Black Belt

The Sega Master System had just been released in North America when Sega developed and published Black Belt in 1986. The side-scrolling beat ’em up would feature martial artist Riki on his quest to rescue Kyoko from his evil rival Wang. If you are a fan of the series “Fist of the North Star”, Black Belt is actually the first entry in the series, it was just localized and changed a bit for Western audiences. Would Black Belt earn the status of “master” or would the game fall on its face?

Story:
From the manual:

“You’re a BLACK BELT master – one of the best – and you’ll have plenty of chances to prove it.

KYOKO, your beautiful Japanese girlfriend, has gotten herself into a beautiful Japanese mess (No, not Bukkake, and if you don’t know what that is DON’T LOOK IT UP) In order to rescue her, you must first get through a tireless army of enemies.

They’re mean. They’re like machines. And some of them are armed. With whips, knives, swords, even flamethrowers. Plus your arch rival, Wang is as skilled a Master as you are.

Fight smart. And fight hard. Your only weapon is your well-trained, fine-tuned, martial arts body.

You’re Riki. The good guy in the white gi. Everyone else is the enemy. There are the little guys. Like Chinese Kung Fu men, wrestlers, Jujitsu men in red, the Eagles, the Ninja, and the dark women.

Then there are the big guys. Like Ryu, Kung Fu master. Hawk, a whip, and knife slinger. Gonta the Jujitsu man in black. Oni, the Ninja with a red whip and red sword. Rita, the flamethrower. And finally, Wang, the Kung Fu master with the same training as yours.

As Riki makes his way through each level defeating the gangs and bosses, he reaches Wang in a one-on-one showdown. After defeating him, you are treated to a cute little scene of Riki picking up Kyoko and the screen says:

“You’ve finally defeated the boss and temporarily brought peace to the world.

Now with the experience, you’ve gained and Kyoko’s love to sustain you, continue to battle onward to an even more rousing victory.”

Gameplay:
Black Belt is a very early Sega Master System game. I’m not entirely sure but it could be a launch title in North America. Either way, it shows that it’s an early game in the presentation. There’s no cut scenes or prologue before starting the game. You are greeted with a blue screen that says “Black Belt” with Riki next to it.

When you start the game you’ll have three lives. I’ll get this out of the way now and say there was no way in hell I was beating this game on my own without using an Action Replay code. I can beat the first level but after that, I didn’t stand a chance against the end level bosses. Each level is played the same way. You’ll walk to the right with Riki as a single type of enemy attacks you from both the front and the back. The first stage looks like strong men in a Russian circus. The enemies that continue to attack you are very easy to defeat taking just a single punch or kick to defeat them. When you do defeat them their body explodes into tiny chunks of square sprites. It’s hilarious and makes Riki seem like some type of Super Human with insane powers. After defeating a few hordes of these easy opponents you’ll face off against a mini-boss. I applaud Black Belt for these fights because every one of them was unique in their character design and strategy.

When you defeat the hordes and mini-bosses, you’ll then face off one-on-one against a major boss. This turns Black Belt from a side-scrolling beat ’em up, to a genuine fighting game. You each have a health meter that will show how you’re doing against each other. These fights are by far the toughest. Ryu was a tough son of a gun after the first level but you’ll face other bosses that are just as unique. I thought Hawk was easy but then came an extremely bouncy sumo-wrestler. The toughest end-level boss was Rita. She was tough to damage and I didn’t exactly know how I defeated her because I’d hit her a bunch of times but sometimes I’d damage her while other times I wouldn’t.

After defeating Rita, you immediately will face Wang. He will attack you every chance he gets but I thought Wang was going to be much harder. (LOL) Each time you defeat a boss you’ll be treated to a short sequence of Riki furiously punching or kicking away at their bodies until they explode or fall down. It was a cool thing to see and I’m sure gamers back in 1986 thought it was the greatest thing ever.

Black Belt has music in the stages but they are cheery like you are going on a Sunday stroll, not kicking a bunch of ninjas in the face. The music didn’t work but that’s a small complaint. The game is rather short, if you are an expert you can beat it in twenty minutes. If you suck, you’ll get your butt kicked by Ryu in level one. Practice makes perfect and you’ll need to practice to get good at this game. It’s not a special game, but I’m sure it kept Sega gamers amused.

Memories:
I’ve just seen the terrible artwork before but never played the game until now.

Overall:
Black Belt is an extremely early entry in the Sega Master System library. Graphics have not aged well and the music doesn’t fit but there are some gameplay and ideas that are worthy of your attention. The way the game shifts from a side-scrolling beat ’em up to a one-on-one fighting game is impressive and the sequences where you finish off a boss is fun to watch. You’ll definitely want to play this game for the historical aspect of it but don’t expect to get hooked or even get passed the first level.

Black Belt scores a 6.4 out of 10.

Do you remember when Black Belt first came out? Which level or boss did you get stuck on? What did you think of the exploding enemies? Did you know this game was connected to the Fist of the North Star series? Let me know your memories and thoughts, I’d love to read the comments.

If you’d like to own a copy of Black Belt, you can purchase a used copy of it for the Sega Master System for $15 on eBay.

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