Good box art tells you everything you need to know about a game upfront. Last Battle‘s box art does that and then some. It’s almost worth picking up on the merits of the cover alone. What it tells us is this is a game made by men for men. Bask in the virile glory of our protagonist.
Hard as hell. That is Last Battle’s enduring legacy. A Genesis launch title in the West, Last Battle remained one of the console’s most difficult games throughout its illustrious lifespan. The difficulty can largely be attributed to the player being granted a single life. Take too long to finish a level and watch the life bar drain away. If you’re not proficient enough to make it last, it’s Game Over, and back to the beginning. Some may criticize the game for being overly difficult, but in all fairness, it’s only being realistic and perhaps they’re the ones being overly difficult.
Before anything happens, we’re given the full breadth of Last Battle’s inelegantly translated story. While it scrolls too quickly to read in one shot, it’s a ballsy move that leaves the entire burden on the gameplay. So you’re given one life and no real reason to continue but it’s an interesting design choice. Every time you lose, you’re shown the fast-scrolling story and perhaps the intention is to remind the player of their end goal. Next time maybe they’ll man up and finish the thing.
AKA Fist of the North Star
Originally a Fist of the North Star game in Japan, Last Battle was stripped of its license and brought to America with censored features to make it more palatable for Western audiences. Changes included new character names and the violence of the Japanese version replaced by something less manly. Looking back at games with such changes, they seem easier to forgive if not only so we might get to experience the games at all.
Following the story outline, the hero flexes and his shirt bursts off into tattered fragments because it’s not hardcore enough for his pectoral muscles. They are the hardest core. They also play into the game’s one attribute that redeems its unforgiving nature. Over the course of Last Battle, you’re rewarded for good performance. After filling the progress bar, the hero becomes manlier and more distinguished in the art of fighting. Initially he can only use punches, kicks, and crouching or jumping variations thereof but without his shirt, he’s able to combine moves.
Between levels, we’re given neatly mapped out branching paths through a level select screen. They’re well done and it’s nice being able to choose your general direction over the course of the game. Admittedly some bosses are overpowered and the dungeons become tedious.
It hasn’t aged particularly well, but as a Genesis launch game, the robust sprites and attitude are quality and there’s a kind of nostalgia in the way Last Battle exemplifies that time of transition between the Sega Master System and the Genesis. With 8-bit mechanics and early 16-bit visuals, it’s unquestionably a product of an era, but it’s a great era.
For its part, Last Battle evokes the memory of a time when getting buff seemed more than sufficient as a premise and nonsensical box art was the standard. In a time when every premise is shoot the Iraqi or Russian guy and every box features the same soldier stationed in the same exact pose, the rose colored glasses take on a darker tint.