Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword (3DSWare) Review

We continue October with a new review for a 3DSWare title. It's Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword, known to our PAL pals as Hana Samurai: Art of the Sword. Different name, same game. How does it play? Let's find out with my review.

A Little Slice of Heaven

Since early summer of last year, the Nintendo 3DS system's eShop has seen a robust lineup of interesting offerings, some good and some bad. We've seen great titles like Pushmo, Mighty Switch Force, and Mutant Mudds, for starters. A title that released in the first quarter of 2012 in North America, Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword, has finally released in European territories, though renamed Hana Samurai: Art of the Sword, for whatever reason. Is the swordplay within the game a work of art or a disaster of a masterpiece?

The story of Sakura Samurai is very simple. You are the main titular character, Sakura Samurai, and you are taught the ways of the sword by a kappa creature. Your journey's objective is to scour the land in search of the kidnapped Princess Cherry Blossom. The quest will take you across plains, through bamboo forests, and into ancient Japanese castles.

The game features three main castles where Princess Cherry Blossom is supposed kept in. Between these three castles are various battlefields where Sakura Samurai will unsheathe his sword and fight. For every new battlefield cleared, your hero receives a Sakura fragment (it looks just like a rose petal). Collecting two fragments increases his health by one unit, so it's smart to try to complete all battlefields to have as much health as possible to tougher bouts.

Welcome to Sakura Samurai's world.
Sakura Samurai is a game I like to compare to Punch-Out!!, but there is a much greater freedom of movement. Instead of being relegated to moving to the sides, you can walk freely all around the battlefield. Generally, an encounter contains multiple enemies to slice and dice through such as samurai swordsmen, spearmen, archers, ninjas, and more. Each attacks differently. The game, which uses an over-the-shoulder camera view, will automatically lock on to the nearest enemy that is set to attack you. Just like with Punch-Out!!, an enemy will choreograph their attack, giving you a signal on when to dodge. Dodge correctly and your bewildered foe will be open to a strike of Sakura Samurai's sword. You can also block attacks with your blade, but this will dull it over time (it will also dull if an enemy blocks your attack). As stated, each enemy attacks differently, and some, particularly bosses, do not just attack once but make multiple strikes in succession, forcing the player to have fast reflexes and even faster fingers to dodge an assault.

Enemy strikes downward, dodge to the side.
If you dodge with perfect timing, you will earn a precision point, as well as be able to strike a foe twice instead of just once. You can earn up to 99 precision points, but you will lose them if a baddie blocks your attack, if you are damaged, or if you block a foe's strike. Earned precision points can be sold in the game's various villages for gold.

I particularly enjoy the timing and precision battles require. It keeps you on your toes immensely, and makes it so every battle is important. Some enemy types are easier to defeat than others, but there is no better feeling within the game than masterfully cutting through an armada of foes with perfect precision.

These boss characters certainly mean business.
Speaking of the village, each area of the game (I refer to areas as places between boss castles) has a village for your samurai to have a bit of a respite in. It is at these out-of-the-way places where you can rest and save your progress at the inn, buy helpful goods at the local shop, repair or increase the strength of your sword at the local blacksmith, and participate in numerous street challenges for gold.

An example of one of the villages within the game.
You can spend all your acquired gold at the store, which has a fine selection of items to purchase such as whetstones which can be used to repair a dulled blade in battle, daggers that can be thrown at faraway foes, health restoring rice cakes, frogs that will make some enemies vulnerable for a limited amount of time, and other beneficial items.

Street challenges change based on what village you are in, but these are the perfect places to earn lots of gold and prizes. You can bet as much gold as you have on you to go from rags to riches in an instant. (And since you can save your progress in the village, you can reset the game if you lose. It's a cheap tactic, but it works.) Such challenges require you to time your sword strikes to make a perfect slice right through the middle of thrown melons, to slash through falling objects, or to slash through sad and angry melons while avoiding slashing through happy melons, to name a few challenges.

Sakura Samurai is a nice looking game with colorful backgrounds, though at some times it can seem a bit subdued. Characters animate well and are designed nicely, and the backgrounds, while not tremendously detailed, have enough put into them that the game does not look cheaply made. Battles all run at a relatively steady framerate, something paramount for a game based on timing. The stereoscopic 3D of the Nintendo 3DS works wonderfully for this type of game. You get a real sense of depth to help dodge and evade attacks and get full feel of how far away enemies are. Moving to sound, the music is a subtle mix of ancient Japanese sounds, perfectly fitting for Sakura Samurai's setting. Overall, the presentation is very nice given the price and size of the game.

Master the elegant art of the sword.
Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword is not a particularly long game, averaging around 3-4 hours to beat (one of my main beefs with the title). However, the game is one that players can come back to and enjoy on any occasion. Those who like the Punch-Out!! series or are interested in medieval Japan should definitely take a look at the title. It demands some skill in later levels, but the addition of items to assist within battle help bring the otherwise high difficulty down. All in all, Sakura Samurai can sheathe his sword and stand proudly in the sunset knowing that he is a part of a brilliant game.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.5/10]

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