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Bizarre 'Muramasa' has a certain edge

Oct 13, 2009

By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada

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The quirky Wii exclusive 'Muramasa: The Demon Blade' has no right being as addictive as it is. Made by Japanese developer Vanillaware, the game is full of odd characters, nonsensical dialogue, and boss fights that are just plain weird. The combat isn't terribly deep and the RPG elements are shallow.

Muramasa: The Demon BladeOddly though, it's these very things that make Muramasa worth going back to again and again. And really when you think about it, the same descriptions could be said for countless other AAA mainstream titles that are critically acclaimed. Their plots are threadbare at best and we've seen enough scary-monster-fills-the-screen boss battles to become in many ways desensitized to them.

The stylized elements of Muramasa and its Japanese setting allow it to stand out from so many other games that are out right now. It's memorable because it's weird, and quite simply because it's fun.

The game takes place in the Genroku era of Japan (around the year 1700) and with all due respect to Japanese history, we have a feeling many North Americans who play the game won't be paying attention to (or won't be able to follow) the plot very well. A shame since it is so interesting.

There are actually two playable characters in the game, each with their own fighting style, set of boss battles and storyline. Both characters' stories are based around an already-existing folk tale regarding the swordsmith Muramasa and the cursed blade he forged.

Our time was spent playing as Momohime, a princess who has been possessed by a demon. The game takes you through several cities in Japan, and while technically it is a side-scroller, calling it that makes it sound so mundane. Vanillaware has made one of the nicest-looking games on the Wii, and it seems each setting (whether it's a forest, desert, or cave) is more visually stunning than the last.

Muramasa: The Demon BladeThe game may seem like nothing more than a hack-and-slash at first, but players will have to be smart about how they fight as they progress. Each character can hold up to three blades at once, but each one can be broken, forcing you to switch to a different one. The broken blade can only be used once it recharges its energy meter. Later enemies and bosses are much more adept at breaking your blades quickly, so if you're not careful, you'll be stuck waiting for all three broken blades to power up while being able to do nothing more than duck, jump and roll out of the way.

Sword swipes can be pulled off simply by holding the A-button and moving the Wii Nunchuk's analog stick in any direction. Your character will fly all over the screen, and it really is thrilling to watch no matter how times it's done (and it's certainly done a lot). You can also parry enemy attacks, use special items, and pull of special moves, each one different depending on the blade you're using.

There are a ton of swords that can be acquired throughout the game, either by beating bosses or forging existing swords. Forging is done simply by earning enough spirits and souls and reaching a certain level of experience. You won't be able to forge too often, so when you do fight your way through enough enemies to make a new sword, there's a true sense of accomplishment. There are also coloured barriers at the end of some cities that can only be destroyed by possessing a certain sword. There is some backtracking in the game but it's never difficult to keep track of where you have to go.

The RPG elements mentioned earlier come down to earning XP by defeating enemies. Finishing each battle nets you points, along with bonus points for things like not taking damage, finishing with a special move, etc. You can also earn items such as cooking books that allow you to make foods that recover more hit points. Luckily, none of these extraneous things really get in the way of the fast-paced flow of the game. There is some planning involved before entering a boss battle area (the usual - make sure you have lots of power-ups and what not), but you'll be spending the majority of the your time flying through the air like any good ninja or kunoichi.

There are two difficulty levels, which can be changed at any time during the game. We found that the default setting was fair, though even then, difficulty is ramped up quite a bit regardless during boss battles. Don't be surprised to find yourself taking bosses out on one try, but doing so just barely.

Muramasa: The Demon BladeBesides the two characters with different storylines, two difficulty levels, and branching levels, there are even challenge levels which add more time (and fun!) to Muramasa. These rooms can only be opened with certain blades (just like the barriers we mentioned earlier) and before going in each one, the game tells the player what the 'suggested' experience level is before going in - giving fair warning to those who aren't very powerful yet. There are only two ways of exiting these rooms - either by defeating all the enemies inside, or by dying. Finishing them gives you huge experience numbers, along with that warm fuzzy feeling knowing that you're good enough to take out swarms of baddies.

Muramasa's shortcomings are few and far between. Save points could be more generously placed throughout the maps - not to make the game less demanding, but simply to make jumping in and out easier. Some may find the game a little repetitive, and though it's mostly paced quite well, it does take a couple of hours to really get to the interesting levels. There is also a certain amount of 'grinding' that may be necessary, going back and forth fighting the same enemies in order to be powerful enough to forge a certain blade or defeat a particular boss.

Muramasa's strengths far outweigh its weaknesses though. Besides being simply fun to play, it's different enough to be quite memorable, and anyone who is a sucker for pretty games will want to play through for that reason alone.

Don't let this one slip through the proverbial cracks, Wii owners.

 

Muramasa: The Demon Blade
Format: Nintendo Wii
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Developer: Vanillaware
ESRB Rating: T for Teen
Official Site: http://www.muramasathedemonblade.com

Rating: 8 / 10

 
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