Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword Review
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On 02/06/2012 at 12:00 PM by Nick DiMola
If you're browsing the eShop, you should probably avoid games with samurai in them.
If you're really drawn in by the visuals, it might be worth a shot given its low price tag, but there's little here to appreciate otherwise.
Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword is the latest game to take use of Japan's rich lore. Despite the setting, the game's tale is standard Nintendo fare - players are on a quest to rescue a kidnapped princess. As a young samurai, your quest is split into a number of levels that consist of nothing more than a variety of encounters with a handful of enemy types. The characters and setting imbue a definite degree of charm and personality, but it's squandered by the shallow, repetitive, and boring gameplay.
As a fan of games set in historical Japan, I was admittedly excited for the sword-slashing antics of Nintendo's latest eShop title. What wasn't clear from early videos and previews of the game is that it was a level-based adventure rather than a sprawling quest. While progression isn't quite linear, the repetitive levels ensure that your method of progression is irrelevant anyway.
In each level, your character will begin surrounded by an assortment of foes. Unlike a beat-'em-up, you'll handle each and every enemy individually. Your view will be locked to a computer selected foe and you'll engage them in combat. However, this combat is almost entirely defensive - you must wait to be attacked and subsequently evade. Evade at the perfect time and you'll be given an opportunity to strike twice instead of just once.
Each enemy type has their own tells to indicate how you must avoid their attack. Sword wielding foes will typically require an evasion to the left or right. Those with spears will require an evasion back. As the game progresses, you'll encounter foes who have multiple back-to-back attacks, as well as archers, ninjas, and the more complicated boss fights.
Because you can't attack until you are attacked (archers and ninjas are the exception of this rule), every battle is extremely slow-paced. It doesn't take long to learn the tells of each enemy and nearly every level in the game is a cakewalk - that is when the mechanics are working properly.
The auto-targeting system will often cause your character to spin in circles as the game seemingly randomly changes your focus to other enemies. Worse, it always seems to do this at the most inopportune moment; as you're either evading an arrow from an archer or on the brink of executing an attack.
The very small window you're given to attack foes can also be frustrating, especially during boss fights. In the instances where you need to evade by moving backwards, you'll find that you don't always get close enough to your enemy to execute an attack. Frustrating in its own right, it's only made worse when you realize that late hits will be blocked, slowly damaging your sword. A damaged sword is a weaker sword and if you don't happen to have the item to bring it back up to shape, you can find youself fighting the already tedious battles for even longer.
Boss levels prove to be some of the most frustrating portions of the game as they are entirely too long. You'll fight through waves and waves of enemies before finally reaching the extremely challenging boss fight. Get too close to a boss and he'll damage your blade, which happens frequently. Their lengthy reach can make it tough to land hits on time and losing the battle ensures a long, tedious climb back up to the battle.
Towns offer the only diversion in the game - here you can talk to NPCs and receive information on techniques, refill your life, save, purchase goods, and improve your sword. Mini-games are also available to earn large sums of coins. Each mini-game boils down to slashing thrown or dropped items at the right time - from watermelons, to oranges, logs, and leaves. These eventually become necessary to level up your blade and do a respectable amount of damage to your foes.
Outside of its aesthetic appeal, there's very little to like in Sakura Samurai: Art of the Blade. Its core mechanics are slightly troubled thanks to the auto-targeting, but more importantly, it's a fairly bland experience that is better off passed on.