Originally Released: 1990
Version Played: Game Boy
One thought kept running through my mind the entire time I was playing Fist of the North Star– “this is weird.” When this game was released in 1990, the only exposure (most) Americans had to the story of Hokuto no Ken was a few issues of the manga published by Viz Communications (yes, issues- this was the time period when manga was not published in digest-sized books, but rather western-style comic books of the bagging-and-boarding variety).
The Hokuto no Ken games were a different story, sorta.
By the time this Game Boy title was released, three Hokuto no Ken games had been released. 1986 saw Black Belt on the Sega Master System, which went through an extreme localization that removed all traces of the original subject matter and, in my opinion, a lot of the charm. The same thing happened to its Mega Drive sequel in 1989, published here as Last Battle. The first game to actually carry the Fist of the North Star moniker in the west was Hokuto no Ken 2 for the Famicom, released on the NES in 1989. Despite these games existing prior to the Game Boy title, it still feels SUPER WEIRD playing a proper English Fist of the North Star game from that era.
But maybe it’s not the fact that it was released in the west that makes this game feel so weird. Maybe it’s more that it’s just kind of a weird game. Fist of the North Star is a pre-Street Fighter II fighting game with thin, face and feature-less sprites. Characters jump and float like in the first Virtua Fighter and can charge to fire projectiles in addition to their kick and punch attacks. The backgrounds are simple, sparse, and sterile. The music, while good, still has that unnerving feel that Game Boy music sometimes does. There is an XP system and a password feature as well- both of which are welcome additions, but seem somewhat unnecessary. It all adds up to a very strange-feeling game that is compelling in its own way and well worth the few bucks it costs to pick up these days. Just get ready to feel kinda weird while you play it.
Screenshots courtesy of MobyGames