Crispy Gamer

Games for Lunch: Muramasa: The Demon Blade

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Developer: Vanillaware
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Release Date: Sept. 8, 2009
System: Wii
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web site

0:00 I remember hearing a lot about this one at E3, but not so much after it came out. Still, I'm in the mood for some hand-drawn 2-D action today, so let's see if it merits discussion.

0:01 On the preview screen, the logo comes up over a full moon behind black clouds, with a loud gong and the sound of an unsheathing sword. Sleek.

0:02 "Answer the call of the Demon Blade, thirsting to draw and drink blood. Witness the fate of those who've drawn the demon blade." OK then ... I will. The credits start to appear over sweeping harp- and flute-heavy war music. A woman in old-fashioned Japanese garb unsheathes a sword. Two swords sit impaled in the ground in front of a sunset. A hazy forest flies by from a first-person perspective. A lonely warrior with a blue headband stands on a ridge. An old man with a long, white Fu Manchu mustache and beard stares evilly. The sun sets in the distance as the camera refocuses on a bug on a leaf. The full moon flies by a black sky in a diagonal. Leaves fall onto a pool of water, with a carp swimming underneath. And the logo appears again. Color me confused.

0:05 Before moving forward, I have to select my playing style. Muso lets me "cut through enemies easily," and "progress steadily even if you're not skilled at action games." Shura tells me that "to advance, you must evade, defend and use Secret Arts masterfully. Only for the brave." I may regret this, but I decide to be brave and choose Shura.

0:06 Two different stories to choose: The Story of Momohime and The Story of Kisuke. I can't tell any apparent difference from this screen, so I'll go with Momohime, I guess...

Muramasa: The Demon Blade

0:07 On a mountain road thick with vegetation sits the woman in the old-fashioned garb. Time for the Controls Tutorial. I have to tilt up on the control-stick jumps ... that's odd. I can also double jump (yes!) and float down by holding up.

0:10 The A button slashes. Hitting it repeatedly does a combo attack. Crouching and hitting A does a low slash that can hit grounded enemies. Uppercuts and leaping-forward attacks are done by holding A and moving the control stick in various directions. That's ... lots of moves for just one button. Reminds me of Super Smash Bros. a bit. I'm betting I'll forget how to pull off all this fancy stuff once the actual game starts.

0:11 Finally, something that uses the B button! It activates my "Secret Art," a "Misty Slash" that dashes behind the opponent and slashes them twice quickly. Other blades have different Secret Arts, I'm told.

0:13 I can block by holding A and parry projectiles back by slashing with good timing. Doing it too much can break the blade, necessitating a switch with the tap of a button.

0:15 The tutorial ends in a simple battle with an apprentice ninja. He jumps away from my first attack and sends down a throwing star. I recover quickly, do some slashing combos, a somersault attack, a jumping downward slice, and he's down. I get 6 XP for a "quick win." Oh, and a delicious rice ball to restore some health. Yum.

0:17 Opening act time. "Destroy the barriers blocking the main road." OK! Uh, why?

0:18 As opposed to the tutorial, which was on one screen, here I can jump and scroll the screen up to the treetops, whose branches I can walk upon. The animation and art are simply beautiful. Her skirt flies up as she floats down, showing some sexy animated leg. Wait, am I getting turned on by a drawing of a Japanese girl? Uh ... that's disturbing.

0:21 I like the subtle map overlay, which goes away for ... the first battle! Four ninjas, all attacking at once, cluttering the screen. I tear into them with varied attacks, mixing in some somersaults and uppercuts with my regular slashes. I thought I did pretty well, but my health is pretty far down already ... down to 77/138. A swig from my "bamboo flask" will fix that!

0:25 I turn off the fancy attacks for my second battle, this time with five ninjas. Instead, I just jam on the A button and quickly capture them all in my combo slashes. I get up to a 7-combo and earn 42 XP, plus a bonus 5 for getting through "completely unscathed." Oh yeah! Who knows how to mash the A button. I do!

0:26 By the way, the forest background has given way to a rolling countryside with farmland and cute, frowning scarecrows. The music is sad, elegant Asian strings. Nice atmosphere.

0:27 New enemy alert: "Samurai are troublesome enemies capable of defending themselves against your attacks." I can break their blades, though. In practice, they're not so tough. I jump in with a bunch of normal slashes and they block until their swords break. They got one lucky hit in, but I get 28 XP plus a bonus for a quick win.

0:30 Another battle with a quintet of ninjas. For some reason, this time my random A-smashing doesn't work as well and I'm forced to use a healing pellet to stay alive (the game thankfully prompts me when I need to do this). I did manage to parry a shuriken. It was mostly accidental, though. I'm forgetting all the advanced skills I learned already. I really have to try to weave them in.

