Black Belt, originally released in Japan as a tie-in to the Hokuto no Ken manga and anime, saw many changes when it debuted outside of Japan. Nearly all traces of the source material, known as Fist of the North Star elsewhere, were removed or altered, save for the protagonist’s gruesome ability to punch foes into exploding bits. With or without the branding, it’s little more than a simplistic beat ‘em up; Sega did nothing to advance the genre, content instead to pump out a clone of Irem’s Kung Fu Master. Boss fights offered a brief glimpse of challenge and fulfillment but the difficulty of some was off-putting without the use of cheats.
Playing as the macho Riki, I was out to rescue Kyoko, his beautiful Japanese girlfriend who’d gotten into a “beautiful Japanese mess.” Whatever she did, I had to fight through hundreds of Japanese-themed foes to rescue her. As I walked a linear path to the right, I punched and kicked never-ending fodder enemies who attacked from both sides. My attacks destroy them instantly and watching them explode never grew dull, although the act of it did. A minute or so into a stage, I’d come across a miniboss that required multiple hits and an actual strategy to kill. These fights were a welcome change of pace and their difficulty ramped up accordingly.
Closing out each stage was a one-on-one fight against a challenging boss. Again, the difficulty of these fights steadily increased, but without consulting a walkthrough and the use of an infinite lives cheat, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have beaten this game. Defeating each boss required a strategy unique to them and some were easier to execute than others. The first few required little more than a good beating but about halfway through I had to discern patterns and attack with exacting timing and accuracy.
For instance, in order to defeat Oni, the boss of the fourth chapter, I had to wait for him to attack and quickly, and I mean quickly, counterattack. Defeating Rita, the boss of the subsequent chapter, required me to attack her in a specific pattern: jump kick, standing punch, ducking punch, ducking kick, and then repeat that pattern again. What’s more, I had to finish her off as she performed a dive kick. After a dozen or so attempts I finally prevailed and proceeded into the fight against Wang, Riki’s ultimate nemesis. Thankfully, there was a way to cheese this fight, which I of course took advantage of.
The boss fights offered moments of inspiration and challenge, but I can’t imagine defeating some of them without the use of an external source and a cheat or two. Even though I didn’t formulate or figure out the strategies to defeat them, I still felt accomplished when they succumbed to my blows, a stark contrast to the unimpressive combat that comprised the majority of Black Belt. In total, I spent an hour or two with the game and it was equal parts enjoyment and aggravation. I’m satisfied with the time I devoted to it but I don’t imagine I’ll return to it anytime to soon.
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