The Five: Muramasa: The Demon Blade
The Skinny: Who says 2-D games are dead? Dust off your Wii, ninja fans, because Vanillaware -- the maker of the beloved Odin Sphere for the PlayStation 2 -- is polishing Muramasa: The Demon Blade, a fantastic action role-playing game. Slide into the slippers of either Momohime (a female kunoichi) or Kisuke, (a male ninja), and battle it out for the powerful, cursed Demon Blades.
1. The hand-drawn art in Muramasa is a sight to behold. Little touches like lush tree leaves, glowing lanterns, cherry blossoms, light streams and lovingly crafted water look stunning. Enemies vary quite a bit, and the bosses look phenomenal -- even though they stomped the crap out of us. Everything moves at a quick clip, too.
2. When you choose your character, you choose your path. Momohime travels from Kyo (Kyoto) to Edo (Tokyo) and Kisuke goes the opposite direction. Each character's path will play out differently, and their paths will also cross. While we don't know if the two will actually meet, you may enter an area that the other has already cleared of enemies, or you may see one sipping tea in the background as you lay waste to some enemy fighters. Thanks for the help, buddy.
3. As the story goes, your ninja has set out to claim a number of demon swords, and in battle, you can use three preselected swords from your arsenal. Each of the more-than-100 swords you can collect has different abilities. However, these swords can be broken if used too much, so if you run out of swords, you're screwed.
4. Your agile fighter can dash from rooftops to tree branches and flip about in the air, all while slicing and dicing enemies. Combat feels like an old-school beat-'em-up game, and the random encounter battles in each stage are a lot of fun.
5. You don't have look like a jackhole playing it. Sure, you can use the Wii remote and Nunchuk setup, but for more traditional play, Muramasa also supports the classic controller. It's sort of sad that we have to point this out as a major feature, but we're sick and tired of whipping our arms around to play action games on the Wii.
The Big Question: Given that the Tokyo Game Show demo was meant to focus solely on the action portions, how much of the game will focus on action, and how much of the game will focus on RPG elements? How will Vanillaware handle inventory, leveling and so on? With the action feeling extremely tight so far, we're hoping the game doesn't get bogged down by its RPG side. If there's a good balance between the two, Muramasa could become one hell of a ride for Wii gamers.
This preview is based on hands-on gameplay at Tokyo Game Show 2008.