Muramasa: The Demon Blade
- Nintendo Wii
- Ignition Entertainment
- A- Community Grade
While much of the world has long since moved on and stringently embraced the third dimension as the only acceptable plane of existence in their videogames, Japanese developer Vanillaware has spent most of this decade exploring untapped possibilities in flatter gaming. Muramasa: The Demon Blade is the latest blow struck for their cause, and while its gorgeous graphics are certain to draw Tex Avery-style catcalling, they can’t mask the signs of age.
Muramasa takes place in Japan’s feudal Genroku era in the late 17th century. You play as either Kisuke the amnesiac rebel ninja or Monohime, a princess possessed by a demon swordsman. While these characters have different quests on the surface, they both play identically and embark on similar adventures—ones that call for a lot of backtracking when not adhering to an itinerary that’s repeated ad nauseam from start to finish: Go from point A to point B, fight a cool-looking boss like a ghost archer on horseback or an enormous flaming caterpillar, and then obtain another sword that unlocks another area. So while the vibrant, hand-drawn renderings of windswept fields, pagodas engulfed in a sunset, and hot springs are nice to look at, they eventually begin to fade into repetitiveness.
Although the arcade-style action integrates some role-playing-game conventions like randomly occurring battles, leveling up, and strategizing over the most advantageous accessory to equip, Muramasa’s freshest ideas are revealed in combat. Players will spend much of the game either forging or collecting around 100 swords, but while fighting, only three can be unleashed. Mere button-mashing effortlessly racks up 400-hit combos, but there’s a decent amount of strategy involved with parrying, running slashes, and the ever-popular and highly satisfying death-from-above stab. Curiously, just as much thought has been given to the character’s eating habits: Health can only be recovered when Kisuke or Monohime are hungry, which is indicated by a “fullness” meter. And they’re finicky eaters: To heal properly and quickly, players must change up their intake and make sure they aren’t eating the same meal over and over. An arcade-style game, Muramasa is fun in short bursts, but without much depth anywhere—meaning players should only come to the table when they’re especially hungry for it.