(www.plasticpals.com) Muramasa: The Demon Blade is a side-scrolling action game developed by Vanillaware, known for director George Kamitani's absurdly detailed graphical style and fluid animation. I live for this kind of stuff. In the majority of games today, the quest for realism blots out all traces of the artist's individuality and expression. Colors become desaturated as 3d models rely more and more on photographic textures. Muramasa is the antithesis of this movement; it's style is detailed but clean, crisp, and colourful. Some of the characters and monsters have gnarled anatomy reminiscent of old Japanese ink drawings, and the layered settings are dutifully rendered interpretations of unspoiled landscapes. The game propels you forward simply to see what visual splendour lies just around the corner. In a nutshell, games like this simply don't get made very often, so when they do I'm chomping at the bit to play them.
There were three major issues with Odin Sphere, the game's predecessor: loading times between areas; slow-down during busy battles; and repeated use of the same areas and monsters. Muramasa corrects these issues thanks mainly to the Wii's better hardware, which means you won't see any loading screens or slow-down whatsoever. And unlike Odin Sphere's five selectable characters that trekked through the same areas fighting the same bosses, Muramasa has only two characters which visit plenty of unique locales and fight entirely different bosses.
The battle system is relatively complex, but once learned is incredibly flexible. You can equip three swords and swap between them at any time. Short swords deal quick but light damage, while long swords are slow but powerful. Each blade has a unique special attack that deals added damage. However, during the course of using a blade's special attack or blocking enemy blows, a sword will lose its durability and shatter. A broken sword is useless for attacking and defending, but will slowly reforge itself when sheathed. Knowing when to sheathe and unsheathe your swords adds to the strategy, since unsheathing a powered-up blade unleashes damage to every enemy in your vicinity. Different types of attacks, such as combos, upper cuts, downward stabs, charging stabs, somersaulting whirlwinds, and ninja-style dashes are possible. You can also equip a set of perishable items to use during battle that will replenish your strength, heal status (such as poison), or sharpen your blade.
There's a few slight hiccoughs in an otherwise great game. For starters, you can't go wherever you please due to multi-coloured barriers. These along with the optional side quests (available later) mean you'll do quite a bit of back-tracking throughout the game. Another issue I had was the difficulty settings make the game either too easy or too difficult, without much middle ground. Finally, the game is best played with the Classic Controller add-on, which some people may not own or feel compelled to buy.
Muramasa: The Demon Blade is an exceptional game that has corrected the major flaws tarnishing its predecessor. The main draw is undoubtedly its presentation, which is second to none. The graphics defy belief imagine Hokusai's classic wood print "The Wave", but moving that's in this game. And there's so many incredible set pieces to explore, and mythological demons to slay.
Vanillaware's blistering 2D action game is truly one-of-a-kind on the Wii, and is just begging to be played. If you own a Wii, you'd be doing yourself a disservice not to.
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