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Black Belt review
Raise your fist and fight!


Raise your northern star fist!
Originally Fist of the North Star in Japan, Black Belt is nothing more than a basic sidescrolling action game where you beat people up. The concept sounded good on paper, though in execution, it’s decent enough. Repetitious as hell level designs and cheap main boss fights, however, nibble and gnaw at this game, pretty much wrecking what could’ve been a great licensed game (well, it would’ve been considered that in Japan anyway).

Been there, done that.
Each of the game’s 6 levels is extremely similar to one another. Granted that shoot em ups generally have similar level structures, at least they get harder as you go, and certain things change in each level in those types of games anyway. Here, every level is on a flat platform, and all you’re basically doing is moving right while killing enemies that rush at you from both sides. I know that every game ever made is repetitive, especially the 8-bit games, but Jesus Christ, this just gets really old after a while!

To break up the monotony, mini-bosses emerge from one side to try and kill you. These guys are kind of fun to fight off, since they employ different tactics than just rush and hit... okay, technically, that’s what they do, but in a different way. Some actually gave me a run for my money, and in the “challenging, fun” way, not the “alright this shit is on, this guy is *bleep*ed! *snaps controller*” way.

One other way to try and mix up fighting is the addition of power ups. However, each time you get them, there isn’t much of a difference. The food, yeah, you heal some of your wounds, but the symbols don’t really help too much. Temporary invincibility, and VERY temporary I might add. Doesn’t last all too long, but then again, neither do the levels. To get them, hold down, then press up to do a super jump, and make sure you hit the item in the air. It’s easy, especially when you’re surrounded and getting beaten down.

Street Fighter, minus combos and blasts.
At the end of each level, you fight a main boss, and it’s pretty much punch and kick at your opponent so that his health runs out before he clobbers you into the dust. Usually, bosses appear easy at first and then get harder as you go. That saying is only partly right. They do get harder as you go, but even the first guy will give you some trouble. In other words, the bosses are hard! The first two are just a sample of how frustrating it will get as you go.

As for how they actually play out, think of an arcade fighting game, but with no special moves and combos. This was before Street Fighter came out on arcades (this was made in 1986, predating Street Fighter by a full year) and before fighting games were considered cool (predating that phenomenon by five years), so don’t expect to press down, left and 1 to execute a haduken. Just punch and kick at their weak spots. Simple in concept, but it works. Just wish they weren’t such pricks!

Look at all those colored belts!
The graphics are pretty good. The colors used here are suitable. Whether it’s the landscapes or the character models (especially for the main boss fights), the graphics are fairly detailed and have some pretty good colors. Sure, the colors seem a bit dull, but I think they suit the game finely. It’s about kicking ass with karate moves to rescue the girl. Especially if you know the license, you can’t really expect the usual vibrancy that the Master System was known for (well, in comparison to the NES at least), and the result is pleasing to look at anyway.

Where repetition actually helps!
When looking at the soundtrack, you’d be thinking “gee sounds mostly the same James”. Yes, it does, but unlike the gameplay, the soundtrack benefits from the repetition. The soundtrack is very catchy, and sounds very good too. This is the sort of soundtrack that would fit any Master System game, and would even be worthy enough of being on your music player. Hell, it’s worthy of being stuck in your mind, as the tunes are in mine and just don’t seem to want out.

Raise the fist in salute or in anger?
Black Belt is a competent game, but suffers from gross repetition which causes the game to get old quickly, and also suffers from cheap boss fights. Even if you play it, it’s a one-off game. Once you finished the game, that’s it really. Overall, I wouldn’t recommend buying it for too much money unless you’re a collector, which, odds are, this will appeal to.

Raise your fists to this:
Story: 8/10
The usual “save girl from bad guy” that doesn’t get in the way... You had to be there to really get into it.
Gameplay: 5/10
The concept is simple, and it works for the most part. It gets quite old after a couple of levels, however (save for mini-bosses and main bosses). Main boss fights seem to set up the template for fighting games to expand on... too bad the bosses themselves are damn cheap!
Controls: 9/10
Tight, responsive and easy to learn. They’re the sort of controls to die for, really. Just wish that up wasn’t jump, mostly because you won’t be able to help it sometimes due to the d-pad’s design.
Graphics: 10/10
Color scheme may seem dull, but it suits the style very well, and looks pleasing enough. Nothing that will hurt your eyes or anything; actually, they’re damn good.
Sound: 9/10
Sound effects are a bit generic-y, and the soundtrack has very similar songs going for it, but the music is so damn good and catchy, it more than makes up for the effects and soundtrack repetition.
Other: -6
The cheap bosses this game offers really puts a damper on the experience, and unless you have patience, you won’t really enjoy this too much, and no amount of pretty pictures and catchy tunes will save the game from that flaw. It’s also awfully repetitious, even more so than needed.

Overall: 7/10

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