Fist of the Northstar - Sega Ages 2500
Also known as Hokuto no Ken, Sega's Fist of the Northstar arrives and fists go flying as we take a closer look at Sega's remake of this classic franchise.
Back during the Sega Master System days there was a pretty kick ass game known as Black Belt, a highly addicting side-scrolling beat 'em up/fighter modified from the Sega Mark III (Japanese Master System) version of Fist of the Northstar for American consumption. It featured 6 stages of beat 'em up action with each level ending in one on one battles against their respective end bosses. These fighting portions played quite well and ended with some very cool finishing moves.
When the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive came around, gamers received more Fist of the Northstar action in an early release known as "Last Battle". While Last Battle looked really good with large, very well designed characters that were ripped and chiseled, battling across desolate, post-apocalyptic settings, the gameplay on the other hand was quite lackluster with slow-moving characters, limited moves and annoying dungeon mazes. However, what made the game somewhat decent were the cool one-on-one battles against bosses and mid-bosses - some of which ending with them exploding into disgusting globs of goo.
While Fist of the Northstar games also appeared on other consoles such as the Nintendo Famicom (NES) where it made its first video game appearance in 1986, followed by two dismal Super Nintendo releases as well as one for the Sony Playstation, the old Sega versions are the only ones focused on since this is a Sega Ages remake.
Sega Ages 2500: Fist of the Northstar plays similarly to the past Sega versions - falling somewhere between Black Belt and Last Battle.
The action takes place on a 2D plane, alternately scrolling in both directions as enemies approach from both sides, requiring that you eliminate them all before being allowed to proceed. Once ridding the levels of all of their enemies, you'll have to deal with mid-bosses and end level bosses that you'll battle one on one.
The one glaring fault of this Sega Ages remake is the control scheme. The controls feel quite cumbersome at times and even worst than Last Battle - whose limited moves were at least fun to pull off. And speaking of limited moves, that's the other problem with this game.
All of the playable characters possess very small move sets which aren't a big deal during the side-scrolling beat 'em up portions of the game but become quite limiting during the one on one fighting portions of the game. With so many high quality fighting games on the market, the short reach and the putrid little 5+ moves each character possesses really hurts the fighting portions of the game.
Regardless of that, Fist of the Northstar still plays better during the one on one boss battles as the hits seem to have slightly better collision and the action flows a little smoother.
Kenshiroh's moveset consists of some basic punches, a side thrust kick, jump kick, spin kick, and the ability to build up a fighting spirit, causing background structures to crumble and enabling Ken to unleash multiple types of special attacks. In comical fashion, Ken and the others can stand toe to toe against foes and fire off rapid punches in a tug of war like manner until one gains the advantage and overwhelms the other. I wish the characters had some throwing moves as well but what are you gonna do eh?
There are 10 stages to play through and completing the game unlocks a battle mode that lets you select from any of your three fighters and battle against any of the 5 bosses in single round matches across the background of your choice.
Graphically, Sega Ages: Fist of the Northstar looks good with variegated visuals of post-apocalyptic settings similar to those found in its predecessors.
Characters appear to move around smoothly but the enemy designs are pretty generic and uninspired with the majority of them looking like a bunch of punk rockers with bad haircuts and lousy kung fu fighting skills.
On the audio side, Sega Ages: Fist of the Northstar features a decent soundtrack consisting of remixed music from the show, most of which was average at best. The sound effects faired a little better with every Bruce Lee-like "WaaAH!" screamed with great clarity and a total kick to hear - literally!
Overall, Sega Ages: Fist of the Northstar was in a word, disappointing. It provides 25-30 minutes worth of mediocre beat 'em up action that really does nothing to advance the genre. I had a much better time playing through the old Sega Mark III version - included on the same disc - than I did playing through the remake.
Stiff controls, sluggish movements along with Ken's short reach and limited fighting moves ruined what could have been a decent beat-em up. In a nutshell, it lacks the playability of Black Belt and the cool character designs of Last Battle.
I'm still wondering about the special thanks given to Yuji Naka in the credits screen - which in itself creates an interesting bit of trivia. Did Sonic's father play a role in the creation of any of the past Sega Fist of the Northstar games? I seriously doubt he had any input in the creation of the Sega Ages remake, otherwise it would have turned out much better.