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Shaman King: Master of Spirits 2

Score: 88%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Media: Cartridge/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:

Shaman King: Master of Spirits 2 is one of those rare licensed games that comes along and defies all of the rules. As soon as you turn on the game, all notions of this being just another phoned in "cash-in" are dispelled, leaving a very fun and deeper adventure.

When your source material is a cartoon, it’s fairly easy to just throw in a few pixilated blobs that sort of look like the characters from the show. In its first break from tradition, Master of Spirits 2 ups the ante by including bigger characters and more detailed backgrounds. I’m not completely familiar with the game’s source material, but given what little I’ve seen of the show and comic, even I was able to pick out certain characters based on their sprites (rather than having to wait to see a portrait or name pop up and let me know who I was talking to. The bigger characters do introduce some unnecessary scrolling, which makes it difficult to navigate certain levels, but as is the case with most of the game, the good far outweighs the bad.

Sound is more about the little details rather than the big picture. The overall package is passable, though the positive impressions come more from the sound effects rather than the background music. In yet another break from tradition, there are multiple sound effects for even the most basic of actions. One sword swing will present a slightly different “ring” than another – which is very cool and something you rarely see in games. Music is passable, yet lacking in personality.


Gameplay:

Shaman King: Master of Spirits 2 is based on the TV show (and comic) of the same name starring a 13-year-old shaman named Yoh Asakura. Like a few other people in his world, Yoh has the ability to see and communicate with spirits. Every 500 years, these shamen, along with their helper spirits, gather to compete in a tournament where the victor is crowed “Shaman King” and granted possession of the King of Spirits. The game opens with Yoh in pursuit of his twin brother Zeke, an evil shaman who has somehow managed to silence the King of Spirits and turn the other shamen against Yoh; putting a hold on the tournament.

Master of Spirits 2 really lives up to the old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”; the license would probably be enough to turn most gamers away from the title. After all, licensed games are rarely that good. However, Master of Spirits 2 is really Castlevania, minus the fangs and whip-wielding hero.

Levels are broken up into several little areas that are scattered around a map. Completing one level will unlock the next step in the path, filling up the world map with waypoints. All levels have a straightforward path that leads to the end, but most also feature alternate paths that will either create shortcuts to already visited areas or whole new paths. The one drawback to the system is that it introduces a ton of backtracking, especially if you want to see and collect everything the game has to offer. The problem isn’t so bad that you’ll lose interest, but it can become an annoying long grind – especially since you must play through every level between you and your destination.

The game’s main game mechanics revolve around collecting spirits. Spirits are more or less abilities that you can equip in order to get past obstacles or give you a short boost in combat. For example, Yoh’s guardian spirit, Amidamaru, gives him a special sword attack while Tokageroh allows him to push boxes. Most spirits require activation, while others are passive abilities.

There are several spirits to collect in the game. Some of the more useful ones (the ones that will let you progress through the game) are gained by defeating the other shamen. Some of the more minor spirits show up as normal enemies and can be collected once you defeat them.


Difficulty:

The best advice I can give is to save after every level. No, the game isn’t that difficult, but considering the insane number of paths and waypoints that can be unlocked, you want to make the backtracking as easy as possible. An autosave option would have really helped bring down some of the more tedious aspects of the game. The option of skipping already visited areas wouldn’t have hurt much either.

As far as A.I. goes, there’s really nothing special going on. Enemies stay on assigned paths, making it very easy to figure out how to best tackle them. The same goes for bosses, who follow easy to learn patterns. Younger players may run across a few frustrating moments, but there’s nothing going on here that even average gamers couldn’t eventually get past.


Game Mechanics:

Spirits are managed through a deck system found in the in-game Options menu. Spirits can be assigned to different slots in the deck in various combinations, depending on the situation. Once in-game, pressing “L” and “R” scrolls through your decks, giving you access to spirit abilities. The system is a tad unwieldy and cumbersome, but with practice it can work. One of the bigger drawbacks is that you can only use two “activated” spirits at a time. This leads to lots of scrolling later on when you may need to access multiple powers in a short, quick time span. Generally, the level designs do a good job of keeping the two ability limitations in mind, but there are areas that require some fancy spirit juggling.

Finding equipment (headphones, bracelets, etc…) expands the number of slots you’re given in each deck, allowing you to include more passive spirits. The number of decks available can also be increased by purchasing expansions in the store. Equipment does more than just expand your decks. Certain pieces, like swords, will increase the power of your spirits, increasing their abilities.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Shaman King: Master of Spirits 2 is one of those games that defies the fate of most licensed games. Fans of Castlevania who can’t wait to get their hands on the series' next installment will find Master of Spirits 2 a nice hold-over.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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