This review is written by Hamish Smith.
Black Belt for the Sega Master System is a side scrolling beat ‘em up with a decidedly Japanese overtone. The game is actually a localised version of the Japanese game “Hokutou no Ken” which is known in the west as “Fist of the North Star”, which in turn is based on the manga series of the same name. However, when the game was first released way back in 1986, Fist of the North Star was virtually unknown in America and Europe, thus the need for localisation. While this game has background featuring Japanese castles and the like, the original game was actually based in post-apocalyptic urban setting. Needless to say they changed the look of the game quite a bit. Black Belt is also a very rare occurrence of reverse localisation, as the game had a western like urban theme in Japan which was changed to a traditional Japanese theme for release in the west.
The game was published in 1986 by Sega. One of the programmers of Black Belt was Yuji Naka, who would later go on to become the lead programmer of the first Sonic the Hedgehog game. This game was release quite early in the Master Systems life cycle, but it still looks pretty good. One annoyance is that the game is prone to a lot of pixel “clipping” or “flickering” when there are a lot of sprites on the screen at once (which is all the time).
The core mechanics of the game remain intact. There is more kicking, punching and feet-to-the-facing than you can shake a stick at. Although the basic enemies all look the same, and shatter (I repeat, shatter) when you hit them, each stage is broken up by a couple of sub bosses. These sub bosses were actually characters from the Manga series, but not knowing who they are doesn’t really change anything.
I wouldn’t exactly call this game easy. The sheer number of enemies you face at once can be staggering, and often causes physical problem within the game; sprite flickering and slow down. The sub bosses that break up the levels all have predictable patterns of attack but remain a decent challenge. The end of level bosses pose more of a challenge, as while they also follow predictable patters, your timing has to be spot-on to land a hit.
There are various power-ups available throughout the game. They come in the form of icons that fly across the top of the screen. Here is where things get a little tricky. The stock standard jump isn’t high enough to reach the power-ups that fly across the screen. You can however perform a high-jump by holding down first and then up (up on the D pad is used to jump). The problem with this is that while you are crouching and getting your timing right to nab a power-up, you are also getting your ass handed to you by the half-a-million enemies also on screen. It’s not impossible to get the power-ups, but it is a lot harder than it looks.
At the end of the day, Black Belt is a lot of fun and a decent challenge. The game doesn’t let anyone push it around, but at the same time it is not so difficult that it will make you want to give up in the face of defeat. I would recommend this game to fan of the side scrolling beat ‘em up genre, and also fans of the Manga and Anime series Fist of the North Star.