Every month you can watch reviews and read our thoughts on the games we've been playing, old and new. This month we have two video reviews and a lot of little bits and pieces for you to read.
FIST of the North Star: Lost Paradise
Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise is a crossover of sorts. Sega’s Yakuza Team, responsible for the beautiful, amazing Yakuza series, takes their game engine and applies it to cult classic anime Fist of the North Star. Taking Uncle Kaz’s place is Kenshiro, a martial-arts expert living in a Mad Max wasteland. After a couple of hours of fighting and a brief refresh of Ken’s backstory, he finds himself in Eden, a post-apocalyptic city that still has all the creature comforts of Kamurocho; complete with hostess clubs and a cocktail bar.
Yakuza’s battle system returns here, but with a few major tweaks. Grabs and throws are limited, and there’s no more picking up items to bash people’s heads in; after all, Ken has the ability to make folks’ heads explode with one touch, so he doesn’t really need the help of any traffic cones or bikes lying around. Not that there are many bikes in the apocalypse.
“Heat”, Yakuza’s signature mechanic that lets Kaz unleash brutal special moves on unsuspecting punks, has changed slightly too. Every goon you fight has a wee skull icon next to their health bar. Throw enough punches their way and the skull icon will fill up; when it’s full that’s your cue to hit the circle button and stun them with Ken’s martial arts prowess. Press circle again and, well, things get pretty gruesome.
Depending on how much you pummel them before you unleash a gruesome Hokuto secret technique, you’ll get a variety of different finishers. Every one of them is super violent, and depending on your patience for puerile humour, they’ll get old very fast. Or if you’re like me you’ll still go out of your way to get into a fight just so you can make folk’s heads explode again and again. Adding to the *chef kiss* beautiful display is Ken’s trademark voiceover, announcing every move in booming, theatrical style. Pro-tip, change the voices to Japanese before you play; Kazuma’s voice artist returns to voice Kenshiro and let me tell you, it’s a treat.
On top of all that, once you fill the North Star gauge you can press R2 to unleash Burst Mode, where Ken’s shirt rips off and you can do all sorts of devastating combos and air moves. After all this time watching Yakuza characters rip off their shirts in cutscenes, it’s nice to have a button to do it on command.
Outside of the fighting, it’s pretty easy to get bored of Fist of the North Star in the early stages. There’s not a huge amount going on for a while, and the plot seems non-existent at first. Bear with it though, because after a few seemingly disconnected chapters of random happenings, the plot begins to focus in Yakuza’s classic melodramatic style. I won’t spoil anything, but I’ve never watched the original anime series and even I started to really care about what happened to these characters. One flashback scene after about half a dozen hours of play is the catalyst for things to start coming together. I’ll say no more.
After a few hours of drip feeding features to you, the game finally opens up too, revealing itself to be a massive playground. Yakuza games have always been rich and full of stuff to do, but Fist of the North Star feels truly massive. For one, you get to ride about in a bashed up old jeep scouring the wasteland whenever you want. It even has a tape deck in it with collectible songs, although why you’d want to listen to anything apart from the Super Monkey Ball theme is beyond me.
As always, there’s a grand selection of stupid mini games to choose from, and not all of them are ripped from the Yakuza series. You can use your martial arts and rhythm-action skills to help ailing patients at the doctors office. You can mix cocktails for post-apocalyptic customers. You can use steel girders to play baseball with goons on motorbikes. You can even play the original Fist of the North Star game in your hideout, although I don’t have any footage of that because I haven’t found it in the wasteland yet.
Every so often beating up a goon will result in a timed treasure map appearing, and it’s worth doing them when you can because some of the coolest rewards can be found this way. Basically you just get in your car and chase after beams of light on the horizon. The wasteland map is massive, and you’re going to spend a lot of time driving around. At first it all seems a bit naff and thrown together, but there’s an arcade-y charm to the handling. Basically, once you get the hang of drifting then you’ll relish the moments you have in your car, and the arcade races you can enter will help you get the kit needed to upgrade it and take it further afield.
There is a major problem with Fist of the North Star. Well, it might be a problem. It depends very much on your taste.
You see, this year saw the release of Yakuza 6, which is the best, boldest, slickest and most modern example of a Yakuza game yet.
Fist of the North Star feels like a PS2 game in comparison, and it wears that proudly on its sleeve. Where Yakuza 6 was seamless, Fist of the North Star has more seams than your mum’s living room curtains. Where Yakuza 6 voiced every line of dialogue to give the whole game a cohesive presentation, Fist of the North Star has a very clear dividing line between gameplay, dialogue scene and full-on animated cutscene.
But, for me, that’s not a problem. I love and miss the PS2 era. It was a time when games felt experimental and willing to throw as many ideas at the wall just to see what stuck. Fist of the North Star feels like that kind of game. It’s not trying to be anything else other than an absolute laugh riot whenever it can. Plus it moves like butter; it’s been a while since a Yakuza game was full-on 60 frames per second smoothness.
