Samurai Western

Samurai Western

Developer: Acclaim
Developer: Spark Unlimited
Publisher: Atlus USA, Inc

Release Date: 06/07/2005


Genre: action
Setting: western

Combining things is a tricky business. Sometimes you end up with something great, like peanut butter and jelly. Sometimes you end up with something worse, like steak and whip cream. Sometimes you just end up with peanut butter on your steak. Samurai Western is one of those times.

At first, it seems like it'll be great. The opening scene of the game is fantastic, and done in a style that mixes the campy silliness of kung fu movies and westerns into one outrageous spectacle filled with the promise of great fun to come. But once I made it a little way into the game, I realized it wasn't going to live up to that opening scene.

Technical problems abound in this game. The graphics are definitely dated. While they'd probably be considered good on the original PlayStation, they look old and rough for the PS2. While this is definitely forgivable, the problems with the frame rate are not. Samurai Western puts a ton of enemies on screen at once and all of them are firing weapons while you are constantly surrounded by a torrent of gunfire, dynamite, knives, and fists. You are constantly dodging bullets, deflecting them back at your enemies, and moving in to finish enemies off with your sword. The action is quick and tense, until, that is, the frame rate chugs. We've all experienced this before. As you play the game and a large number of enemies or projectiles are on screen at once the entire game slows down as it attempts to figure out how to handle the massive amount of information it is processing. All of a sudden the tense action of samurai vs. gunfighter is replaced by sloths wading through molasses. It's jarring, it's annoying, and it shouldn't happen.

Hit detection is appalling as well. In one boss battle I was forced to use my special attack, which was a lunging slash forward, to defeat him, as my regular attacks were having little to no effect on him. So I would run up, taking a large number of hits on the way, use my special attack and then run away. Well, after a few tries, I realized that with the poor hit detection, I didn't really need to be that close to the boss, or even be facing him actually. I would simply do my special lunging attack in the general vicinity of the enemy and that would be enough. Three more clumsy and un-aimed attacks was all that was needed to defeat him. Even then, it still wasn't easy since the controls don't respond all that well. The special attack is initiated by hitting your jump button and attack button at the same time. Normally, I have no problem with this type of set up. My hands are big enough to hit two buttons at once without any problem, but most of the time I ended up standing front of the enemy jumping up and down like an idiot as my jump was triggered instead of the special attack. This happened more often than not. It was incredibly frustrating, and I can't even begin to imagine what it would be like for someone who has trouble hitting two buttons normally.

Repetition is another huge problem. There were only a few bosses, and they were repeated several times throughout the game. Their attacks were the same, their costumes were the same, and their strategies were the same. The only thing that had changed was the level we were fighting in. The difficulty level of the bosses swung wildly from blatantly easy to frustratingly difficult. Some bosses were easily defeated simply by reflecting their own bullets back at them. The entire battle would consist of me standing in one spot and hitting the circle button as fast as I could. Not very exciting. Others would be ridiculously hard. Bosses with powerful weapons, who moved faster than you, would mow you down if you made the slightest mistake. It was so unbalanced it was ridiculous.

There was a little more variation in the enemies, but even then there were only about a dozen different enemies, and some of them were the same enemy type, just with a different costume. The same level was used over and over again as well. There was really very little variation to the game. After you made it through the first few levels it was mostly slashing the same enemies in the same levels over and over and over again. Console gaming has moved past this kind of mindless repetition.

Now, while there are definitely serious problems with this game, not everything is bad. The story is pretty good, and the game definitely has all of the elements necessary to earn the title Samurai Western. For example, the music in games doesn't usually leave much of an impact on me, but the music was great. It was very reminiscent of the Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The music was one of the things that got me so excited when I first started playing the game.

The item management system is fantastic, too. As you go through the levels if you beat the high score (what is this, Pac-Man?) you receive various items of a western or samurai theme, new weapons or accessories that could improve your attributes. Choosing items was the only thing I did to improve my attributes. I didn't bother with improving them through leveling up, as it would only improve the sword I was using, and not my base stat line. One of the best parts of the item management was the flexibility it gave you in tweaking the appearance of your character. The items start out in a default position, but can be moved all over so that you can make your character look however you like.

The Master Mode is phenomenal. By collecting bottles of whiskey and filling up your meter you can turn your samurai into a bladed whirlwind of destruction. You speed up and rampage through your enemies, cleaving them in two in a spray of blood. Not disturbing blood, but silly kung fu movie blood. It's great to see your samurai dominate, and it's one of the most exciting parts of the game.

Overall, Samurai Western has a good theme and some good ideas, but it's bogged down by its poor technical aspects. The shoddy and repetitive game play drags it down. I'd really like to see a sequel to this game with the technical problems ironed out so the story and theme can truly be enjoyed. But for now, take this little bit of Samurai Western style advice: This game is without honor, so just keep on moseying partner.

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About the Author, Jake Burket (A.K.A Diesel)

I’ve always loved video games. I don’t know why, but they’ve always fascinated me. When I was younger, if I visited someone who had an Atari, that was all I wanted to do. It was a glorious day when I finally got my very own Nintendo.

I like a wide variety of games. I’m great at action and rpg games. I tend to be too much of a perfectionist with first person shooters and stealth games. I’ll spend 20 minutes in a level, only to reset it the first time a guard sees me. Platformers aren’t really my thing, I think the technology has better things to offer than that now. And I don’t do sports games.

I love games with a good story. I’ll play for hours just trying to get to the next plot twist. In a perfect world, I’d be writing my own video games someday