Review by FeralBerserker

"Really fun, but could have been much better"

It's been over a decade since I can even remember a serious effort being put into a sidescroller. Mostly sidescrollers are just made for handheld systems now, which is a shame. I was surprised to hear about Muramasa: The Demon Blade for the Wii, and extremely eager to try it out. I must confess, the Wii is a family system and not well suited for my tastes, but Muramasa delivers and then some.

Overall Ratings:

Gameplay Mechanics - 8/10

The gameplay mechanics in Muramasa are quite simple, really. You maneuver with the joystick, attack with the A button, perform a special attack with the B button, and change weapons with the C button. You won't have to deal with the Wii's gyroscopic controller functions, and can opt to use a Gamecube controller if you wish.

Muramasa features some small RPG elements which have become fairly common among other genres. As such, you will have access to a menu screen where you can use items you've collected, hotslot items, equip weapons, forge weapons, view maps, view your character status, and change game settings.

Items in this game can do a small variety of things. Healing items usually come as some sort of food, and each healing item will give you a different amount of health and fullness. If an item gives you 50% fullness, you will have to wait until your fullness gauge reaches 0% before you can eat again. This may seem pointless at first, but it seems mostly designed for using healing items in combat. By hotslotting items you will be able to access them during battle by using the D-pad, and as such the fullness gauge will allow you to heal during combat only so often.

Cooking, which is accessed via the menu screen, goes hand in hand with items. You will obtain recipe books that allow you to cook different meals. As such you will need to find or purchase cooking ingredients to be used in your recipes. There are two types of cooked food, we'll call them stock and hotpot. Stock food (like riceballs or roasted squid) can be made anytime and will be placed in your inventory after it is cooked. From this point you will use the food like any regular item. Hotpot food is cooked and consumed on the spot, and as such requires your fullness gauge to be empty in order to consume it. It will give you some amount of health and will give you a buff which will last a short period of time. Buffs can range from increasing attack or item drop rates, to preventing your Soul gauge from depleting.

You might wonder why you would want to view maps, but in the spirit of games like Metroid and Castlevania Symphony of the Night you will see areas that you cannot gain access to until later, effectively meaning you'll have to backtrack from time to time. Viewing maps can save you a lot of time, and can ease travelling. Somewhat related to this, you can use the Z button to cycle a minimap that you can view while travelling around. Due to the nature of map design you'll likely find the map to be highly useful in saving you time.

While having a character status page may sound like there are notable RPG elements in Muramasa, it's not entirely true. You will gain experience and level up, gaining HP, Strength and Vitality, but that's about as far as your character status goes. In all honesty, I'm not exactly sure why you gain levels in Muramasa... I would say it's probably to make the game seem larger, or to ease the difficulty for new gamers that are having troubles. Ultimately, your level only truly effects when you can equip which weapons, and can be used to gain an advantage over enemies you aren't yet capable of fighting (i.e. level building in order to defeat a powerful boss). Seasoned gamers will hardly notice the levels, except when they are forced to reassign their item hotslots on account of the impotence of old items vs. the massive increase of HP they've gained.

Weapon choice displays more elements of an RPG nature than your character status. Basically, as you progress through the game you'll unlock the ability to advance through a weapon forging tree. Similar to cooking, you will need something to forge with. Unlike cooking, these 'ingredients' will come as points rather than items. Spirit and Soul points are required to forge weapons; spirit points are gained by consuming food, while soul points are most often gained from defeating enemies. Any weapon you've forged can be equipped as soon as you have the required strength and vitality. You get three weapon slots to place weapons in and can cycle through those weapons during combat.

Weapons come in two basic groupings, Long Blades and Blades. The basic and obvious distinction is that long blades have a broader range of attack, are more powerful and are swung very much slower. Because you can have three weapons equipped and cycle through them in combat, you will get to choose how many long blades and how many blades you will use. This allows you a fair amount of freedom and versatility in combat. You can stick both types in your weapon slots and switch accordingly based on enemy types, or stick totally to the weapon type you find more fun to use. You will never be required to use either long blades or blades for any task (except in the beginning, when you haven't unlocked new weapons to be forged).

Each weapon has it's type, attack value, a special ability and may have a weapon effect. Weapon type has been covered, and attack value is self explanatory. Special abilities can be executed during combat with a simple press of a button. Using a special will decrease the Soul gauge of the used weapon. Special abilities come in a wide variety. From Faerie Bolts (an orbiting damage shield), to Thunderclap (you teleport into the sky and impale an enemy as you land), to Gale (you'll hover in the air and spin like a chainsaw blade), and even Flash (damages nearby enemies) you'll have plenty of options for special abilities. With the weapon cycling system you'll be able to quickly and easily switch weapons during combat to mix and match melee combos with a variety of special abilities in order to rend your enemies to dust. Weapon effects boost this destructive power even further. A weapon effect will give you the benefit constantly, so long as the weapon is equipped (even if it is not actively being used). Weapon effects range from boosting your stats to providing immunity against status ailments and even can give you things like vampiric damage. As mentioned, you could have a weapon with vampiric damage hotslotted but never physically use it (i.e. if it has terrible attack values) and still gain the vampiric damage effect while using blades you prefer. This adds a lot of flavor.

