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Muramasa: The Demon Blade

Score: 90%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment USA
Developer: Vanillaware
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action

Graphics & Sound:

A lot has been written about Muramasa: The Demon Blade's visuals on the Internet, so I'm not even sure if anything else can really be said about it. To that point, I'm not ever sure if anything I say could effectively communicate how beautiful the game is. Similar to Odin Sphere, Muramasa shows there is still a place for 2D on home consoles.

The game's look closely mirrors a watercolor painting fused with a bit of Asian ink-drawing/ Flash flair. Some of the scenery does get a little repetitious after a while, though there's enough detail you'll likely find something new to look at in "retread" areas. All of the characters, from the two heroes to the generic ninjas you repeatedly cleave through, look great. However, the giant boss characters are the real shining stars. Whether you're facing down a giant squid or a thunder god, boss fights are some of the game's more memorable visual moments.

Audio is a complete contradiction. It's epic without actually being epic. Nothing stands out about the musical score, yet it always seems to hit the right mood. Everything resonates in such a way that you'll never find yourself humming tracks outside gameplay, yet you'll cling to every note while playing.


Gameplay:

Muramasa: The Demon Blade has and will continue to receive more attention for its visuals, but there's a lot of game beneath the painterly exterior. Playing as either Momohime or Kisuke, players travel through side-scrolling zones in search of 108 swords. Each character has their own reasons for collecting the blades, offering two similar but completely different experiences. Momohime is possessed by an evil spirit, while Kisuke is attempting to regain his lost memories. Their stories are interesting though you are more likely to keep playing because of the gameplay and visuals, not necessarily the story. Not that doing so isn't a bad thing, though the story eventually feels like a throw-a-way aspect. The presentation is a bit off-putting and I can't say I ever really cared about the character's plights.

Gameplay is based around combat, though it isn't as combat heavy as you might expect. A lot of your time is spent wandering zones in search of items, souls and alternate exits. Rather than constantly attacking throughout the zone, waves of enemies will ambush you at certain points. Defeating enemies earns souls, adding a slight RPG twist. Souls allow you to forge new swords, though you'll also have to reach a requisite Spirit level by eating food. It's an odd mechanic, but it adds something different to the experience. Once you have enough soul and spirit, you can forge blades using a branching path system. This limits characters to 50 blades, but does offer some level of choice in how you want to play.

For all its good qualities, Muramasa does seem lacking at times. Levels and encounters eventually seem redundant and were it not for the quick pacing, it wouldn't be as entertaining. The ability to randomly switch between character's chapters also adds to the entertainment value. Though fundamentally the same, the two characters are different enough that the experience feels a little fresher when jumping between the two.


Difficulty:

Muramasa: The Demon Blade is tough, but incredibly forgiving. Most of the challenge revolves around choosing which blades to take into battle and figuring out how to rotate them in-and-out to get the most out of each. Battles aren't button-mashing slash-fests, but strategically-choreographed encounters.

Swords deteriorate when used and regain strength when sheathed, so you'll need to balance out how you approach each enemy. You can also collect blue orbs, which will allow your blade to limp along in battle, but won't negate the breaking mechanic completely. If all three blades break, it is essentially game over -- particularly when facing bosses. Boss fights aren't particularly tough, but take a lot of punishment before they go down.


Game Mechanics:

Muramasa: The Demon Blade's mechanics are deceptively simple. Though a Wii game, it doesn't make use of the system's motion-based control schemes. It's odd to not use the system's main selling point, but the setup makes a lot of sense in action. Pressing (A) unleashes a normal attack while rapidly hitting the button activates a flurry of slashes or holding it loads up a powerful attack or block depending on the situation. The setup seems like it would encourage easy, button-mashing gameplay, but this isn't the case once you factor in the wear and tear on your weapons.

Swords come in two basic types: fast and weak or slow and strong. Each of the game's blades has its own special attacks, but deteriorate with use, so you'll need to choose wisely when switching them in-and-out during combat. If you pound away on the attack button, you'll deal loads of damage, but risk breaking your blade. Special attacks cause them to weaken even faster. If it breaks you can still use it, but it deals significantly less damage. This is unique for a brawler, but adds just the right amount of edge to combat.

Muramasa has its flaws, but in the grand scheme, its better qualities either make up for or at the very least disguise its flaws. The beautiful visuals and simple, yet not-so-simple play mechanics make it one of the Wii's best and most engrossing titles.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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