Fist of the North Star is a legendary Japanese manga series which ran in the mid-80’s. 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 as any to start.
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 moves 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 exploding 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 does 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 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 in Japan, Fist of the North Star sold over 1.5 million copies and gained a decent reception, with Famicon Computer Magazine giving it a 19.41 out of a possible 30. I don’t think I would give it quite as much.
You play as Kenshiro as he works his way through a seemingly endless legion 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 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’s all there is to this 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 technology at the time allowed for checkpoints at least.
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 projectiles which come flying out of nowhere really suck a lot of the fun out of the whole affair. Definitely worth a try at least, even if you might not end up liking it.