As I mentioned, each weapon has a soul gauge. The weapon's soul gauge will decrease when you parry or deflect attacks (direct or indirect), as well as when you use special abilities. A weapon's soul gauge increases when it is sheathed (when you use a different weapon from your cycle) or by using items either from the menu or from your hotslots. When a weapon's soul gauge is depleted the weapon will break (temporarily). When broken, a weapon will deal insignificant amounts of damage and will be incapable of blocking, parrying and deflecting attacks. A broken weapon can be fixed by allowing the soul gauge to fill entirely (accomplished by returning the weapon to your sheath while using another). Obviously, should all three of your equipped weapons break (which doesn't happen too often, but will probably happen from time to time) you will be in a dire situation. This creates a fun experience, forcing you to focus solely on self-preservation while your weapons recover.

In addition to weapons, you can equip one accessory. Accessories can be bought from vendors or found throughout the game world. Accessories can give you a variety of bonuses, including any weapon effects and some item effects. Despite the fact that you can only equip one accessory, they will prove to be very useful. Some accessory effects include making your fullness gauge decrease faster or allow you to use weapon special abilities without depleting your Soul gauge.

Despite the fact that there is only one attack button you can execute a small variety of moves. A standard combo consists of just hitting attack repeatedly. A thrust can be executed by holding down on the joystick and pressing attack. An uppercut combo (that sends the enemy into the air) is executed by holding up on the joystick and pressing attack. Furthermore, you can hold different directions on the joystick while pressing attack to execute anime like dashing attacks (even while airborne) or to execute a flipping charge attack that will have a chainsaw effect. Even just by crouching (down on the joystick) and pressing to the side you can perform a roll to evade attacks or safely reposition in combat.

Finally, you can perform a quick draw attack from time to time. Basically, when the attack is ready (signified easily by glowing HUD pieces) you switch to a weapon that isn't broken. The quick draw will occur automatically, and damages all enemies on screen (and occassionally some of those who aren't on the screen). It's pretty basic, but will likely save your life from time to time. After using a quick draw you will need to wait a short amount of time before it's use becomes available again.

Those are pretty much all the raw gameplay mechanics. Ultimately, the game plays something like Devil May Cry 2 or 3, but as a sidescroller. You run through the world and enemies will spawn near you, impassable gates appear to block you in as you kill all the enemies. Once they've been defeated, you may advance further. Rather than an old sidescroller where you can only go up, down, left or right, you will reach certain areas where you'll press the attack button to cross a bridge (or jump in a well or something) that leads towards the camera. This will lead you to an adjacent stretch of map. I'm sure my description is confusing, but what I'm trying to describe makes the game world feel somewhat 3D while still remaining a sidescroller. All in all, it's an action packed anime-like sidescroller that maintains the simple-yet-fun nature of the genre.

Miscellany - 4/5

Enemy types in Muramasa were pretty good. You'll kill plenty of critters here, including toads, pheasants and boars. You'll also face some mythical creatures like harpies and minotaurs. Also, due to the game's setting, you'll get to kill plenty of ninja and bipedal enemies. Most enemy types are straightforward... cut them till they're dead... but enemy samurai have a little edge. They'll be capable of parrying and deflecting your attacks just like you can do. You'll have to break their sword in one of several ways in order to even cause them damage. Even further, you'll have to damage them fast because they'll yank out a new sword soon enough. Between all the enemy types in the game, you'll face plenty of ground-based and aerial enemy types, as well as melee enemies and ranged attackers. You'll have no lack of attacks to parry and deflect, including flaming breath, exploding bombs, edged weapons, thrown hammers and feathers that are shot at you.

Boss types in Muramasa go above and beyond. You'll face vastly different boss types throughout the course of the game. You'll fight giant demons where you'll need to damage the foot enough before gaining access to an upper level where you will ultimately fight the demon... You'll fight agile samurai who are both hard to damage and difficult to evade... You'll fight fire-breathing dragons, giant spiders and elite ninja with fuma shuriken. Few bosses will require you to do monotonous procedures in order to gain access to damaging them, but this is few and far between. In the majority of boss battles you'll need only to survive and damage your enemy, though it's easier said than done.

