aerial combat. They also have a unique Nanto counter technique which, if timed correctly, can shred their unfortunate assailants to bits while gaining an opportunity for pure combo carnage. Every fighter also has a selection of Supers, which range from Kenshiro’s iconic Hundred Crack Fist to Shin’s Thousand Dragon Head Attack, and in addition to throws, evade cancels and a Just Defend system, further tech is added with the Touki gauge. This fills as you do damage, and, once maxed, can be sacrificed to put your character into a powered-up state.

Fist Of The North Star: Ken's Rage (Hokuto Musou) reviewBut while Hokuto Musou’s combat is mechanically rigid – allowing for visually impressive yet increasingly predictable exchanges – it relies heavily upon a limited selection of preset combos which, unlike the vastly more freeform Bayonetta, can make for a repetitive gameplay experience. And although this is more a criticism of the archaic Dynasty Warriors template rather than the Hokuto mythology, it’s also surprising that for a game based on lightning-quick martial artists, Hokuto Musou’s multi-combatant exchanges can feel a tad laboured.

Nonetheless, the main Legendary mode will be a nostalgic journey for Hokuto fans, as it accurately re-enacts the pivotal life-and-death fights from the anime with its impressively detailed character models. The additional Illusion Match mode also tells an original story which, although entirely in Japanese at present, focusses on the four Hokuto brothers as they take on the Nanto army – leading to some interesting match-ups.
But whether or not Hokuto Musou is your type of game comes down to two simple questions. Do you care about Hokuto No Ken, and do you crave an old-school beat-’em-up experience? If you answered ‘yes’ to both, then feel free to add this to your import basket now.