For those who remember watching old wushu flicks as kids, you'll want to keep reading. And if you remember being jealous of the kids whose parents let them watch Enter the Dragon, you'll definitely want to keep reading. Nintendo's Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword on 3DS captures the feel of classic martial arts movies with its focus on precision and cinematic flair.
While the plot in Sakura Samurai is about as important as it is in the average wushu film, what serves to grip the player is its bite-sized, addictive play hook. Players control a young samurai in fictional feudal Japan that wields the Sakura Sword, a legendary blade that flourishes with cherry blossoms. In order to save some damsel in distress, players must slice their way through hordes of skilled swordsmen in various (heavily recycled) locations.
While it appears to be a sort of all-out melee at first, Sakura Samurai rewards patience and precision--simply hacking away at enemies with the A button will only see your attacks blocked. Players must wait for an enemy to prepare to strike, dodge the attack with a combination of the Circle Pad and the B button (left, right, or backward) and move in for a single, well-timed blow. With multiple enemies on screen per battle, this dodge-and-attack rhythm becomes the mode of play.
In fact, the game has systems in place all around to support this rhythm and ensure that the player keeps it going. Players' swords have a sharpness level, which decreases when attacks are blocked and thus weakens the blade. Expertly timed dodges reward players with Precision Points that can be recorded and sold at local shops for extra coin to buy tools like healing rice cakes and throwing knives. Finally, dodges slowly fill up a meter that allows players to unleash special attacks.
At first, this all appears tedious, especially considering the return to villages from the over-world map aren't instant. (You also must visit not-so-nearby towns to save your progress, a silly limitation.) However, these systems serve to motivate the player to play precisely, and thus up the cinematic ebb and flow of combat. Of course, Sakura Samurai is far from easy even on its normal settings. By the time players get a hang of the combat's steep, steep learning curve, they'll feel like they've earned it.
That said, before players spend the $6.99 on Sakura Samurai in the Nintendo eShop, they should be prepared for quite an investment to get their money's worth. For the small crowd of gamers these days that enjoys being challenged, Nintendo's bushido-style Punch-Out will deliver in spades. In other words, you'll absolutely hate this game, but "hating" it in the 15th hour.
Some players might not be able to get past the game's campy visuals, and the handheld's 3D isn't utilized too often aside from some fun set pieces, like enemies pointing their blades into the screen. Regardless, those looking for a real challenge will certainly find one in Sakura Samurai, which was certainly refreshing for this writer. Sometimes, you just don't want to feel like you've earned it, you want to know that you have.
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