Map design was basic, but aided in the pacing of the game. You'll see plenty of similar areas (like forests where you can travel on the ground or jump from branch to branch) time and again, which can be somewhat annoying but isn't a terrible thing. Due to the mock 3D nature of map design, you'll have plenty of different routes to take through each area. Most areas also have different heights within them that you can travel or fight at. As mentioned before, in forests you can fight on the ground or up in the tree branches. In cities (like Edo) you will usually have either varying heights of rooftops, or can drop down off the path into a stream and face enemies down there. Since enemies actively engage you (rather than old sidescrollers where they may run past you and off the screen to never be seen again) this can add a lot of flavor to battles.

Now, the basic rundown of this game is as follows: Run to the next objective, kill the boss, get the new Muramasa, access new areas, repeat. Throughout the course of the game you'll come to enemy dens, where you'll be required to have a certain Muramasa gained through the main plot in order to gain access. Once in you will be told the recommended level to complete the den, and will be met with a certain challenge. Most of these dens consist of ten groups of ten enemy spawns that you will have to defeat in a row without a break. Others will pit you against a boss from the game, or even unique bosses. Enemy dens provide a lot of fun, but are brief. Though as an added bonus, you will get either a new Muramasa or an accessory from beating an enemy den.

One big selling point of this game is that you can choose from two different characters to play as. Unlike most games, this decision will have a massive impact on your gaming experience. The different characters visit different areas of the world and use weapons from different trees. As such, when playing the woman you can't use any of the swords made for the man and vice versa. Weapon special abilities are designed to accentuate this, and the abilities the woman gets on her weapons are fairly different (for the most part) from those the man receives. Similarly, cooking recipes and accessories are gained at different times and places to further change the experience of the game.

After completing the game you will unlock bonus content to allow you to enjoy the game even further. White gates (previously unpassable) will be able to be accessed, effectively allowing you to do any areas of the map from the other playable character's plot. Also, enemy dens locked with white seals can be accessed, providing a large amount of fun and challenge after completing the game. Finally, after beating the game with both characters you will get to use weapons from both their trees on either of their files. All these bonus features are nice, but all in all they don't add too much to the experience.

Play Time/Replayability - 4/5

For a sidescroller, Muramasa provides a great play time and pretty good replayability. Each character's game will take from six to ten hours, meaning a total of from twelve to twenty hours to beat the game. Additional unlocked content may provide you with another two to five hours of play time. All in all, I consider this very good for a sidescroller, which I expect to last only a handful of hours.

Replayability isn't as good as it could have been, but is still decent. You're given a small amount of free roam (looks like much more than it really is) to aid in this area, as well as varying difficulty levels. As the game starts, you can select from two difficulty settings: Normal and Hard. Hard isn't the hardest, but it makes the game a lot more fun for experienced gamers. After beating the game entirely, though, you will unlock a third difficulty. On very hard (or whatever they call it) you will only get 1 HP for the entire duration of the game. Sadly, this doesn't provide quite a hard setting as it provides a tedious one. Due to the nature of many of the bosses in the game, the ability to only be hit once (this also means you'll die immediately if your weapon should break) makes this setting more about trial and error than anything else. Regardless, you may enjoy it, you may not, that's your decision.

Story - Nil

The story of Muramasa was somewhat original, but due to it's lack of depth you can't really give it too much praise. I believe the game takes place in the meiji era, and (obviously) pertains to the swordsmith Muramasa. Sadly, with such great source material the story will probably let you down... It's not unbearable, but isn't noteworthy either.

Graphics/Sound - Nil

The graphics were amazing, in my opinion. Pleasant colors and artistry, with a good contrast of foreground and background visuals. I would compare the inventive style of graphics to Tales of Symphonia's battle scenes, but with the obvious advantage of the Wii's processing capabilities.

Sounds were actually really good; and trust me, I'm pretty hard to please when it comes to sound. Ultimately, you can't turn the music off and keep sound effects on (or maybe you can and I never checked), and since sound plays an important role in battle you might be disappointed if you planned on listening to something else. Regardless, with period specific Japanese style music and classic martial arts sound effects any martial arts fanatic should be pleased.

Final Recommendation - 8/10 Actual - 8

Sidescrollers were the hot thing when I was a kid, so naturally I have a soft spot for them. As a true fanatic, I can tell you that this sidescroller won't disappoint. Muramasa has simple mechanics but plays with a fast pace and a small amount of busy work. You'll fight high quantities of enemies (as you'll be fighting nearly constantly) and face enjoyable bosses who don't require tedious tasks in order to be defeated. If you like anime, sidescrollers, samurai anything or fast-paced action games then Muramasa is for you. Like most games, Muramasa could have been so much better, but even as it sits you'll have plenty of fun.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 01/13/10

Game Release: Muramasa: The Demon Blade (US, 09/08/09)

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