One of our all-time favorite Nintendo DS games was Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword. It was one kick-ass action adventure game that combined blistering 3D graphics and wonderful controls that masterfully used a touchscreen for movement and combat. Naturally we were pumped up when we caught wind of Samurai: Way of the Warrior, a Japanese feudal action game that takes obvious cues from Tomonobu Itagaki’s legendary Ninja Gaiden series.
Par for the course, Samurai: Way of Warrior has a boilerplate storyline to provide context for its hack n’ slash adventure. You assume the role of Daisuke Shimada, a wandering warrior intent on taking down a terrorizing trio of Samurais. The story is told through static hand-drawn cutscenes, but some hilarious typos detract from the immersion factor. There’s nothing revolutionary with the storytelling, but it strings together the eight chapters (levels) very well.
Most hack n’ slash games on the iPhone make use of a virtual control pads and buttons. In a refreshing change of pace, Samurai: Way of the Warrior bucks that trend. Using a modified version of the innovative control scheme from Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword, all movement and combat is executed through gestures and holds on the touchscreen.
Daisuke moves by pressing and holding a direction on the screen. Making a series of gestures on enemy opposition triggers your array of sword attacks. As you progress through the game, deadlier combo chains become available. While the mechanics are generally solid, they seem to have lapses which prevent intended attacks from playing out. These sporadic control issues are exacerbated by the game’s cheap A.I.
Samurai: Way of the Warrior is a difficult game in a very unrewarding way. Instead of providing players with a gameplay landscape that’s fair and challenging, this game games achieves its tough difficulty through lazy game design decisions. Once you get to the third chapter, you’ll be frustrated by the enemy’s newly found dexterity and agility.
Compounding matters are the larger numbers of enemies concentrated in tight areas. Primarily using evasive dodge moves, they’ll avoid many of your attacks and converge upon you ruthlessly. Overall, the opposition ramps up so quickly and substantially that it feels like mechanics to dodge or block should have been unlocked. We braved it out long enough to see the game’s unorthodox ending, but the later levels were beyond cheap.
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We’re absolutely infatuated with the visuals in Samurai. Using a stylish cel-shaded visual direction, the world is beautifully illustrated and rendered. Daisuke moves fluidly and his sword will be the harbinger of a variety of cool death animations. Environments across the game’s eight levels have distinct styles, and we kept trudging along to see the next piece of eye candy. There really aren’t enough superlatives to express how impressed we are by Samurai: Way of the Warrior’s visuals.
Outside of this game’s extraordinary visuals, this a very difficult title to recommend. Each level looks fantastic, but it’s a repetitive affair of perpetually clearing an area of enemies to open up a new area, just to repeat the same exercise. There’s little strategy required, as the same techniques will vanquish white-belt peons and ballyhooed bosses alike.
Samurai also has a cool survival mode dubbed ‘Dojo’ that is all about clearing enemies in waves. Unfortunately, there’s no record-keeping, which somewhat kills the appeal of that mode.
We’re definitely bummed that we had so many issues with Samurai: Way of the Warrior, but it’s an undeniable technical achievement that shows off what the iPhone is capable of visually.