The Fist of the North Star manga certainly has a cult following. How can you not enjoy a wandering badass that can make people explode with his fists? That is pure entertainment, and Tecmo KOEI realized that when they released the original Fist of the North Star back in 2010. Developed once again by Omega Force, the lads behind the Dynasty Warriors series, Ken’s Rage 2 fits the bill of their traditional sequel: more, more and more, with little advancement. Unfortunately, this particular entry seems to take more of a step backward than it does forward. Still, if you missed the original, and love the series it is based on, Ken’s Rage 2 is not a bad place to start.
The most telling thing about Ken’s Rage 2 is its release. Not only is it stealthier than Sam Fisher, it is also confounding. The Xbox 360 version is available as a retail disc for $59.99. While the Wii U and PS3 versions are digital-download only, at the same price. There are also telling factors that perhaps this was not exactly a planned sequel, considering a large bulk of the game is carried over from the last one.
For starters, the main story mode, Legends, is almost a carbon copy of original title. I dragged out my original copy and played it again to be sure. It is also worth noting that all of the assets, character models and environments also feel strikingly familiar. Omega Force has done little in the way of visually upgrading the game over its predecessor. Scratch that, the game just doesn’t look good on any count. There are jaggies, bad textures and the English dialogue found in the original is gone. It is weird when a sequel is basically a re-imagining with elements removed. It just feels sloppy.
The gameplay also remains largely untouched. Combos are performed by mashing away at a series of button combinations, usually ended with a massive explosion, or blowback that sends dozens of enemies flying a sea of red spray. It is the traditional Dynasty Warriors motif of one man against an army, and for Ken’s Rage, it works. For variety, there are meter-based special moves that tend to cause enemies to meet with explosive conclusions. It gets a little nuts, but it is true to the source material. My main issue with combat, as with the original, is that it feels stiff. The main character does not move fluidly, and I often found myself punching air when trying to chain combos together.
Some of the more impressive portions of the game have also been scaled back. The epic boss fights now feel more like bouts with barely above average enemies. The constant battle of block, dodge, mash buttons gets old quickly, and a lot of the clever design in the boss encounters has been removed. It is really puzzling as to why Omega Force has removed so much of the content from the series. It is almost as if they were attempting to streamline it, and failed miserably.
In addition to the main game, you also have Dream Mode, which allows you to play as various characters from the manga. This is fan service that allows you to experience the action with well-known faces. They brought back the original cast and added a few new faces, though most of them are simply bosses from the game. Online co-op has also been tossed in for good measure, and when you can find a partner, it is stupid fun. Unfortunately, the lack of players to be found on Xbox Live is disappointing. I can’t imagine Wii U, or PS3 is faring any better.
Even with all of these issues, it is hard not to smile when watching Kenshiro jam his thumbs into an enemy’s temples, and watching the ensuing bloodbath. The game is chock full of these moments, and they are what make it stand out. The biggest issue is that the new content definitely does not justify the steep entry price. You can easily find an inexpensive copy of the original now, and unless you only own a Wii U, it is available for your preferred platform. If Tecmo KOEI had poured as much new content into the game as they removed, it would have been a worthy, albeit campy, sequel. Dumb fun is fine, but Ken’s Rage 2 is a ripoff.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.