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0:32 Oh goody, another battle. This time I focus on taking down the enemies that are still up, instead of juggling the ones that are incapacitated (which is quite easy and very satisfying). I get lots of shuriken in the back this time when I'm not quick enough to turn and bat them away. This is T-U-F tough! Hmmm ... I haven't broken out my "Secret Arts" yet ... is that my problem?

0:33 In an abandoned village ... I find two healing pellets inside two abandoned houses. Nice of the people to run off.

0:34 Another quintet of ninjas, this time handled easily with a bunch of normal slashes. I think the key is not letting yourself get surrounded ... put them all on one side and grab them all in your attack net and you'll be fine.

0:35 The ground curves around in semi-circles as I walk through a misty section of forest. A save point restores my vitals as the game tells me "A powerful enemy resides in the area ahead. Are you sure you wish to proceed?" Sure as I'm gonna be...

0:36 Momohime kneels, head in hand, amidst a creepy graveyard. "Oh, I feel dizzy... What a strange, dreary place... Is this the netherworld?" she says in subtitled Japanese. Sounds of wolves and bells in the background. A yellow moon behind hazy black clouds. "I thought I got ripped apart, but I don't have any wounds or injuries. How odd..." Someone named Yukinojo was being attacked, and she tried to save him. "Talk to the other characters you meet along the way to gather information." Always good advice!

0:38 An evil monk calls me Jinkuro and swears he'll "see [my] crimes won't go unpunished." Yipes! He doesn't seem to care when I correct him to my real name. Another tells me Jinkuro's soul must have left my body. Uh ... what? You're crazy.

Muramasa: The Demon Blade

0:39 I talk to a floating green blob. "I am Jinkuro's Soul. I have been forced out of your body." Oh ... I guess that evil monk wasn't crazy after all. Anyway, Jinkuro's soul is the one that attacked Yukinojo, I exclaim! Yes, he can possess anyone with just a cut, thank to the "Oboro Soul Transfer Art." OK, now they're just making stuff up.

0:40 Quote of the moment: "I'm going to retake your body now. If you resist me, I'll send you to hell!" This sounds like the setup for the worst porno ever.

0:41 Momohime's soul floats next to me as a blue flaming copy of my head. Jinkuro drove it out, I guess. Momohime now talks with a lower, more deliberate Japanese voice. Suddenly, a giant blue monk with one eye appears. "Ah! Jinkuro! You cannot escape me!" He'll have his revenge on me even if it means ending up in hell!

0:46 A long battle tests my endurance here. Mainly I try to jump over him to get at his back and slash, slash, slash. But I was sloppy, letting him get me with a few of his widely telegraphed attacks because I wasn't careful. I had to use every healing item I had but one. There was a lot of sword breakage and replacement in there, too. I've got to remember to dodge instead of just attacking. For my trouble, I get 299 XP and Level Up. I also get a "Hasebe Kunishige," whatever that is. "With this Demon Blade you can destroy Red Barriers!" Oh!

0:47 "Oh no! Where is Momohime's Soul? Did one of the monks take it during the fight?" 1) You should really take better care of the souls you force out. 2) Why do you care? "This body could die if any harm comes to her soul." Oh. That answers that question.

0:49 A big busted woman with fox ears stands around in an orange kimono. She's Kongiku. She brought the Okina Mask, which holds the spirit of Swordsmith Senji Muramasa of Seishu. Man, these Japanese words are making this a bit hard to follow...

0:53 I go into the menu and a large, animated old guy named Muramasa tells me about forging. "It is my profound fate to live between worlds, striking the steel without end." Profound! Anyway, I can use my stored spirits and souls to make new blades. I use a few hundred of each to forge the "Botan Muramasa." The attack power goes from 12 to 18 and I get a new Secret Art: "Swallow Saw." Sounds like bad advice.

0:58 The last five minutes were spent running back through the selfsame forests and countryside I just ran through, except this time without enemies. I did find two healing flasks in a hut, though. I cut down a red barrier and finally enter a new area. "Hurry to Edo, Musashi Province to recover the soul of Momohime stolen by Rankai." I'm pretty sure some of that was English...

1:00 Fast-paced strings as I encounter two evil monks. My new weapon is definitely more powerful, but it's also slower. As I attack one monk, I'm not fast enough on the draw to defend against the other, who comes up from behind and wallops me. I die in the midst of trying to access a healing item from my inventory using the d-pad on the Remote. I get sent back a screen or two.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? Excellent art and music, and a good action-packed challenge. If I put the time in, I could see these fights becoming rather elegant, instead of just random button mashing.

This column is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.

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