If you love the Fist of the North Star anime, if you love the Yakuza games, if you miss the PS2 days and if you remember when Channel 4 used to show super-violent schlocky anime films in the middle of the night, you owe it yourself to give Kenshiro’s latest adventure a shot.
Mark of the Ninja
One of the things we take pride in, here at Bit Socket, is that we’re always going to be honest with you, our 250 viewers. But when it comes to this game, this filthy, dishonest game Mark of the Ninja, I’m sorry, but I cannot contain my disgust with how it lies to the player, lies to the paying customer.
I mean, the main character isn’t even called Mark.
Mark of the Ninja, very misleading title aside, has recently been released in razor sharp HD on all the usual suspects, including my slightly concave Nintendo Switch. Even though the game has been out for six years, this is actually my first time playing it, although I came to it with high expectations, because everyone and their auld fuckin’ Gran has been talking it up big style. Honestly, I’ll be adding my voice to the choir on this one, as Mark of the Ninja is a cracking stealth game with a surprising amount of depth, but there are a few wee issues that stop it from heading to Video Game Valhalla.
Let’s gorge ourselves on that good shit first before we stare aghast at what we refuse to eat; first up, I’m a pretty big fan of how the game looks, it’s like a super-violent Toonami game, like Samurai Jack just decided to slice up some absolute cretins inside a European castle. It’s also got a wee hint of the Flash games of yore, and as someone who grew up through the glory days of Newgrounds and the like, it’s got a comfortable feel; even for someone new to the game, it already looks like an old favourite.
Mark of the Ninja’s approach to stealth is pretty much exactly what you’d want; logical, flexible and fun. If you keep out of a guards eye-line, either by staying above them, or creeping through vents or hiding behind huge, convenient plant pots, you’ll be fine and rewarded extra points. But that also goes both ways; as soon as a guard is out of your direct line of vision, say blocked by a ledge, they also disappear off your screen, only showing their last location and little visual clues about any sounds they might be making.
For those of you that want to play the game without killing guards, which is possible, this will add even more to the challenge and help keep you focused; for me, it caused other issues which I’ll talk about in a minute.
As you play, you’ll find that you can hide enemy bodies in bins, under the ground via vents and even suspend them from ledges to freak out other guards, giving you an unmissable distraction right when you need to get past a large group. The main character, still not called Mark, also has access to a wealth of Ninja tools, from smoke bombs to caltrops, so your approach to each level, or even room, can change on the fly. When you decide to engage in combat, which is suitably gory and fun, the best way to approach every encounter is via blind spots, either behind, above or below, as…um… right, I’m going to call him Mark for the rest of the review…as Mark is a fragile butterfly and doesn’t do well in aggressive encounters. He’s like me in that way, except I don’t bring a sword to work.
It’s Mark’s gentleness of spirit and body that causes me issues; you see, I’m really, really bad at this game. I keep fucking up the controls, I hit the throwing dart button instead of the sword button when I get stressed and let me tell you, those throwing darts do nothing but antagonise the guards. It makes them shoot me dead, and that’s a problem for me. Every room, every area in the game is a new puzzle I can fuck up in new and unexpected ways and sometimes I only make progression because my corpse lands just past a checkpoint.
Is this frustrating? You bet. Occasionally, the levels feel a touch unfair - for example, why are there so many insta-kill laser beams in office buildings? Who’s putting them in there, because it’s a bad idea and I’m pretty sure it’s against health and safety regs. Also, why the fuck are the dogs practically omniscient? You can fart in the real world and the dogs in the game will start barking.
Mark of the Ninja is so good that I’ll battle and claw my way towards the end; I want to see where the story goes and what new locations I’ll visit and what new guards will be able to absolutely punish me by riddling my stupid corpse with bullets. So it’s a thumbs up from me, but it’s the thumbs up of someone who’s trying to be optimistic after getting a beating. Or like when Terminator gives the thumbs up at the end of T2.
FINAL FANTASY XV: POCKET EDITION HD
A nice way to play the story of FFXV without all the flab. The combat system might actually be better than the full version, but it’s honestly as far away from Final Fantasy as possible without actually being a different series.
Here’s an odd one. There are a lot of retro style platform games nowadays, but very few are actually made with the limitations of retro systems in mind. Tanglewood looks exactly like a Mega Drive game, and that’s because it is a Mega Drive game! It’s out on Steam too, but it does make me wish I had a proper system to play it on… hmmm…..
I find it hard to put my finger on why, but I’ve got 100% of the trophies in Spider-Man and I had a right good time playing it. In some ways it suffers from the worst tropes of the open-world genre - repetitive busy-work, endless collectables and a lack of interaction in the game world. However, it’s probably the best super-hero game since Arkham Asylum and the attention to detail and love of the source material is evident throughout.