Version tested: Xbox 360
Two men stand facing each other in the midst of a burnt-out city. One of them wears a sleeveless jacket and a calm demeanour, while the other is both impossibly muscular and a literal giant. A fight to the death is about to take place and, if it wasn't for the look of cold certainty in the smaller man's eyes, the smart money would be on Goliath.
The David of the pair then begins to roar as he flexes his muscles, tearing the jacket from his body to reveal the scars adorning his chest. What happens next is a blur of machine-gun-like punches as the man with the seven-scarred chest lays into his lumbering opponent with all the ferocity of an atomic explosion. He shouts "ATATATATATATA" as he strikes his opponent 100 times within the space of a few seconds before landing a final punch to the forehead which sends the behemoth tumbling to the ground.
The dazed giant looks confused as he checks his body for damage, laughing menacingly as he finds himself entirely unscathed. He raises his axe in preparation for a counter-attack while uttering the words, "First you suffer, then you die, nice and slow, because when I fight, it's always to the death."
With his back turned the scarred man responds with, "That's right, in fact, you're already dead." Immediately a high-pitched screech wails like nails down a chalkboard, as the giant's body contorts horrifically before exploding in a torrent of entrails.
Some 15 years ago I watched this scene in both amazement and (you watch) shock, because as a youth raised on the likes of Transformers and Thundercats, the sheer brutality of Fist of the North Star eclipsed any animation I'd ever seen. It was at this precise moment that I stopped caring about western cartoons forever.
Known as Hokuto no Ken in Japan, Fist of the North Star chronicles the tribulations of Kenshiro, a martial artist living in a post-apocalyptic world where dog-eat-dog has become the mantra of survival. As the 64th successor of Hokuto Shinken, Kenshiro is able to strike the acupressure points of any assailant with effects ranging from complete loss of limb control to an agonising death.
It's perfect source material for console adaptation, and with a gaming history that dates back to 1986 and an adventure game designed by Enix, it's a series with an interesting past. Indeed, everyone from Konami to SEGA has had a shot at the license with results ranging from stellar to sterile. But now the right of succession has fallen to Omega Force as they unleash a game the only way they know how Ė Dynasty-style.
After watching an opening cinematic which sees Kenshiro demolishing punks and cracking his knuckles Ė loaded with enough nostalgia to send your average Fist fan into a slathering frenzy Ė Ken's Rage dispenses with the formalities and offers up its main Legend Mode. This is a retelling of the major events from the first anime series and goes from Kenshiro's one-sided battle with Zeed to his showdown with Raoh.
It's pretty much what you'd expect: Ken's Rage is a wandering beat-'em-up with health pick-ups in the shape of roast chickens. Each level has you steering Kenshiro through a linear map filled with generic goons before competing in a "who can shout their long-winded special moves the loudest" match against an end-of-level boss.
Missions also pop up mid-level in an attempt to stop the carnage from going stale, but since they rarely get more technical than protecting villagers and beating up a set number of attackers, it starts to feel like Ken's Rage is just an uninspired Dynasty Warriors clone wearing tight-fitting trousers. The rigid combat system helps inject it with some of the quintessential Hokuto no Ken appeal, but it's let down by oversimplification.
Normal and Strong attacks string together in the time-honoured tradition, but while you can pull off some impressive moves which will carve through the cannon fodder, the combo structure is strict and leaves limited scope for experimentation. Nonetheless, there are a few subsystems which help spice things up.