Fist of the North Star is a legendary manga series which ran for several years during the mid-80’s in Japan. Naturally it spawned an anime series, a (terrible) live action film and, of course, a string of tie-in video games. The Famicon version isn’t the very first video game incarnation of the series, but it is as good a place to start as any.
For those who are not familiar with the original manga series, it revolves around Kenshiro, a wandering ass-kicker who wanders around a post-apocalyptic wasteland kicking the asses of all he feels deserve and ass kicking. His signature move is the ‘Holy Fist of the North Star’ which consists of Ken attacking his opponent with a flurry of well-placed blows to the abdomen which results in a delayed explosion of the body. And of course our hero Ken stands emotionless as the shredded internal organs of his foes rain down from the heavens above. I know this sounds over-the-top, and it is, but not entirely in a bad way. The series did a good job of toeing the line between being a grim story of ultra-violent death and being a parody of itself. Check it out if you haven’t already; I would recommend the manga series primarily, but the anime series isn’t awful either.
Anyway, Fist of the North Star is a side-scrolling beat-em’-up for the Nintendo Famicon. Released in the summer of 1986 all across Japan, Fist of the North Star sold over 1.5 million copies and earned a warm reception. Famicon Computer Magazine gave it a 19.41 out of a possible 30. I don’t think I would give it quite as much. Even when taking into account the limitations of the hardware of the time, it just seems a little lacking. It’s fun, but is ultimately a one-note pony.
You play as Kenshiro as he ploughs through seemingly endless legions of non-descript baddies with his signature poke-em’-till-they-explode attack, as well as a much more efficient kick attack. While the kick will simply send the enemies flying off the screen, a few punches will trigger the chest-explosion effect and your opponents’ insides will fly all over the place in all their 8bit glory. I have to admit, there is a certain satisfaction to beating the shit out of everything that comes your way, but it’s just kind of a shame that is the whole game.
You beat the shit out of the same sprites, over and over and over until you find a door which you can enter, and then you beat the shit out of the same sprites against a different background. You continue this process until you come across a boss. Beat the boss and it is on to the next level. It gets really old, really fast. It doesn’t help that kicking the bucket in the game robs you of a life and sends you right back to the very start of the level. I understand that save states were not practical at the time, but I’m pretty sure the NES hardwarde allowed for checkpoints at least.
The graphics are a bit bare-bones. While graphics aren’t really a drawing card for an 8bit title from 1986, it still feels quite bland. Though the lack of graphical complexity also comes with the blessing of almost no pixel flickering at all. Animations are also quite good and the controls are are quite fluid, even if the jumping seems a bit overkill at times. I don’t think anyone would play a NES/Famicon game for the scenery, the backgrounds in this game are the worst kind of repetition. This can potentially affect the gameplay as you are only able to enter and exit buildings through certain doors, and it becomes quite difficult to remember which door is where when everything looks exactly the same.
This isn’t a great game, but there is definitely some fun to be had with the frantic button smashing and chest-exploding. The lack of variety and those damn near impossible to didge projectiles which come flying out of nowhere really suck a lot of the fun out of the whole affair. Definitely worth at least a try, even if you might not end up liking it.