Fans of 80s anime or manga will remember the classic series Fist of the North Star. In a post-apocalyptic future, a ravaged populace fights over the limited resources available. Deadly gangs prey on the weak, and violence and death are the order of the day. Into this backdrop enters Kenshiro, a master of the ancient martial art style known as Hokuto Shinken (the “Fist of the North Star”). Kenshiro wanders the wasteland, spending most of his time doing two things: brooding over his troubled past, and using his ridiculous fighting skills to eradicate any who stand in his way. The trademark gory hyper-violence makes this series a fine choice for a video game adaptation.
Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage plays very much like the Dynasty Warriors series. It’s a 3D beat ‘em up, though the action has more of an arcade fighting game feel to it than the previous Dynasty Warriors games I’ve played. The levels are linear, and typically begin with Ken taking on a truly staggering amount of weak gang members, with the occasional tall/fat/strong miniboss thrown in the mix. Some very light puzzle and platforming sections break up the fighting, and once the end of the level is reached, a boss battle begins. Innovative this game is not, but there's a reason why this formula is so familiar; it's because it works.
The highlight of Ken's Rage is the faithful depiction of the brutal blood and gore of the original source material. The Hokuto Shinken technique causes opponent's bodies and heads to swell up like water balloons before burtsing into a cloud of crimson kibble. Enemies scream in terror before they die, and Ken hardly breaks a sweat while gloomily informing his foes of their upcoming demise. The violence isn't so much disturbing as it is hilarious; it's just so wild and over the top that it really can't be taken seriously. Watching the carnage is fun, which is good, because you'll be exploding S&M clad gangsters into giblets all the time.
The main campaign of Ken's Rage is called Legend Mode, and covers events from the manga and anime series. Most of Legend mode focuses on Ken, but as you play, Legend Mode areas for other characters, like Rei and Mamiya, unlock as well. As you traverse the environs of the game, you earn Skill Points which can be used to upgrade stats, or learn new moves. The finishing moves in particular are very impressive, and generally fatal to most enemies. Ken's iconic Hundred Crack Fist is here, and is as bizarrely awesome as ever. There's a lot of content in Legend Mode, easily more than ten hours. Unfortunately, it's a single player experience. Co-op is unlocked early on in the Legend Mode campaign, which is nice.