'Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise' Is a Face-smashing Delight

If you've played the Yakuza games before, have you ever found yourself wishing the dirtbags of Kamurocho would explode in a glorious gush of blood and chum after a good old-fashioned pummelling? Me neither, actually, but Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise is the anime-inspired take on Sega's winning brawler/RPG formula you didn't know you needed. I took a demo for a spin at the publisher's E3 booth and came away buzzing from the absurdly fun (and absurdly violent) beat-em-up gameplay and slick post-apocalyptic visuals.

fist north star mad max vibes
Oh, I'm just smashing this oncoming motorcycle thug with a steel beam. Pretty standard Monday, really." Sega

There have been loads of Fist of the North Star games already, most of them released exclusively in Japan, but this is the first from Sega's Ryo ga Gotoku Studio. The original manga (which ran in Shonen Jump from 1983 to 1988) follows the exploits of a warrior named Kenshiro, who battles baddies preying upon the innocent in a world destroyed by nuclear war. Kenshiro's special brand of martial arts, known as Hokuto Shinken, allows him to pinpoint the body's vital points, often resulting in exceptionally gory, geysers-of-goo death. According to Sega, Lost Paradise is an "alternate version" of the original story and can be enjoyed as a standalone experience.

Fans of the much-loved franchise won't need any convincing to take up their controllers, but as someone who knows little about it, I was wary of all the exceptionally thick-necked dudes, and at first glance the art style wasn't my cup of tea. Boy, was I wrong. This game is an absolute blast, and it's easy to dive right in.

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There’s only one item on the menu in Fist of the North Star and it’s BEEF. Sega

The core of the gameplay is similar to the Yakuza series, with a richly detailed environment to explore and loads of minigames. Monster trucks adorned with massive fangs blaze across desert wastes, neon lights flicker alongside flaming torches and corrugated-metal shanties lean haphazardly against battered neo-classical buildings. As you navigate the city of Eden, you'll mix cocktails, become an amateur chiropractor, race dune buggies and even manage a nightclub (get hype, Majima fans). Like Kamurocho, it seems like there'll be plenty of nooks and crannies to get lost in.

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One of 'Lost Paradise's many oddball minigames. Sega

But, like the Yakuza games, the core of the action is sharing the gift of a swift and brutal asskicking with as many hooligans as possible. Mash the square button for basic punches that string together into combos, triangle for fierce attacks, circle to grab an object or opponent. Lost Paradise includes its own version of Heat Mode, the Seven Star gauge, which allows Kenshiro to unleash particularly brutal (and head-exploding) techniques by responding to on-screen trigger prompts. These special attacks had me yelping with glee: they are over-the-top, silly and hilarious. I uncovered even more of these finishing moves while briefly testing out the game's battle arena mode, in which Kenshiro must dispatch wave after wave of lowlifes. It seems like it could be a good way to practice techniques or just let off some steam if you don't have time for an extended play session.

Fist of the North Star was one of the first games I played at E3, but it definitely stuck in my head… almost as though it had been crushed into my brain with a mighty blow from a manly fist. I'm still kicking myself for not going back to play some more.

Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise comes to the West on Oct. 2.