Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage is an interesting case, to say the least. The game targets a special niche, one that loves the rhythmic repetitiveness of the modern beat ‘em ups that follow the Dynasty Warriors model. Those that hold dear the classic man-battles of the Fist of the North Star manga should take notice as well, as Ken’s Rage spews forth enough post-apocalyptic bikers that serve as limp fodder to the Houkto style as it follows the manga’s story.
You’re already broken
Unlike Gundam Musou, Ken’s Rage can’t seem to recapture the oddly hypnotic core loop of the prior entries in the Musou continuum. While not universally lauded, the Dynasty Warriors (Musou) brand brought the simple pleasures of a beat ‘em up game and combined them with large maps featuring hundreds of jugglable enemies. The series never succeeded in fulfilling the promises made during its inception, but it at least catered to its niche by not-so-subtly iterating and remaining playable. Ken’s Rage misses on almost every cue left my dozens of Musou games that came before it, and fails to add anything new or interesting.
What came out of the collision of the two properties is just short of an abomination. Aside from the apparent lack of polish, part of this problem seems to hinge on the slow and narrow attack patterns and the sometimes sparsely-placed enemies. It is certainly difficult to create meaningful level design within a barren wasteland, but the effort in Ken’s Rage is sloppy at best, as evidenced by ruined buildings that crumble in the laziest manner that a building can crumble. Even the slightest amount of effort could’ve helped, but it’s just not there, and the geysers upon geysers of blood and gore can’t hide any of its flaws.
Though it is more apparent in the slower characters (namely, Kenshiro), an unforgiving momentum-breaking movement delay becomes glaringly apparent after certain movesets. This nearly-fatal flaw breaks the seamless flow of combat that has served as mindless, combo-juggling therapy for Dynasty Warriors fans throughout the years. Granted, the appeal has always been somewhat niche, but the fact that Ken’s Rage forgets what it is supposed to be is perhaps its biggest flaw. Long, annoying delays emerge after almost every action that break any sensible flow.
The majority of the story-focused missions are linear, thus eliminating the large-scale battle feeling that runs prevalent in other Musou games, yet things are too open to feel focused and thus most maps feel as dry as they look. Peppered throughout the stages are various iterations of the typical Fist of the North Star bad guys: buff, mindless, idiotic biker thugs and the like. They’re a little more active than you’d think, but with the relative inability to guide your characters movement during combos, I often found myself finishing my combos in the wrong direction.
Movement is almost as insufferable as combat. With little fluidity in hardly any of the characters’ actions, the transition from movement, jumping, and fighting is convulsed and erratic, as evidenced by the two or three second lull that occurs between the completion of a leap or a combo. The upgradable skill grid or the unlockable special moves are a nice touch, but they don’t remedy the unfinished-feeling mechanics of the combat.
Ken’s Rage also lacks any consistent physics. I am not trying to imply that a beat ‘em up game needs a real physics engine; it just needs to remain consistent in its animations. When Kenshiro’s flying jump kick jolts across the screen from a complete standstill and is unaffected by contact with any object, or when enemies sloppily jump down from ledges at variable falling speeds, I have start layering my suspension of disbelief over top of my disbelief that was previously suspended. Ken’s Rage fails to be consistent within its own universe, and it’s obvious.