Publisher(s): Tecmo Koei
Platform(s): PS3, Xbox 360, WiiU
Review Platform: Xbox 360
Release Date: December 20, 2013
Just like the yearly reiterations of sports games, Koei’s brawlers follow a similar route of providing nearly identical experiences with conservative upgrades and changes. Even so, fans of their button-mashing extravaganzas fall into a selective group of gamers who’ve supported this derivative tradition for decades. The Dynasty Warriors series in particular has seen endless sequels and spin-offs that, while extremely fun in small bursts, never evolved beyond their basic mechanics. Don’t get me wrong, nearly every one of those titles shared shelf space with my PS2 collection, but considering how much the genre has evolved, it’s time to change the formula and brush up on the aging production values.
Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 is only cosmetically different from the Dynasty Warriors franchise, with very few noteworthy tweaks differentiating the gameplay. You’re still brawling through wave after wave of identical, brainless thugs with the occasional super move sprucing up the action. The problem with the sequel is that it actually takes away certain elements that made the original so much fun. Previously, the pacing was significantly slower making the combat feel more organic and strategic. Pulling off signature moves is no longer announced mid battle which makes them less spectacular and too easy to execute. Enemies swarm you in larger hordes and each encounter becomes a tiresome exercise in dodging and pounding the attack buttons. It’s less about careful evading and precise timing and more about repetitive mashing.
Despite the odd changes, the game can be fun when played in small increments. I hate to call it a guilty pleasure, but it’s just that. Ken’s special moves are absolutely outrageous and watching your enemies’ heads explode is hilarious. You’ll probably appreciate the premise more if you’re familiar with the Manga the game is based on, but the charm of Tetsuo Hara’s drawings is completely lost in the bland and underwhelming presentation.
Visually, the game would be regarded as below average if it was a first generation I-Pad title, but for a fully priced console release it’s devastatingly ugly. Character models are jagged with terrible textures and awful lip-syncing and the environments are so poorly designed that you can’t tell them apart. Before each level, you’re treated to awful comic-style pages that use in-game character model stills…it is utter laziness and I was really hoping to see the original comic book art carry the narrative. On a brighter note, the frame rate remains solid throughout regardless of how many characters fill the screen, but it can’t hide the sloppy aesthetics and poor art direction. The best part of Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 is the audio. Fast paced heavy metal guitar riffs carry the action superbly and the authentic Japanese voice acting fits the game perfectly.
In terms of content the game is surprisingly packed with value. With over 20 playable characters, each bringing their own small narrative, you’ll stay busy for a while…if the repetitive action doesn’t bore you. Despite the move/combo upgrades, solid co-op and multiplayer, and a ton of stages…the gameplay mechanics are undeniably stale and archaic. My final gripe is with the game’s price. If this was a budgeted release, I could easily recommend it to fans of old school brawlers, but at a full 60$ the game offers nothing to justify its price tag. I’ve been a loyal supporter of Koei’s brawlers in the past, but Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 is an alarming sign that a massive overhaul is paramount if they want to keep any fans.
|Final Score||“Time to Change the Formula”||4.0|
This is probably one of the ugliest Xbox 360 games of 2013. Poor textures, jaggies around everything, disastrously bland presentation…it's shockingly bad.
The classic Koei brawler charm is still there, but the formula is showing its age. The beat em up genre has evolved beyond the monotonous button mashing and this title makes no effort in keeping up with the times.
There are plenty of characters and plenty of baddies to fight, but once you pass the first few stages you'll feel like you're running in circles…the gameplay never evolves and you can only mash the attack buttons so much before your hands tire.
It's the game's strongest element, but that's not saying much. The awesome guitar riffs are completely overshadowed by simplistic sound effects and repetitive enemy moans.
Review by Tin Salamunic
Tin Salamunic is the founder of The Game Scouts. He is a Video Game Journalist during the day and illustrator by night. He's been obsessed with video games since the early NES days, collecting every major system and game on the market. Video games are the reason he pursued the illustration career and he hopes to be creative director for a video game company one day. All Artciles by Tin.