Like “Contra” or “God of War” Tecmo Koei's “Fist of the Northstar: Ken's Rage” is one of those games that is guaranteed to make you feel insecure about your own masculinity by the time you're through with it. It's not so much that “Ken's Rage” is a particularly exceptional video game, but its emphasis on gratuitous violence and leather-clad muscle men punching one another in the groin will make you feel more impotent than watching a Chuck Norris marathon on television. It oozes machismo and glorifies the art of messily dismembering your enemies in a way only the Japanese could devise, and ultimately, it's this unwavering commitment to its ultra masculine identity that makes “Fist of the Northstar: Ken's Rage” such an enjoyable (albeit sobering) gameplay experience.
For those unfamiliar with the manga franchise which “Fist of the Northstar” is based off, think of “Road Warrior” if only the Japanese made it, only without humongous space monsters and ostentatious spandex outfits. You play as Kenshiro and his friends as they travel through a post-apocalyptic wasteland, kicking the asses of anyone who picks a fight with them. This, of course, means an expansive army of thugs and raiders so large that it makes you question the effectiveness of the nuclear holocaust that supposedly devastated the Earth.
“Ken's Rage” isn't heavy on the story, but it makes up for it by focusing on the brutalization of the legions of generic enemies you'll constantly be accosted by. At its core, “Ken's Rage” is very much like other Tecmo Koei titles, namely, “Dynasty Warrior”. You control a character and alternate between normal attacks and special techniques until everyone on the screen (besides you) are quivery chunks of bleeding flesh. There are a few modifications made to distinguish “Ken's Rage” from the traditional hack-and-slash of “Dynasty Warrior” that add layers of depth to the combat, but it still utilizes a similar formula that fans of the genre will find easily accessible. Once you find your ankles surrounded by the corpses of the enemies you just pulverized, you gradually begin to care less about how you're dishing out death and instead focus more on merely enjoying the carnage and mayhem.
That's not to suggest that “Ken's Rage” is a strict “Dynasty Warrior” clone necessarily. While the two franchises are fundamentally similar, “Ken's Rage” uses its manga roots well to create a distinctly unique experience that's substantially richer than its rather generic counterpart. Whether it's the characters you encounter, the array of dazzling and lethal attacks you have at your disposal, or the game's bizarre storyline (which faithfully follows the manga), it does such a terrific job of replicating its source material, both visually and in its gameplay, that fans will be hard pressed to pass up the opportunity to play out the events of the manga.
The inherent problem with any game that revolves around punching someone in the chest so many times that their body detonates into mists of blood and gore is that once the novelty of its visceral violence wears off, repetition begins to set in. You can only kick someone's face so many times until it begins getting a little boring, and because of that “Ken's Rage” is one of those games that is best enjoyed in small doses.
You'll like “Fist of the Northstar: Ken's Rage” if you're an avid follower of manga or anime or simply can appreciate the absurdity of ultra masculine men punching each other to death. That's really what it boils down to. There's nothing really that special about “Ken's Rage”, but regardless, this action-packed, beat-'em-up is still surprisingly enjoyable if you play it with your expectations in check. If you're looking for mindless violence, over-the-top, macho posturing and heavy metal rock, “Fist of the Northstar: Ken's Rage” is a pleasant enough distraction. If neither of those three appeal to you, write off “Ken's Rage” as being one of those weird titles only the Japanese would ever think of making before going on your merry way.
Final Grade: C
"Fist of the Northstar: Ken's Rage"
Developer: Omega Force
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Release Date: 11.02.10