Black Belt Review





Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega
Release Date: 1986 Also On: None

Stop me before I get nostalgic! Yet again I feel somewhat obligated to open this review with a bit of history/comparison. And, yet again, I need to recall my past video game experiences before I continue. Back in the day, I had a friend by the name of Christian. We used to play the NES all the time, and I believe it was with him I first took on Kung Fu in his basement, an early, “black box” title incredibly simple and entertaining. Basically, you run around this pagoda, going level by level fighting a boss at the end of each segment, until you reach Mr. X at the top, beat him, and save your girlfriend to only start all over again into infinite as you ride the Kerberos. I always enjoyed kicking the little munchkins and “grabbers,” but it was a bit tiresome since it never really goes anywhere. Enter Black Belt. Black Belt is basically the Sega Master System’s answer to Kung Fu, except that it’s a heck of a lot better in my opinion. Kung Fu will always hold a special place as I grow decrepit, but I’d have to say if I played Belt around the same time, it probably wouldn’t have stayed there for long.

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Graphically, Black Belt is well done for its time. Looking at some earlier SMS titles, it really stands out. The title screen is one of my personal favorites. Your character is designed well and has fluid animations for his movements, though he does have this funny, how to say, “chipper” walk making him appear as though he is power walking. I’m not sure how else to explain it; it looks a bit odd. However, his punches, jumps, kicks and so forth are all nicely done, with fireball effects here and there. Backgrounds tend to be a bit sparse with some features in the distance. Could have added a bit more as far as landmarks or objects are concerned, perhaps a crate or two in the city stages, for example.

Overall the levels look quite nice, especially in comparison to Kung Fu, which only really features bleak, single color backgrounds. The Forbidden Palace level looks pretty impressive and most of the stages have layered movement to make them look more realistic as you go forward. There’s a ton of variety in your enemies, with mini bosses to set off the main baddies and “zoomed in” boss levels that give it an overall excellent presentation. Lots of variety in those boss segments, and I especially enjoy whenever you beat them because Riki will wig out in a variety of ways. For one boss he kicks the living crap out of him, another he throws in the air and kicks, and so forth. The only problem I had in this category is that level five is essentially palette swap hell, with these lame looking repeating, flamethrower mini bosses and minor enemies meant to look “black” but so poorly done you’ll turn black with disgust. If it weren’t for the actual main boss on that level, I may have scored even lower. Still, this doesn’t drop the score much and the ending more than makes up for it. I’ve seen worse swapping.

The sound, as usual, could have used some work. The theme repeats for the most part and isn’t very catchy, but it does have more variety than Kung Fu, so I won’t take too much away. The boss music doesn’t really seem to fit either, but it isn’t exactly awful, it’s just not as good as it could have been. The sound effects, however, are wonderful. They fit perfectly and I wouldn’t expect any more. The exploding sound when enemies blow into pieces is a nice touch. In addition, go to love the sound effects when you flip out and level each boss when you get their life to zero.

The gameplay in Black Belt is pretty basic. Essentially, it’s an early “walk
around and punch stuff” game with a few icons to collect here and there. You
control Riki as each level moves to the right, facing a never ending number
of basic enemies (called, “little guys” in the manual, how cute), which is
set off by two or three mini bosses depending on the level and this is
further set off by a larger screen where you battle the main boss. It
basically zooms in, adding better graphics and more scenery. During the
levels proper, occasionally two types of icons will fly across the top of
the screen, and in order to catch them you first have to hold down on the
Directional Pad and then move up in order to leap higher. You’ll either grab
a piece of sushi for more life or a Japanese symbol (which I seem to
remember means “kung” or something) that makes you temporarily invincible
for a number of hits (the music also changes at this point). The little guys
explode after you hit them and depending on how you hit them you get a
different number of points.

Mini bosses tend to be much harder than the little guys, obviously, and you
may even encounter a few that simply destroy you if you’re not careful. They
all feature a ton of variety with examples like the biker chap tossing
knives, a crazy stick fighter, this psychotic spinning blade man, and many
others. The only points I’m going to take off here are for level five, yet
again, because you face the same flame thrower twins over and over. I really
don’t know why they didn’t do more work with that stage. Maybe they ran out
of memory.

When you make it to the end of each level, you then face the main boss, each
of who has their own weakness to discover. You can’t just run at them and
start punching/kicking, because it won’t work unless doing so uncovers the
particular weakness if you get lucky. Usually, though, it takes strategy,
timing and a lot of thought, considering how hard Oni the masked ninja is
(good luck with that one) or Rita, who has to be hit in succession with
certain strikes, otherwise she doesn’t lose life. The final boss is
explosive and it takes a lot of hard work to defeat him. I, however,
discovered a strange glitch that enabled me to defeat him without getting
struck right when I was almost nil in the life department. It was completely
by accident, but I’m not going to share my secret with you. I will take it
to the grave. It’s worth it though, for this game has one of the greatest
endings I’ve ever seen. I’m still struggling to figure out what Wang (the
final boss) was doing. Time to play again.

I’d say Black Belt is pretty creative. This kind of game was popular for a
time and even still pops up now and then in the modern, sucky era. However,
back in 1986 it wasn’t exactly a new idea, so Sega did a great job here.
Nintendo programmers would often trade ideas freely with Sega, and vice
versa, so they probably made their own take on Kung Fu after hearing about
it. Regardless, I’d say they did the better job overall aside from the
music.

I’d definitely play this game, if only for the ending alone. It’s very easy
to play so you could jump right into it without reading anything, it’s tons
of fun, and has plenty of variety to make me want to check it out again. I’d
love to see if I can remember how in the world I beat Oni or try my luck
actually beating Wang without glitching the crap out of him. As far as
length is concerned, Black Belt is just right. It’s not too long to where
I’d wish it had a password feature so I could come back to it later, but
it’s not too short to where I’d sit down for some gaming after writing a
paper of godliness and stop in a few minutes, thus not calming my brain
down. Technically, you could probably beat it in around thirty minutes if
you were good enough, but I doubt it because it does get pretty difficult as
it progresses. Look to be playing this at least an hour, if not more.

Overall, I’d have to say Black Belt is quite an excellent title. Too bad it
has the worst box art in existence. I really wish my neighbor owned this
when I was younger since he had the SMS in the area, that way I’d have some
nostalgia to attach to this little beauty. Guess I’ll have to wait until I’m
eighty, when I will still be playing it.

Graphics: 8.5
Sound: 8
Gameplay: 9.5
Creativity: 10
Replay Value/Game Length: 10
Final: 9.2
Written by Stan Review Guide

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