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After one whole month it’s time to review the last of the three games I got for Christmas and if you think the review has been a long time coming that’s nothing compared to how long it took me to get round to getting the game. This hack and slash sidescroller was released way back in 2009 and I had planned to get it right from the start but it was always low on my list of priorites and other games took precedence. Now, though, the time has come for this slice of Japanese interactive culture to have its moment.

The first thing anyone would notice about Muramasa is its graphics. Graphics are something I tend not to focus on when reviewing games bacuase they don’t necessarily make a game great. It’s nice to have pretty pictures to look at whilst playing but gameplay is the really critical thing. I can’t stand these kids that bang on about graphics like it’s the only thing that matters and I’ve even less time for people who regard anything that isn’t realistic as beneath their notice. Muramasa – The Demon Blade has stunning graphics and it’s not very often we say that about Wii exclusives but they’re not realistic. They are, however, absolutely beautiful hand drawn vistas of colour and mood that paint vivid scenes of forests and temples, coast and mountains. The characters move with fluidity and grace and the attacks flash blindingly as the screen fills with enemies and action. The game’s graphics elevate it from an otherwise repetitive and somewhat one-trick slasher into something more significant and worthwhile.

We’re in ancient Japan a place of ninjas and samurai and quite a lot of wiers people and we follow two stories. The Story of Momohime involves a demure princess who is possessed by the crafty spirit of swordsman Jinkuro as he searches for the ultimate blade. The Story of Kisuke sees an amnaesiac ninja striving to save the life of the girl he loves. The stories don’t really coincide but they take place in the same world and see you visiting a lot of the same locations. The storytelling is very vague and difficult to follow unfolding in dialogue sequences either side of boss battles. They’re not scintillating exactly but feature full voice acting (Japanese but well acted) and the translation is actually rather good. Momohime and Kisuke travel through an open-ended side-scrolling world Metroid style on their way to objectives involving bosses getting into a lot of scraps along the way.

The grass sways hypnotically. It really is gorgeous.

It’s all about blades in this game and there are a-hundred to collect. There are two blade types, standard and long. Long blades being heavier take time to swing but are more powerful whereas the standard blades let you rack up quick combos. The combat is mostly a one button affair with basic combos easy to pull off with more powerful moves bringing requiring pushing the control stick in a direction. Fighting is easy enough to master but there’s not a whole lot of variety in it. Each blade has a unique secret art , a powerful move that can be unleashed with the B button. These secret arts deplete your blade’s soul gague, which is also reduced by blocking enemy attacks. If the gague runs out the blade breaks leaving you open to attacks and massively weakened. You can carry three blades at once though and tapping C activates the quick draw technique which does damage to every enemy on the screen as you draw a backup weapon.

Before long you’ll be plowing through enemies and it’s possible to build up huge combos. The game flatters you in this way and the impressive, bold attack animations will make you look and feel awesome while you play. There are some RPG elements involved as the characters gain experience and level up. You can’t stick with the same blades the whole time either. New blades are acquired upon beating bosses or by forging. To forge blades you must have the prerequisite amount of spirit, which is gained by eating at restaraunts along the road or your own cooking and also souls which are gained from battle or picked up in the environments. The blades for forging are presented in a complex table and require you to have the right blades already forged before you forge a new one. You need to plan your forging for the best results.

Action is frantic and great to watch.

The two campaigns last about seven hours apiece and while the imaginative and intense boss battles prove a workout it’s not the toughest game ever made. Most importantly it’s fun and it keeps you going. Yes the style hides the fact that the gameplay is teensy bit shallow, button bashing gets you through most fights but that’s not the point here. It’s more enjoyable if you play it properly and for once the gorgeous art makes for a legitimate distraction and passes the time during the extensive back-tracking.

Presentation – 9

Everything from the menus to the art style oozes the best of Japanese artistic culture. Real attention has been paid to the details.

Gameplay – 7

Fun and frantic but not extensive in its depth. It’s the kind of game that suits discerning action junkies.

Graphics – 10

Simply beautiful with gorgeous scrolling environments, lovely character design and stunning effects. The undeniable highlight of the package.

Sound – 8

Features a rousing, atmospheric soundtrack that fits the setting well and good voice acting and sound effects.

Difficulty – 7

The lengthy boss fights require persistence and a strong grasp of the gameplay but although the normal battles are fast and busy you’re powered up enough that the challenge is limited.

Longevity – 7

A good fourteen hours of gameplay and more if you want to gather all the blades but the replay value is pretty low.

Verdict

A sleeper hit, this side-scroller thrills in more ways than one and while it has its faults discerning gamers will get a lot out of this beautifully presented title. It helps to have an appreciation for Japanese culture and storytelling to get the most out of it but all in all this is a worthy title.

8.2

out of 10

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