Take a Swing…I Dare You!
Samurai Warriors: Katana is Koei’s anticipated title for the Nintendo Wii. Since the Wii’s launch, we have been offered glimpses of the ambitious title. The first person perspective and the use of the motion sensitive controls made for a lot of excitement and curiosity. Unfortunately, the bold initiatives proffered by the title’s early screens never came to fruition in the final cut. The title just feels like a simple arcade game where button mashing and remote waving overshadow any glint of skill. To make matters worse, the visuals are horrendous. The few nuggets of fun that can be found are not worth the crude gameplay and the downright ugly presentation. Knowing Koei, they’re sure to make this a series. If so, this franchise is in desperate need of major reworking before it dreams of releasing a successor.
Samurai Warriors: Katana is part of the Dynasty/Samurai Warriors family. As such, it should come to no surprise that the background and story are similar. In the campaign mode, you will follow the exploits of Musou Nobunaga through a highly pixelated medieval Japan. The history and background of the story are actually quite cool. The game is full of ninja, samurai, and daimyo. What game-hound doesn’t love Japanese history? It provides such an awesome background for epic gameplay. In Musou Mode, you will slog through five chapters and about 20+ hours of gameplay. You can improve your attributes, upgrade your weaponry, and buy useful items in the shop. Unfortunately, the story will never set the hook. This is due to the unimaginative NPCs, the extremely poor graphics, the silly grunts and voiceover work, and the never-ending waves of cloned enemies that never manage to really test you.
There are a few other modes of play, but you’ll never play them. You can challenge a friend to eight different mini-games in Vs. Mode, or test yourself in the Trial Mode if you wish. Playing the Trial Mode will help your character in Musou Mode because the gold you pick up along the way will stay with your character so that you can upgrade his abilities, etc. However, these game types are really just add-ons so that Koei could say there are a few modes of play. Musou Mode is the real meat and potatoes of the title. When you beat it, you’ll be able to use the disc to level a table or keep the birds off your cherry trees this summer. I don’t think you’ll be able to resell the title or get anything back on trade. That’s because the presentation and gameplay are truly bad.
The graphics are so fuzzy and dated that they could have come from the Virtual Console. Seriously, the background environments look like they could be from an early 90s Street Fighter arcade. This is so disheartening because deficient visual quality is nothing more than a lack of effort, or funding, depending upon your perspective. The graphic dearth is even more evident when you think how static the environments are. This game is basically a rail shooter that employs steel rather than lead. In other words, you will fight wave upon wave of baddies at one position only to be whisked away to the next. As such, the graphics could have been absolutely lush and extremely detailed. Sadly, the gamer is forced to swallow a visual turd.
Gameplay is more or less comprised of button mashing. The big round A button will be your standby attack ameliorated only by wrist numbing waves of the Wii remote and simple analog movements with the Nunchuk. You will be utterly frustrated by the incessant hordes of cloned enemies that impede your advance. When you finally do cut through the lot of them, you will be met by a boss. These battles are the most rewarding experiences of the game. I actually had a lot of fun with them and wish that they were the rule, not the exception. When will developers learn that less is often more? This is especially so in the case of martial arts adventures and RPGs. Gamers have absolutely no interest in wading through a sea of nondescript orcs or kung fu adversaries. The only fun we ever have is when there is a stiff challenge provided by a puzzle or a boss. I want to fight an ogre, not 25 kobolds. The same would be true for Samurai Warriors: Katana, but the developers decided to go the easy route and pollute the game with indistinguishable masses of men.
The controls are decent in as far as they are pretty responsive. Whether you use the buttons to block, target or use your weak attack, or if you are using the powerful charged attacks via the motion controls, everything seems to work well. The problem lies in the overly-simplified scheme. The combinations that you will learn with each weapon are too easy and unsatisfying. The swords are the easiest to use, but they are also very boring. It is far too easy and time consuming to dispatch your enemies with your blade.
Moreover, after slashing several opponents multiple times, they will fall to the ground and you will be forced to wait for them to get back up before you can finish the job. This is awful! Especially when you are into timed segments of the game and you can’t advance until the pawns of the enemy do you the favor of getting back on their feet. It’s almost better to use a weapon like a spear because even though it’s awkward to use, at least your wrist won’t hurt the way it does after continually waving a sword around. Finally, the ranged weapons such as the bow and cannon are probably the most fun as gameplay because almost like a shooting gallery experience.
The in-game sounds might as well be absent. You won’t notice them very much except for the occasional misstep that will leave you laughing at the lack of quality. The voiceover work is especially bad. The simple grunts and sounds, combined with poor dialogue, make for a trying sonic experience. Fortunately, sound doesn’t really hinder the gameplay. You could easily mute the volume and turn on some tunes without missing a thing.
What does all this mean? Samurai Warrriors: Katana is a Wii killer. It is the kind of electronic swag, like the abominations coming from Bold Games (Orbs of Doom, Kidz Sports, etc.) that will make fans turn away from the platform. Nintendo needs to get control of third party publishers. They are making the Wii seem like a Fisher Price console. Having said all that, there is a core idea hidden under layers of garbage that could be salvageable. If the series were to wholly renovate the graphics and concentrate on skillful encounters to produce challenge rather than relying on sheer numbers and timed events, then there may be some hope for the franchise in the future. As it stands right now, spend your money elsewhere, I beg of you!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 1.5 Graphics
Ouch! Shield your eyes. 3.2 Control
The controls work well, but your wrist will be sore after all of the waving. 2.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Very poor, but thankfully they’re not so noticeable. 3.0
The arcade style is far too simple and monotonous, however the boss battles are fairly fun.
2.3 Overall Rating – Poor
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.