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Muramasa: The Demon Blade Review

Pretty enough to frame and hang on a wall - but is it fun?

When you release a game like Muramasa: The Demon Blade there's a danger of putting yourself between a rock and a hard place. The rock appears when you pump so much artistry into a game's visual style that flaws are actively sought in the game beneath. There must be something wrong if a disproportionate amount of energy has been lavished on the game's looks, people think. The hard place is the substance that provides the game's foundation - it might be too solid, almost impenetrable to those not prepared to work for their enjoyment. There's a concern then that a game so obviously and immediately drop dead gorgeous as Muramasa is bound to fall over in some way.

As far as Vanillaware is concerned, these things are trifling. It couldn't care less about what is expected from games that look like Muramasa, because it doesn't have a deficiency in its game design department that needs to be hidden by dazzling graphics. This is a meaty game, with the accent on action with deeper RPG elements.

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Vanillaware has somehow managed to make a game which sticks a rocket up your bottom at the beginning and, cleverly, provides enough fuel throughout the rest of the game to keep the pace, and interest levels, cranked right up.

At the outset you've the choice of starting as the nimble ninja princess Momohime or the hulking amnesiac Kisuke, each pursuing a slightly different story through identical environments. If you were to empty a bottle of turpentine over the game you'd have (discounting a foul smelling short-circuited Wii) a side-scrolling slasher in which you smash enemies, collect new demon swords and unlock colour-coded barriers with those corresponding blades. Simplistic in theory, yet even disregarding the odd repeated enemy and samey battle, the action is so thick and fast that it simply doesn't have a chance to grow stale.

Box Fresh

Even the controls are deceptively uncomplicated. You have two commands: move and slash, nothing more. The analogue thumbstick controls jumping, double-jumping, crouching and gliding, as well as running left and right. The A button handles your sword slinging, a series of rhythmic double taps unleashing a flurry of metallic streaks across the screen. Combine this with a different movement and a number of parries, counters and powerful assaults can be called upon.

The combat system is easy to get to grips with and provides you with the oomph to power you through the levels. In only an hour's play we'd soared to about a level 14, giving us the ability to wield blades three or four times as powerful as the ones we'd started out with. Far from being too rewarding, this was the result of some genuinely thumb-cramping swordplay and a finely-weighted difficulty curve which arches according to the work we put into the game. The looming spectre of button mashing is banished thanks to a score card that appears at the end of every encounter, awarding cash bonuses depending on how well you did in battle. Use the same tactic again and again and you'll be marked down. Happily, the developers have refrained from cramming in needless motion controls too.

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Spirited Away

The game hinges on you collecting soul and spirit, and this is the element that gives Muramasa its RPG bent. Soul is left behind by enemies or scattered through levels. You'll need it to create more powerful blades from a staggeringly complex tree of swords, though there's also a spirit requirement as well. This is gleaned from scoffing your face at the food shacks you run across. So as well as simple levelling-up, back-tracking and spilling more and more enemy blood also gives you the soul needed for yet more potent weaponry. You'll even be able to buy recipes to make your own food, providing you with the spirit to combine with that soul. Take a look at the panel to the left for a more in-depth look at this feature. Unfortunately this back-tracking aspect is where the game is let down. With no discernible hub area and objectives that seesaw from one side of the large map to the other, having to run back on yourself again and again does become something of a chore, albeit one offset by luscious artwork and constant rewards.

Vanillaware has even partly solved it by offering a rickshaw to run you around more quickly, but this is too rare to be much use. In a game full of subtlety and common sense (it warns you you're about to come up against a boss, for instance), it's an odd mistake to make.

Even so, criticising Muramasa for this is tantamount to slapping David Attenborough for carping on about frog mating rituals. Best to enjoy it for what it is: a relentless romp that's as breathless as it is beautiful.

Comments

14 comments so far...
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  1. Tekkonkinkreet Friday 27th Nov 2009 at 13:58

    ...nice review. wii needs more games like this one, and our support too. I'll be definitely buying Muramasa.

  2. Erdogan44 Friday 27th Nov 2009 at 15:56

    I got my copy today from Amazon.

    Love the packaging. Will play later on.
    :wink:

  3. gamester Friday 27th Nov 2009 at 17:06

    This is the most likely game i am buying next for i played it at the MCM expo and it was very fun tbh even though it was in japanese...

    Can't wait to buy it when i can.

  4. SoulSilver IV Friday 27th Nov 2009 at 19:53

    It seems half of my local retailers aren't planning to stock this game... =/

  5. Erdogan44 Friday 27th Nov 2009 at 20:34

    SoulSilver - Can you not order this game from Amazon?

    I got it in one day. :wink:

    Maybe cos' I preordered it though..

  6. MARION64WII Saturday 28th Nov 2009 at 00:31

    it actually looks pretty good :o

  7. master sword Saturday 28th Nov 2009 at 11:01

    getting this game for christmas, i can't wait for it :D
    something tells me it's gonna be awesome

  8. mantisboy1 Saturday 28th Nov 2009 at 12:30

    This better be good, my bro spent AGES getting it...

  9. Erdogan44 Saturday 28th Nov 2009 at 13:49

    I'm save to say....


    IT'S SO ******* AWESOME.

    The art is AMAZING. The combat is brilliant, I am on Boss 2 of Momohime's story.

    Loving this.

  10. Mcpilch Saturday 28th Nov 2009 at 15:10

    this is interesting. this is the first i have heard of this game, but it looks as if it is going to be one that i will get for Christmas. after i have enough money saved for Download Festival =D

  11. SoulSilver IV Sunday 29th Nov 2009 at 01:29

    SoulSilver - Can you not order this game from Amazon?

    I got it in one day. :wink:

    Maybe cos' I preordered it though..

    Oh yes, I could get it off of Amazon in a flash.

    What concerns me is how retailers are refusing to stock quality titles like this, when the shelves are full of crap like "MORE FAMILY BEACH SPORTS PARTY BASH NIGHT GAME". It doesn't send out a good message to the developers, limits our range of choice, and overall is a very move.

  12. Erdogan44 Sunday 29th Nov 2009 at 10:48

    SoulSilver - Can you not order this game from Amazon?

    I got it in one day. :wink:

    Maybe cos' I preordered it though..

    Oh yes, I could get it off of Amazon in a flash.

    What concerns me is how retailers are refusing to stock quality titles like this, when the shelves are full of crap like "MORE FAMILY BEACH SPORTS PARTY BASH NIGHT GAME". It doesn't send out a good message to the developers, limits our range of choice, and overall is a very move.

    I know right it's rather sad.

  13. fasttony2006 Monday 30th Nov 2009 at 02:05

    we have mario,smash,zelda,metroid,zak and wiki,these games are amazing,and after getting to the first boss on muramasa demon blade all i can say is this game is absolutely brilliant,it looks incredible and plays a dream,i like when your sord breaks in battle you use c button to change sword,and when you do the sword lashes out at the enemies,this game is fantastic,and i hope people do buy this game as i couldnt recommend it enough,buy it now.

  14. MrGooseyMoose Thursday 17th Jan 2013 at 14:21

    this is a really good game, lots of replay value too i thought.

    nice review. though what's with the pictures? for a game that's so renowned for its good looks, you're not really showing much of it off...

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