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Platform

Wii

 

Genre

Action

 

Publisher

Ignition Entertainment

 

Developer

Vanillaware

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

September 8, 2009

 

 

- Beautiful 2D artwork
- Polished, combo-filled gameplay
- Multiple endings, weapons, and items ensure longevity

 

 

- Repetitive areas, frequent backtracking
- Lazy, partially translated script
- Analog jumping can lead to imprecise controls

 

 

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Muramasa: The Demon Blade

Score: 7.5 / 10

 

2009 has been a good year for 2D games. Recent releases like Trine and Shadow Complex have kept the classic perspective while introducing modern gameplay mechanics, while re-released titles such as Klonoa remind us just how fun an old-fashioned left-to-right platformer can be. With Muramasa: The Demon Blade, developer Vanillaware goes somewhere between the two trends, while throwing in a few RPG elements for good measure.

 

muramasa demon blade          muramasa demon blade

 

Published by Marvelous Entertainment in Japan and by Ignition Entertainment in North America, Muramasa: The Demon Blade owes many graphical and gameplay aspects to Vanillaware’s PS2 release, Odin Sphere; both games feature an exclusively 2D perspective along with some gorgeous hand drawn artwork, and both titles feature sidescrolling action mixed in with RPG trappings such as

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experience points and levels. The major difference this time around is that while Odin Sphere featured a setting based in North mythology, Muramasa draws its inspiration from ancient Japanese demons and gods while featuring a handful of sword-swinging samurai and ninjas into the mix. Players will control one of two characters, the demon-possessed Momohime or the

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amnesiac ninja Kisuke as they fight their way toward separate but similar paths while interacting with allies and adversaries alike in search of a legendary Muramasa blade.

 

Both characters control the same way and can wield several different blades; the swords themselves are broken down into two categories, blades and long blades, but they each have their own individual strengths and weaknesses, along with a special attack that drains a bit of the blade’s gauge. That same gauge can also be depleted while blocking enemy attacks, and once the gauge goes empty, the blade breaks. Fortunately, weapons are automatically repaired once returned to their sheaths, and both Momohime and Kisike can wield up to three swords at a time, so knowing when to quickly switch weapons at the push of a button becomes one of the most important strategies during battle; even if an equipped blade is in no danger of breaking, it still proves advantageous to switch weapons, as a quick draw will cause instant damage to all enemies on the screen (provided the quick draw gauge is filled, of course).

 

In addition to gaining levels through combat, food is where the aforementioned RPG elements come into play. Rice balls, sake, and other Japanese deliquesces can be obtained and ingested to restore lost health, but each food also gives players a certain amount of “spirit”, which can be used along with souls (collected from defeated foes, natch) to forge more powerful blades. In addition to food, shopkeepers also sell ingredients used for cooking up more rewarding dishes in the process. Maps can also be purchased to give players a clear layout of their next destination as well as spots that hold hidden treasures and save points.

 

muramasa demon blade          muramasa demon blade

 

Despite being 2D, Muramasa’s areas aren’t as straightforward as they first appear. Each of the locations features several screens that connect to one another, with exits on all corners of the map. While venturing off the beaten path may yield hidden treasure, most exits are closed off due to magical barriers that can only be broken upon receiving a new blade from a beaten boss. These areas feature the best of Muramasa’s visuals, with beautiful multilayered backgrounds featuring swaying grass, crashing waves, or festive townsfolk moving by their own animations while your chosen character sprints across (whom, along with enemies and NPCs, are also lusciously drawn…particularly the women). Unfortunately, as beautiful as the scenery is, the long and frequent backtracking between each area can grow tiresome, especially when enemy encounters drop significantly after defeating that area’s boss. Even newly accessible locations tend to re-use background assets and music, creating a never-ending feeling of déjà-vu regardless of the current objective.

 

Fortunately, the fluid combat helps to mask the recycled areas; Hordes of ninjas, demons, monks, ghosts and samurai appear to challenge players to a duel to the death. Both Momohime and Kisike are equipped with quick sword strikes that can lead to combos, along with evasive measures such as rolling and blocking. For a 2D game, Muramasa’s flexible combat borrows from the best of 3D titles, although the one hitch in the controls is using the analog stick to jump and roll; rather than mapping the ability to jump to one of the buttons, jumping with the analog stick on the Wii nunchuck can take some getting used to, and more often than not will feel imprecise and floaty. The game also supports Gamecube controller support, although the analog stick is even harder to adjust to, and the tiny, uncomfortable d-pad is an even worse choice. The Classic controller is also an option, and may be the best choice for pro players.

 

On the audio side of things, Muramasa features a splendid, Japanese-fueled soundtrack that effortlessly plays off the context of each scene. For the voice acting, Ignition has chosen to leave all the voices in their original Japanese language. This is certainly an appropriate choice for the setting, but the major downside is the localized text; it doesn’t take an avid watcher of subtitled anime to notice that the dialogue has only been partially translated, focusing merely and localizing the gist of what each character is saying, but also skipping several developmental lines of dialog. It’s quite discomforting to read the same text line over and over while the voice actor continues to converse, making players wonder just how much of the story they’re missing due to the lazy localization.

 

As distracting as these negatives may be, Muramasa still delivers an action adventure that’s both pretty to look at as well as lengthy with content; With two separate stories with different weapons to wield and bosses to slay, as well as two difficulty modes and multiple endings, fully completing this game will take much longer than the average 2D adventure. While it may not be the sharpest blade from the forge, Muramasa: The Demon Blade is still a finely crafted work of art.

 

- Jorge Fernandez

(October 7, 2009)

 

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