AKA: Black Belt || Hokuto no Ken / 北斗の拳 || SEGA 1986
Original Post Date: October 4, 2019
SEGA’s Hokuto no Ken was only the second game published out of countless titles based on the legendary Tetsuo Hara manga, releasing only two months after an Enix-developed PC adaptation.
Despite its early release date, a tremendous level of care was placed into its design, putting countless anime-licensed titles to shame for decades to come.
A simple left-to-right scrolling single-plane beat ’em up, HnK was very much built around the same formula that made Irem’s Kung Fu Master a smash success years prior.
The D-pad is used to move Kenshiro, as well as to crouch and jump by holding up. The face buttons are used as your punch and kick attacks, and it is possible to perform a super jump by pressing down immediately followed by a jump.
There are five main stages, as well as a sixth which serves as the final boss encounter. The main levels follow a similar format. You’ll fight your way through countless barrages of enemies, who differ slightly as the game progresses.
Eventually, the screen scrolling will come to a halt, at which point you’ll fight a mini-boss. Stages have anywhere from one to three mini-bosses a piece, most of whom represent notable villains from the series.
Worth mentioning is that stages two and five both feature platforms and obstacles to mix up the terrain, which is an uncommon feature for games of its style.
At the end of each stage, you’ll encounter a main boss, at which point the game will switch to it alternate display mode.
During bosses, the character sprites are much larger, and you can walk backward without actually turning around, almost making it feel akin to a fighting game. The bosses each have unique quirks in both their own fighting styles, and also which of your own attacks they’re weak to.
Their AI patterns and weaknesses even correspond to the events of the series, in many cases, a detail which won’t go unnoticed for hardcore HnK enthusiasts.
SEGA’s Hokuto no Ken is one of my favorite games in its style, and my top choice out of the plethora of games based on this influential franchise. Whether in its original or localized form, this one absolutely demands a play.