Pros: Over-the-top action, amusingly cheesy story.
Cons: Repetitive, story sequences too frequent.
Wandering hero Kenshiro’s lifetime study of Hokuto Shinken, a form of martial arts that lets him manipulate human pressure points, has made him a master of pretty much everything. Not only can he send a dozen thugs flying through the air with one kick, or punch so quickly that he appears to have dozens of fists, or hit with such pinpoint accuracy that his victim will stand there in shock and then suddenly explode from the inside, he can also cure a mute girl or a blind woman by just touching them at the right spot, at times making the beat’em up Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2 seem like the world’s most violent Christ allegory.
Developed by: Tecmo Koei
Published by: Koei
Genre: Beat’em up
For ages: 17 and Up
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: February 7, 2013
The Basics: Hero Punches Many Many Bad Guys
When I started playing the game, I knew it had received some very hostile reviews and I was puzzled, because I thought it was absolutely awesome. Based on a Japanese Manga, the game’s ludicrously over-the-top story is told with an effective mix of cut scenes and well-done motion comic sequences. Kenshiro wanders through a Mad Max-style apocalyptic hellscape populated by defenseless villagers and savage gangs of psychopaths, heroically saving villagers and protecting children as he tells those who would harm them them, “life is a privilege and you don’t deserve it.” Kenshiro is the sort of guy who will punch a guy into the ground and, when he swears revenge, will walk away, saying “you’ll be dead in five seconds,” after which the guy will suddenly explode, because apparently if you hit people at just the right points on their body that’s what they do.
Everything about the game is joyfully ridiculous. Kenshiro is set upon by wave after wave of bad guys, but press a few buttons and he will swat them away like flies. Combat is basic button mashing, as various sequences of the X and Y button presses will induce Kenshiro to engage in a variety of attacks. When he’s store up enough power he can make a super attack; for example, he can jump up in the air and rain down blows on a crowd of enemies while making a chittering noise as though he is a big, angry hamster. Sometimes combatants become so overwhelmed by Kenshiro’s might that they throw down their weapons and genuflect as they back away. While the game’s strange lock-on mechanism for bosses was more a hindrance than a help, often losing your opponent yet making it difficult to find your way to important things like boxes containing health items, the combat system overall is pretty decent.
The first time I was confronted with dozens of enemies at once I thought I would be massacred, but once I realized I was the equal of about 30 normal men I started having fun. That first big, hectic battle was a blast, as was the next one, and the next. The story was engaging, the gang chieftains wore crazy masks and spiked amour or rode giant horses, and you just have to love a game where when the hero gets really really angry his shirt off of his body, either because of his overpowering aura or his tendency to purchase undersized shirts.
The Downside: A Failure to Maintain Momentum
Unfortunately, everything I loved about FOTNSKR2 in the first hour had begun to wear on me by the 10th. Wave after wave of lookalike thugs would descend once again, occasionally accompanied by some bigger thug, and even though I gained some new attacks and even traveling companions, I just began to feel that I was doing exactly the same thing, hour after hour.
Meanwhile, the story that had amused me so much at first began to feel intrusive. The game has a lot of story. Almost every battle is followed by a sequence in which Kenshiro confronts someone or has a flashback to a tragic event or hears a plea for help or watches some really nice old lady or child get brutally murdered. My gleeful amusement eventually turned to bored unrest, and I kept thinking, just let me get on with the fighting already. Often even big fights were broken up with long-winded cut scenes.
The story falls into that unique Japanese genre of, my-fighting-style-is-cooler-than-yours. It’s something I’ve seen a lot in anime. A character strikes a pose, and their opponent says, “ah, I see you are a student of folderol. That is no match for my gobbledygook. My Kick of the Seven Whatsits cannot be blocked. What’s this? You know the Headbutt of the Flying Thingamajigs? I have never seen such power!” Since there’s a chunk of anime devoted to continuous battles between people of different fighting techniques I’m going to assume that there’s a big market for this, but I’m not part of that market and my interest in made-up martial arts skills is very low.
The Extras: Playable Characters, Extra Modes
Kenshiro is not the only playable character. From time to time you pick up someone new – a swordsman, an archer – with a different set of skills and attacks. The worst character I played as was Mamiya, an archer who has the hots for Kenshiro; she can fire arrows like machine guns, but this wasn’t nearly as effective as a punch from Kenshiro, so I would run to one end of a field, wait for bad guys to charge me then fire until I ran out of arrows and then run to the other end of the field and reload and do that over and over and over again. Fortunately she is rarely required.
Besides the main story, there is also a Dream Mode that allows you to play through other stories, sometimes taking the roles of enemies from the main story. Dream Modes are a little less heavy on story, but by the time I tried them I was already royally sick of mashing buttons. There is also online co-op or team play, but as often happens with Wii U games, I couldn’t find anyone online to play with.
The Verdict: Wears Out It's Welcome, But a Real Blast for a Short Time
At the beginning I was absolutely giddy with excitement at FOTNSKR2’s wildly entertaining blend of silly story and nutty gameplay, but by the time I’d made it through two thirds of the story I was completely bored of the repetitive combat and so annoyed by the intrusiveness of an increasingly tepid story that I began to skip cut scenes. I soon packed it in. Kenshiro can heal the sick, protect the innocent and make the guilty explode like over-inflated balloons, but with all his powers he still couldn’t make me keep playing his game.