Fist of the Northstar, TOEI Animation’s manga-based TV series and accompanying movie, is an anime classic. Unlike many of the other series that people cite as anime Hall of Famers — Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Death Note – Fist of the Northstar is decidedly non-cerebral and littered with enough filler to make both Dragon Ball Z and Naruto fans blush. Still, the game’s post-apocalyptic setting, exploding heads, and super-powered kung fu has given it a set of legs that have stood the test of time.
The series’ high-powered fighting makes it solid video game material, which the gaming industry has mined over the years. There have been many Fist of the Northstar games, but they either outright disappointed or were edited to the point of being unrecognizable. Hokuto no Ken, a 2D fighting game from Arc System Works, is the lone bright point in the property’s transition into video game form.
Now it’s 2013 and Tecmo Koei holds the license. Fist of the Northstar: Ken’s Rage 2 recently hit store shelves with the promise of more characters, modes, and moves. Sounds snazzy right?
Hold on. Wait a minute.
Did you know that another post-apocalyptic brawler with lots of fighting characters, over-the-top moves, and gooey explosions hit consoles weeks before? Platinum Games’ Anarchy Reigns also taps that certain brand of chaotic charm, and is a better Hokuto no Ken game than Ken’s Rage 2.
Urban chaos is at the heart of Hokuto no Ken. After the bombs fall, marauders raid cities and towns in search of food, water, or simply the perceived power that comes with slaughtering man, woman, and child. Dumb thugs and their super-human masters own the streets, so its up to a few justice-seekers to set things right. Ken’s Rage 2, unfortunately, does a piss-poor job of conveying this via in-game action. You guide Kenshiro from sectioned-off area to section-off area as he completely destroys as many low-lives as possible. It’s a straightforward, ho-hum affair that isn’t as insane as the property on which Ken’s Rage 2 is based.
Anarchy Reigns, on the other hand, embraces the insanity. The multi-tiered levels let you rumble on streets and rooftops, battle rampaging mutants, hi-jack vehicles, leap from buildings, hurl cars, and deal with random Trigger Events such as an out-of-control airliner that plunges into the city. To make a long story short, you can piledrive helicopters and fight a mecha-Cthulu. Anarchy Reigns is the very definition of anime madness and urban chaos. Ken’s Rage 2 is a big ol’ pile of “meh” that only becomes mildly interesting when Ken goes into his berserker rage.
Anarchy Reigns‘ fighting is equally as thrilling. On the surface, Anarchy Reigns has a lot in common with Ken’s Rage 2 — light and heavy attacks, super moves, grabs, and other action game fare — but Platinum Games’ offering adds multiplayer perks, a variety of useful weapons, and a surprisingly deep combat system that utilizes fists, feet, and Killer Weapons. It even cribs Hokuto no Ken’s rapid-fire kicks and heads that explode when pummeled. In fact, Ken’s Rage 2‘s exploding heads, which erupt into crimson jelly blobs, is far less impressive than Anarchy Reigns green spurts.
And it’s a damned shame. Ken’s Rage 2 doesn’t even have a dedicated jump button.
When a developer spends the cash to lock down a cherished property only to release a repetitive slog of a game on the brand’s 30th anniversary, it hurts everyone involved — developer and fans alike. Gearbox and those who’ve eagerly awaited Aliens: Colonial Marines understand.
Action gaming fans who want a thrilling Fist of the Northstar-like combat title in 2013′s early days should immediately pick up Anarchy Reigns. It’s half Ken’s Rage 2 price ($29.99 vs. $59.99), and offers much more gameplay for the buck. It’s a no-brainer. Fist of the Northstar: Ken’s Rage 2 is already dead.