Games: Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise is action malarkey of the highest order
Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise (PS4)
SINCE its 1984 debut, Fist of the North Star has proved one of manga's most enduring series as stoic Bruce Lee-a-like Ken tears it up in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, righting wrongs by punching goons in the face. It's a far cry from the fluffy whimsy of Studio Ghibli's output, aimed squarely at red-meat-eating violence connoisseurs.
And while Lost Paradise isn't the first time Fist's evil-thwarting capers have received the videogame treatment, it's easily the best.
Developed by Yakuza-peddlers Ryu Ga Gotoku, the studio has elegantly draped the Fist universe on their enduring template as Ken (short for Kenshiro and not, well, Kenneth) travels to the idyllic city of Eden in search of his lost love. Before long, players are loafing around its post-apocalyptic wasteland, fisting their way to kung fu glory in a dependably demented take on the classic manga. It's utter nonsense in the best possible way as Ken struts about a Mad Max environment like a bowl of biceps, taking on monumentally proportioned Neanderthals in an orgy of blood and violence.
Using the dependable Yakuza combat system, taking out the trash is a simple ballet of light and heavy attacks. Where Fist differs, though, is through Ken's mastery of Hokuto Shinken, allowing him to wallop hidden points in his enemies. Achieve a perfect channeling and your foe literally explodes into a shower of spring-loaded guts.
All realism goes out of the butcher's shop window as your opponents erupt in geysers of gore – you can even grab their death cry and clobber their poor pals with it. Along the way you'll beef up our stone-faced hero's move-set, fortifying your fists for some epic boss battles.
But true to its Yakuza roots, Eden offers more than dustbowl dust-ups. Packed with activities, Ken can turn his fist to buggy races, running a clinic, managing a hostess bar or – best of all – bartending, mixing drinks with the same intensity as the game's deadly combat. You'll also find a bunch of old Sega arcade cabinets, whiling away the hours with pixel-perfect versions of OutRun, Space Harrier and Super Hang-On.
While running on an older version of Yakuza's Dragon Engine, it's still a looker, with cel-shaded visuals lending the ultraviolence a certain cartoon charm. You can also switch between the original Japanese audio or (sacrilege!) an English dub.
Ultimately, though, comparisons to Yakuza merely show up Fist's shortcomings. Many areas of Eden are inaccessible until much later in the game, and while there are 80 substories to complete, poor signposting spells much aimless wandering. It's also more po-faced than Yakuza, which cuts through the kickings with a wry sense of humour and general Japanese silliness.
Still, whether you're a fan of Yakuza, Fist of the North Star or just plain old smacking folk in the chops, Lost Paradise is action malarkey of the highest order and a punch drunk love letter to die-hard fistophiles.