Sometimes a game comes along that absolutely blows you away. From the characters to the gameplay mechanics, it just flows so fluidly that you just want to capture every "OMFG" moment and hang it in a museum. Usually I'll find a game like this on the heavy hitting systems like the Playstation 3 or the BOX 360, or PSP while our buddies at Nintendo bring us a more "special" crop of games like Barbie Horse Whisperer or Hannah Montana's I Make Fun of Asians (discaimer: not actual games). To be honest, the Wii wasn't my go to system after No More Heroesit was party games, bowling (I suck in real life but I can be surprisingly good on the Wii), to doing awkward yoga poses and having a video game call me obese, most of my gaming hours are spent on one of the heavy hitting systems; that was until I played Muramasa.
It's a game strongly rooted in Japanese mythology (which I love) but awesomely reminiscent of classics like Super Metroid or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Coming from the gaming roots of a more simple time (2 buttons an a D-pad... the CODE) as much as I love how gaming has evolved, I sometimes yearn for the days of simple but challenging side scrolling action! And while 3D games have evolved beyond the craptastic initial offerings of the Sega Saturn and Playstation days, 2D never got the da Vinci treatment. That is until now.
DESIGN: Muramasa: the Demon Blade is a beautiful side scrolling hack and slasher. The art style has the looks of a slick Japanese anime with the beautiful and vivid art of old world Japan. Each animation is carefully hand drawn and some of the animations you just have to see to believe (take it slow when you "eat" at some of the restaurants in the game). Enemy types are not so varied with for the most part undertaking a palette swap to make a new type of enemy of the same class, but the three different types of Oni and all the memorable boss battles more than make up for it, so I really don't mind the goombas and turtles of Muramasa. What I loved the most though was the care put into the HUD. Every special attack name, item, number, and even the combo indicator are hand drawn vectors... not simply text. This shows the level of care the developers had when they made this game, and that is strongly evident in the art directions. 10/10
GAMEPLAY: The game is played from the perspective of two protagonist who will sometimes cross paths (in some comedic ways I might add). And they are controlled exactly identical. You have the option to used the Wiimote/Nunchuk, or the Wii Classic Controller, or the Gamecube controller to play this game. In my test I found using the Wii Classic Controller was the most beneficial to my game, while I only disqualified the Gamecube controller because the cord was too short. Gameplay is absolutely "waggle-free" and attacks are input with one button while another button is used for the special attack, and one is used to consume an item from the quick-item supply. Jumping is relegated to the "UP" on the analog/d-pad. I found myself using the d-pad mostly since I've got years of SNES gaming under my belt to be pretty deadly with it, at first I was very thrown off by using up to jump... but it grows on you and becomes alot easier than it sounds. Where the game does lose points with me is how the hack and slash mechanic can get kinda old, while both types of swords (blades are quicker but weaker and longswords that are strong but heavy) have a default combo, there isn't much variation to it other than the special attacks. I found myself using alot of special attacks to just mix up the battles so I wouldn't get bored. An aspect I loved was the ability to forge my own swords, there are so many swords in this game it's fun just getting them all, while a few are gained via the story, most are forged by the helpful spirit or Muramasa himself. Overall, while the hack-and-slash nature left me hoping for more, the sheer fun of the battles kept my attention. 8/10
STORY: The tale of Muramasa is split in two, while both traverse the same land... they face a very different story. While both follow a theme of redemption, I found that Kisuke's story had a much better narrative than the absolutely "moe" Momohime, i thoroughly enjoyed both campaigns. While the main game can be completed in 10-12 hours (for both), gamers who absolutely have to get EVERYTHING will have a blast opening each Enemy Lair, forging every sword, finding all the armor and various items. The game has three ending for each character and what I dig most about it is there isn't really a New Game+ but saving after defeating the final boss will place you at the closest shrine right before you fight the final boss, and getting a different ending all depends on what sword is equipped. What I think most westerners will have issue with is the strongly Japanese nature of the game, it can be a bit of a culture shock for anyone who isn't as well versed in Japanese Mythology. While that can be solved by a good visit to Wikipedia, it can be confusing to some gamers. 9/10
Overall: 9/10 A CLASSIC!
In closing, this is a definite buy for any fan of gaming. While some of the younger gamers might be turned off by the 2D aesthetic, some of us gaming veterans will welcome the throwback. Actually I digress, I hate to think of this as a throwback because it really isn't... the beauty and grandeur of this game is something that could never be accomplished on the SNES, even the PS2 suffered with Odin Sphere (the spiritual precursor to this game) plaguing us with choppy frame-rates and lacking vibrant colors. I see this as the NEXT-GEN of 2D gaming. I would love to see more polished 2D sidescrolling action games made for our other next-gen consoles, that would be like putting my favorite cartoon when i was kid and formatting it on blu-ray... that same feeling like I'm coming home, but opening the door and finding that all my furniture is new and shiny...