Release Date: September 8, 2009
I used to be of the somewhat shallow opinion that graphics could make or break a game; that the aesthetics should be my primary concern. That view has almost been completely reversed in recent years as my passion for retro gaming grew. Sometimes, however, a game comes along which satisfies all of my cravings. A game which combines classic old-school gameplay with stunning, awe-inspiring graphics. Muramasa is that game. A game which will make your eyes bleed, your fingertips blister and your heart race at a thousand miles per hour.
Let’s start with those graphics; those beautiful, beautiful graphics. Feudal Japan is bought to life through a series of ever more impressive levels, each more wondrous than the next. You will progress through hand-drawn fields of corn which sway on the breeze, carve a trail of bloody chaos through moonlit forests as fireflies dance in the background and ascend snowy peaks as icy rivers flow underneath.
I haven’t had the feeling of anticipation in terms of being desperate to see how amazing the next level will be in a long while. Muramasa quickly made me rediscover this simple pleasure. It’s truly one of the best-looking games available on Wii or any other platform for that matter. It’s not often that a game makes me want to set my controller to one side and just spend a few minutes staring at the screen, open-mouthed, but Muramasa had this effect on me regularly.
Wait until you see it in motion…
The gameplay falls somewhat short of the high standards set by the visuals, but it’s still an enjoyable and finely-tuned experience. An introductory tutorial will give you all of the basics which are easy to pick up but very difficult to memorize and master. There are also two distinct difficulty levels and I would implore anyone thinking of playing the game to opt for the harder option (although you can switch back to normal mode any time you start up your game), as you will be less likely to rely on the dreaded button mashing in order to progress. If you play on hard mode you genuinely have to master the blocks and special moves, giving you a much more satisfying experience. This is important as the gameplay can easily become repetitive on the easier setting. Regardless of your choice, though, I guarantee you will slog through the occasional mundane repetition just to see what the next level will bring in terms of visuals. It reminds me of how games used to be during my childhood– maybe that’s why I enjoyed it so much.
I don’t mean to sell Muramasa short, however, as it does make a valiant attempt at variety and depth, although the reality is that a lot of this doesn’t actually change the core experience. For instance, you’re given the option of choosing between two different characters: Kisuke and Momohime. Regardless of the obvious fact that one is male and the other female, the two handle almost identically. You also have the ability to unlock up to 100 different blades which you can use during your adventure, but again, this is more for the completionists among you and is in no way vital or necessary. I feel the same way about the RPG-like HP system. It gives an illusion of depth but is never fully integrated into the game in any meaningful way. The stats screen which follows each and every dust up also quickly becomes tiresome.
But enough of the negative, because I have a genuine fondness for Muramasa. I just feel that the game should have had the courage of its retro convictions and embraced the simplicity that makes it such a joy to play. Steaming across the rooftops of a ninja hideout at a hundred miles an hour, pulling off a 50+ move combo amidst a blur of cherry blossom and shurikens is pure, unadulterated joy. It’s every 2D, side-scrolling platformer you ever loved, taken to the nth degree. The characters and enemies are beautifully rendered and the various bosses are huge and awe-inspiring. Taking down one of these gargantuan foes, as your fingers coordinate the necessary button presses in perfect harmony, the final remnants of your health bar ebbing away with your heart threatening to burst from your very chest, will take you back to a time when everything was simpler–before open 3D worlds, sandboxes and heavy-handed moral choices. Playing Muramasa makes me feel like a little kid again, and for that I am eternally grateful.