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Samurai Western
Review By: Jared Black
Developer:  Spike / Acquire
Publisher:  Atlus
# Of Players:  1-2
Genre:  Action
ESRB:  Mature
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card, Dolby Pro Logic II
Date Posted:  6-7-05

Atlus, purveyors of all things decidedly Japanese, have done it again.  Their latest is Samurai Western, a tale of a samurai so bent on finding his brother Rando that he tracks him all the way to the wild, Wild West and takes on hundreds of bad varmints using nothing but his trusty swords in the process.  On paper that sounds like a good time, but unfortunately the gameplay never quite lives up to the unique premise.

As Gojiro Kiryu youíll make your way through 16 missions, tracking down your brother and helping others that you happen to meet along the way.  Unfortunately thereís very little variety to the missions, as the objective for all but a few is to simply kill as many bad guys as possible.  As the player progresses, Gojiro will level up allowing additional points to be assigned RPG-style to his four main attributes (Life, MP, Power, and Defense).  Depending on performance, a number of accessories (standard Old West gear and even wacky ones such as a parrot that rests on your backpack and an umbrella) and new swords will be unlocked as well that alter these core stats.  The different swords allow for different types of stances and corresponding moves in Master Mode (which Iíll explain in a bit), as well as some other special abilities such as double jumping. 

The main problem is that Samurai Western is essentially Double Dragon set in the Old West, with slash slash slash replacing punch punch punch.  The A.I. is almost at the level of that 8-bit classic, with enemies often firing into empty space and showing virtually no sense of self-preservation.  To compensate the game throws dozens of cookie cutter enemies at you in each level, although the fact that they appear out of thin air makes it hard to employ even the most basic of strategies.  For example, you canít plan to take out all of one type of enemy first (usually the guys with machine guns mess you up the worst) when you donít know how many more might materialize.  While itís all good fun for a while, it doesnít take long for the repetitive nature of the gameplay to become boring. 

To its credit the developer did try to liven the formula up a bit.  Gojiro has some special moves at his disposal, including a dodge move and the ability to deflect bullets back at enemies with his sword.  There are also ďcombosĒ, which donít require any actual skill and are simply counted as Gojiro connects with multiple slashes.  Gojiro can also grab objects in the environment (such as chairs and boxes) and use them as shields or to throw into the enemy. 

Defeating enemies and collecting items add MP to your MP gauge, and when itís partially full different Master Mode moves (based on the type of attack stance Gojiroís using) can be utilized by pressing L1.  Let the gauge fill up all the way and Ultimate Master Mode can be engaged, which allows for brutal one-hit kills as long as any MP remains.  As entertaining as these things are, the gameplay still basically boils down to hitting the same button over and over again while throwing in an occasional dodge or jump attack.

Thereís also a two-player mode, which allows the second player to play as a local cowboy named Ralph.  Of course Ralph carries a gun instead of a sword, and can also punch instead of picking up objects in the environment.  Additionally, once Hard Mode is unlocked Wanted Posters can be found that will unlock additional playable characters.  Each of these extends the replay value of the game quite a bit, although again the repetitive gameplay will likely derail many gamers before they get that far.

Much like the gameplay, the graphics are basic as well.  Throughout the game the player will kill the same few basic enemy types and pass the same brown buildings (or brown desert) over and over again.  Even primary character models arenít up to par, with angular polygon bodies full of seams and blurry textures.  Other than character movement the environments are completely lifeless (save for a ďdust overlayĒ, basically a more realistic version of that found in Wild Arms 3), with not even stray tumbleweed to be found.  Enemy animations are stiff, and the fountain of blood after every single enemy death is unrealistic and becomes ridiculous quickly.  There are also a number of minor glitches, as the player can often fall (or walk) straight through objects such as stairs and the camera repeatedly loses sight of the player in tight spaces.

The music is generic Wild West stuff, with an occasional bit of Eastern sound mixed in.  Itís not the most thrilling soundtrack of all-time, but it works well for what itís trying to do.  On the other hand, the hundreds of enemies repeat the same few phrases over and over again (such as ďWho are you?Ē and ďStand still!Ē) and that grows old very quickly.  The voice acting isnít terrible, but not exactly MGS3 either.

HIGHS:

  • The action rarely slows down, as the game sends wave after wave of bad guys to die by your sword.

  • The East/West mix is interesting, and the quirky nature of the game itself livens things up a bit.

LOWS:

  • First-generation graphics with dull textures, blocky characters, and most levels set in the same few areas.
  • The enemies say the exact same things over and over again until itís maddening.
  • Extremely basic gameplay.  The special moves and other extras add a bit of variety, but I imagine most people will find it hard to play through more than two levels in a single sitting.

FINAL VERDICT:

While the gameplay in Samurai Western is repetitive, the sheer number of unlockable accessories and weapons, mild RPG elements, and quirky nature of the game make it an acceptable action title.  Definitely worth a rental for fans of Spike's other work (Way of the Samurai, Tenchu, etc.), but most people should wait until it reaches a budget $19.99 price point before considering a purchase. 

Overall Score: 6.0

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