One of the challenges in reviewing games is remaining objective. If this isn’t the first Samurai Warriors: Katana review you’ve read, you may already know what I’m talking about. When a person buys a game they enter into the world with a different perception than a game reviewer. A game player doesn’t have a checklist of things they are looking for, nor do they necessarily go in with the express purpose of comparing the game to previous titles as well as its contemporaries.
This title has been panned by and large by every game review site out there, and so I thought I’d try spending some more time with it as I have enjoyed, even with their faults, the previous Samurai Warriors titles. This look into the game compares it both to other Wii titles and previous iterations, and I’m going to state this right now: this game does not earn the callous derision it’s garnered from the general game review industry. It isn’t a top shelf game by any means, but it doesn’t fall into the worthless category either.
The visual representation brought forth in Samurai Warriors: Katana is one of the the least impressive parts of the game. Other than no flicker and decent draw distances, the graphics are no different than the PS2/XBOX predecessors. That being said, if you compare it to other Wii games it falls into the middle of the pack, and the grading reflects that tilt.
Since this is a first-person perspective all the animation you see is enemies, and they are as generic as they come. There is occasionally a wardrobe change to suit a `which ninja ran past` minigame, otherwise you face generic hordes of enemies. There are no facial animations at all, even during dialog. The textures aren’t any different from level to level, and since the cast in this game has been scaled back from previous versions, these elements really help to bring down immersion.
Katana also overlays names, health bars, target boxes and weak points on targets, and although looking at screenshots makes it stand out, it is critical for gameplay and once you’ve been acclimatized to it those elements fade into the background.
The sounds of Samurai Warriors: Katana are better than the visuals, but not by much. The combat noise is the same as the previous iterations so I couldn’t honestly tell you if it is new recordings or just reheated leftovers. They are still serviceable, but at this point I really wish that they had made the effort to bring some more variety.
What I can say with certainty is that the voice work is not only typically poor, but it’s also surpisingly light. You rarely hear dialog; you will however hear at least one sound byte from named characters everytime they address you. This grated quickly, and I eventually switched to japanese tracks just so I didn’t have to suffer through poorly voiced english catch-phrases.
Music comes last as it is no different than any other KOEI game (to date). Hard guitars mixed with traditional japanese music taken straight from the previous iterations. Since the game is on rails (for the most part) the music cues should be bang on; I found that sometimes they would prematurely start, which gives you a bit of warning.
Wii games, more often than not, only pay lip service to the waggle controls. You can sit back on the couch and barely move to get the most out of a Wii the game; Katana however, requires the edge of your seat. They were kind enough to give you A and B buttons for the most frequent attacks so you aren’t fatigued by the time you’ve finished the second level. I found myself enjoying the control scheme.
The eight weapons are distinctly different, and I felt like I was using the weapon that they gave me. With exception to blades and boomarang, this is the basic control scheme: hit A for light attack, waggle the wiimote for heavy attack, waggle the nunchuk to trigger berserk (a.k.a. musou) and then madly waggle wiimote to execute a flurry of attacks. You can use c to lock the target pointer to a particular spot, and Z to block. The heavy attack motions are different for each weapon, so with a spear you would stab as opposed to the up, down and side slashes of the katana. You hit B to either fire the cannon, bow or rifle. Each of the three have their strengths and weaknesses.
The advanced weapon types are vastly different, and show off the strength of the game. The blades, basically a bladed yo-yo, are very unique and are hard to master, but if you do it is very effective. Sadly the weapon appears late into the game, and as such I was left with only brief moments of gaming bliss with it. The boomarang was by and far the most effective use of combat controls, and I loved using it when I wasn`t playing a level where I’d need to protect people (as I’ve discovered they are very effective at killing villagers). These two weapons are a good reason to play longer; they should have been given to the players earlier on.
There are a number of mini-game controls that do well, and an equal amount that counter those. The running is something that required me to really move, whereas the dodge-the-falling-rock controls were frustrating. The free roaming levels were my favorite, and I was alright with using the nunchuk thumbstick to walk and turn.
It would be an accurate statement to say that the the gameplay in Samurai Warriors: Katana is basically a series of scripted combat screens seasoned with a variety of minigames. It more closely resembles the coin-op shooter games such as Virtua Cop and House of the Dead than it does the other games of the series. There is very little in directional control, and although this may frustrate hard-core fans of the series, it really is a good platform.
The gameplay is solid, but by no means is it spectacular. Faults such as poor turning/movement control in the arrow challenge, rock dodging, as well as the often used “stop the charging forces” mini-game where you defend 2 or more paths and need to stop every soldier left me a little frustrated. Also, since the over-the-top dialog sections could not be skipped it meant that if you ended up with failure you had to go through all of it over again.
The multiplayer gameplay is limited, and thrown in as a “head-to-head” score challenge rather than offering coop play (which could have easily been done ala Virtua Cop style).
On the upside, there is an RPG element to your character; although you are faceless, you do have skills that can be upgraded and enhanced by purchasing upgrades, equipping special weapons and items. All of this carries over as you progress through the different stories.
The value in the previous games relied on unlocking officers and offering different storylines and parallel experiences. When it comes to the characters of Samurai Warriors, you only get to see them and not play them. As a faceless soldier under the various storylines you really don’t get to connect with them. There is a total of 5 storylines (one is locked). Should you complete every mission with a high enough rank it unlocks the final storyline. Since there is weapon and item drops, the obsessive-compelsive may find value in playing harder difficulties to get higher level items.
Omega Force saw fit to offer the multiplayer portion which was, for me, uncompelling. It was really just a set of scoreboard challenges, and I felt that this was where this game fell down. Wii systems have been widely adopted as the multiplayer-in-the-livingroom system; not having something that could accomodate that element was sad.
The challenge mode is a little more fun; you go through a lighthearted set of challenges that throw random tasks (defeat X number of baddies in 10/30/60 seconds, don’t get hit for 15 sec, defeat X officer in 60 sec, and so on) to complete the map and gain extra money.