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Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword Review
Developer: Grounding Inc.
Platform: 3DS eShop
ESRB: T for Teen
Release Date: Out now
Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword might not grab your attention at first when you catch a glimpse of it on the 3DS eShop or see it being mentioned lately on gaming sites. It might seem like too much of a generic Japanese-centric adventure. But is that the case, or does Sakura Samurai actually go out of its way to make itself a unique game?
In Sakura Samurai, you are a samurai, of course, set on a mission to rescue the Cherry Blossom Princess from an evil entity keeping her hostage. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help the game’s generic image that I was talking about, but you’re not going to be worrying much about the story in this game. On the other hand, the Japanese imagery in this game is presented beautifully with crisp graphics and art style.
What Sakura Samurai prides itself on is its gameplay. It’s best described as a Punch-Out!! style game, except with ancient Japanese warriors and katanas. You must take note of the enemies’ attack patterns and dodge at the right moment. It is then that you’ll go in for the hit. You’re also able to move freely if you wish, though it’s going to feel slightly restricted (not that it’s a problem; you’re not going to want to move much, anyway). It seems very simple in the beginning, but as you progress throughout the game, it gets very difficult (in a good way that you’ll be enjoying figuring out how to tackle enemies).
The battle system is great and fun to master, but it’s not without its flaws. From the manual, “During battle, your camera will move to focus on your enemies. This is called being ‘locked on.’ The camera will move from enemy to enemy until it zeroes in on the one who is going to attack you next.” It makes sense, but it’s very annoying when you actually play. The later stages have more enemies, so this moving from enemy to enemy takes a long time and happens often throughout a battle. It even happens when you’re focusing on that one enemy that went in to attack you. You end up getting used to it, though.
Sakura Samurai isn’t just battling, either. Much to my surprise, I encountered a little village while traversing through the map (in fact, there’s three in total across the entire map). These villages have a shop for restocking your inventory, a blacksmith for improving your katana, an inn for recovering your health and saving, and street challenges. These little villages definitely add a bit of life to the game.
Let’s focus on the street challenges specifically. These are different minigames that offer you either much-needed gold or prizes and are quite fun on their own, regardless. Most, if not all, of the games require your best reflexes and timing. This can make them quite tough, especially as you start to get to the later street challenges, but it’s a great feeling to master them. Though let me tell you something now – get used to abusing saving and restarting. Something I found a bit mean was that a street challenge will “shut down” after three attempts at playing it (whether you win or not). Thankfully, you’ll be able to play again for simply going out and beating a battle stage.
Other extras included in Sakura Samurai itself are a hard mode after beating the game once, a rock garden, and 30-, 50-, and 100-thug battle challenges. The rock garden is dependent on the steps your 3DS accumulates- the more you get, the more the sakura trees in the garden will grow. In addition, the thug challenges are exactly like they sound and can be very addictive and a treat to those looking for a challenge. It’s really fantastic seeing the game fleshed out with additions such as these.
It should be said that as a downloadable game for your 3DS, it’s a must-buy. I would even go as far as to say that I would love to see this game or a sequel of sorts as a full-fledged game in the future. If the story, battle system, and whatnot were ironed out and expanded with even more extras added, the resulting game would be incredible. Nonetheless, Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword is a great game on its own, especially to those fans of Punch-Out!! and similar games.
+ Great battle system that you’ll enjoy getting into and mastering
+ Tons of extras that definitely flesh out the game
+ Fun minigames to farm gold and items
- Some minor issues with battle system
- Generic story of “save the princess”
Overall: 8 (out of 10)
Another gem to hit the 3DS eShop; you’ll definitely want to add this to your library if you’re a fan of action or Japanese-centric games.
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