Bargain Gaming – Muramasa: The Demon Blade Review

Posted on May 05 2011

There are some days when I forget why I even have a Wii. I honestly haven’t had that much interest in the system since the first year or two since it was released, when most of the games I was interested in for the system came out. For the most part my Wii has been relegated to the role of an expensive Gamecube, allowing me to play my older titles as nostalgia strikes me. Occasionally a game will come out for the system that strikes my fancy, such as Monster Hunter Tri, but these titles seem to grow rarer as time goes on. As such I would like to thank ZShadowX for suggesting I give Muramasa: The Demon Blade a try, as otherwise I might’ve overlooked a game I, at first, thought was little more than style over substance. So was this a fair assumption on my part? Or is there more to Vanillaware’s latest title than its visual appeal?

Well, I think that if there was ever an example of style over substance being a compliment rather than an insult, then this game would be that example. Sure, the combat system is relatively simple, with the majority of the attacks limited to the A button and joystick, with the shoulder buttons being relegated to item and sword management. What, you say? Shoulder buttons, on a Wii title? That’s right, this game doesn’t use the motion control gimmick most Wii titles do, instead allowing you to choose between Wii, GameCube, or Classic controllers at your leisure. Personally I used the GameCube controller as it was the one I’m most familiar with, and was very satisfied with the result.

You see, just because you only have one attack button doesn’t mean you are limited in combat. In fact you have a multitude of different attack options based on which way you are pressing on the directional pad and whether you press or hold and release the A button, allowing for a great deal of fluidity in your combat style. I actually found myself greatly enjoying this set up, as the simple controls allow for easy accessibility while still providing the player with room for growth. Also switching between weapons on the fly to prevent them from breaking and using the individual blades’ special attacks only serves to add more depth to the deceptively complex combat system. Heck, the harder difficulty modes actually focus on using the subtleties of the combat rather than the RPG leveling system in order to progress. As such I have to say that the game’s battle system is actually fairly solid, if a bit simplistic at first glance, and provides a great medium for the game’s fast paced and frenetic battles.

But the reason why I say that style over substance is a compliment for this game is that while the controls and game play are both solid, the game’s art style is simply gorgeous. Everything, from the stage backgrounds, to the enemies and bosses, to the main character designs themselves, are all hand drawn. And man, does it show. There were several moments where I actually felt like I was playing a painting, or animated drawing for lack of a better term, as I flew across the screen while slaughtering my opponents. I love the visual style this game has going for it, as all of the aesthetic elements tie together to create a feast for the eyes. The Vanillaware team really knows what it’s doing when it comes to embracing their games’ 2-D elements in this regard, taking advantage of the side scrolling perspective by making all of the visual elements as impressive as possible.

This is only improved by the game’s Japanese aesthetic, as everything, from the character models to the food your characters eat, is all unmistakably Japanese. From the little things, like all of the character dialogue being subbed rather than dubbed, to the larger, like heaven and hell being rather easily accessible and your support characters being kitsunes, all serve to give the game a distinct style unlike any other next gen game. This game’s roots are clearly based in Japanese mythology, and the game makes no pretense that its focus lies anywhere else. Add in some truly epic boss designs (the one eyed boar freaked me out the first time I saw it) and top notch voice work and you actually feel as though you are doing battle in some alternate version of feudal Japan.

If I had to make a complaint about this game then it would have to be about the game’s weapon system. Now don’t get me wrong; I love the forge method for unlocking new swords as you level up and progress through the game. There’s nothing more satisfying after a particularly tough boss fight than leveling up and getting a new sword, in turn unlocking a new branch of swords and reoutfitting your character completely. However there just isn’t enough variety here to keep me interested. I understand that the game’s focus is on the demon blade and as such all of the weapons are one of two types of katana, but where are my wakizashis and scythes, my kanabos and zanbatos? If I’m going to be switching between weapons on the fly it would be much more interesting to have a variety to choose from rather than just these two types. Heck, even one more weapon type, so you could have one per weapon slot, would be an improvement. It’s perfectly functional as is, I just would’ve liked to see a little more variety within the more than 100 swords in the game.

But other than this minor gripe, I have to say that this was one of the most fun 2-D games I’ve played in recent memory, and certainly the most fun Wii title I’ve played as of late. If you’re looking for a well made 2-D action game or if your Wii has been gathering dust like mine has then you owe it yourself to give this game a shot. With two story modes each weighing in at approximately seven to eight hours, three difficulty levels, and over one hundred swords to collect there’s certainly enough content here to justify the $19.99 price tag. Or if you just want to experience the two story modes and maybe mess around with the sword collection aspect like I did, then a weekend rental would be a great way to experience this gem as well. In either case I hope you Wii owners out there decide to give this game a shot. I’m certainly glad I did!

And now it’s once again time for a few bargain tips for all of you lucky boys and girls out there! Gather round as I share my incredibly limited and shortsighted wisdom with you all!

First off, make sure to invest the funds you gather on food whenever possible. Maps are helpful, but can be easily replicated through a bit of exploration and patience. Food on the other hand not only provides you with a constant source of health while you’re traversing the game’s world but also provides you with spirit, which is necessary for forging blades. Have your character eat often, lest you find yourself unable to afford a key weapon upgrade at a crucial moment.

Second, abuse the drawn back slash whenever possible. This move is quick, great for getting the drop on groups of enemies, and has the added bonus of breaking swords is some cases. I always open up a fight with this move in order to soften up one group of enemies, and with a little bit of practice this move and the running slash will turn you into an unstoppable killing machine.

Finally, keep an eye on your sword’s strength and quick draw availability. Whenever my quick draw refills I’ll start using my swords special moves, as I know I can switch blades at my leisure. Keeping your eye on your sword’s strength will not only allow you to know when to switch to prevent your blade from being broken, but will also let you know when it’s a good idea to use special attacks or hold back a bit during a tough fight.

Well that’s all for now, so until next time I’ll see you all later! This is BG, signing off!

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  • ZshadowX May 6, 2011 at 11:10 AM

    Woot! YEAH! great review BG <3

  • Jubilee May 6, 2011 at 11:20 AM

    I second that! 😀

  • AnarchoElk May 6, 2011 at 3:52 PM

    I loved this game as well, beautiful and super fun.

  • Leviathan Mist May 6, 2011 at 9:54 PM

    Just looking at the images, the art style reminds me of Okami. Looks like a pretty game, but it takes more than graphics to make a game 😛

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