Lately, thanks to the Crunchyroll PS3 app/trial, I’ve been revisiting some of my anime favorites of the 80s. One of these shows is Fist of the North Star. Known as Hokuto no Ken in Japan, this anime was based off of a manga that appeared in Shonen Jump from 1983-88. Both the anime and the manga are utterly fantastic, with the perfect combination of memorable action and heart. Being a Shonen series, Hokuto no Ken naturally inspired many games based on the source material. One of the earliest games was released for the Sega Mark III in 1986, simply titled Hokuto no Ken and notably programmed by Yuji Naka, the programmer of the original Phantasy Star and Sonic the Hedgehog.
The game is a fairly standard, simple, side-scroller, similar to other games of the era, such as Kung-Fu for the NES. Enemies swarm you from both sides as you progress, requiring quick reflexes and a penchant for repetition and frustration.
There are minibosses scattered throughout the level (in the first stage, they are the playing card-themed members of the KING gang) and a big boss at the very end.
The end-of-stage boss battles are interesting because they play out like a one-on-one fighter (albeit a very primitive one). Both Ken and the boss have lifebars and the battles are depicted with much larger and more detailed characters. Like every part of the game, these boss battles are ridiculously difficult.
Hokuto no Ken was released in the U.S. for the Master System, but the final product was far different than the original. Released the same year as the Japanese original, Black Belt is remembered best for its notoriously strange boxart.
Honestly, the boxart may be the most memorable thing about Black Belt. Hokuto no Ken is by no means a great game, but it remains endearing because of its art style, music, and strength of its license. Black Belt trades the strange, stylish, post-apocalyptic style of Hokuto no Ken for a fairly generic martial arts backdrop.
Black Belt on the Master System is a solid, but ultimately unremarkable game. It’s a shame that Western gamers missed out on the superior original that inspired it back in 1986.