The ultraviolent manga series Fist Of The North Star is rightfully no stranger to videogame adaptation. It centers around Kenshiro, the 64th successor to a fictional branch of martial arts that can heal physical and psychological wounds, but is usually harnessed for its capability to explode mohawk-sporting henchmen into a taffy-like mess. Remember the Story Of Ricky head-exploding sequence that used to be shown on The Daily Show? Fist Of The North Star is much, much gorier. But if Ken’s Rage is any indication, maybe after 24 years, it’s time to hang up the blood-soaked towel.
The entire game takes a cue from Kenshiro’s smug battle cry, “You are already dead.” Fights lack tension and drag on from the very beginning. That ailment is only intensified by uninspired, seamlessly recycled corridors that make it all too easy to get lost… which in turn is made more frustrating by Kenshiro’s clunky running. By definition, brawlers become repetitive sooner or later, but Ken’s Rage opts for the former. RPG elements emerge between levels: You can exchange the blue orbs your defeated enemies leave behind for enhanced abilities or new attacks, but those fail to inject an iota of strategy into the battles. We get it: Kenshiro is unstoppable. And just as the gods test Kratos by making him move boxes to progress in a level, Kenshiro’s enemies impede his progress by not expecting him to punch holes in walls, or to destroy a dozen statues that somehow function as a switch for a door elsewhere in the city.
Ironically, Ken’s Rage is most stomachable in the unlockable Dream mode, wherein a number of characters embark on the polarizing, exceedingly familiar Dynasty Warriors-style one-vs.-one-thousand battle sequences. Each character has a loose story explaining why they’re fighting hundreds of troops, and allowing the Ken’s Rage formula room to breathe, with wider expanses and bigger clumps of enemies to wallop, feels better than being boxed in and taking on 10 or so guys at a time in the main game mode. Some of the other characters, like the crossbow-wielding Mamiya, offer their own subtly different monotonous takes on the action, but you’ll still just be mashing one button over and over, then finishing with another. No matter who’s onscreen, Ken’s Rage is clunky, lacks variety, and on the whole feels incredibly dated.