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Review: Muramasa: The Demon Blade

Jordan Deam | 17 Sep 2009 13:00
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Worse still, you're hindered at every turn by Muramasa's clunky controls and cumbersome menu system. Some players may appreciate the fact that the game completely bypasses the Wii's motion-sensing capabilities, but this control scheme effectively ignores the only advantage the console has over its high-definition competitors. More damaging is the decision to map the jump function to the thumbstick, which makes platforming maddeningly imprecise. Don't be surprised if you have to scale taller rooms two or three times after a missed leap sends you back to the bottom.

Then there are the game's poorly explained and text-heavy menus, which you'll find yourself thumbing through frequently when you acquire new items or need to recover some health after a battle. Not only is it a pain to navigate, but it also leaves out crucial information. For example, you acquire a new blade after each boss you defeat, but this weapon may not become usable to you until you level up a few times. How many times? You'll have to guess - nowhere in the item description does it say what level a sword requires before its available to you. [Ed note: Muramasa's weapon requirements are based on stats that can be modified by wearing accessories, not strictly on character level.]

So many aspects of Muramasa spurn playability that it's a wonder the game is enjoyable at all. But as much as it frustrates and annoys, Muramasa also finds a decent rhythm after you've adjusted your expectations. The combat, while repetitive, is oddly satisfying. There's not much variety in the enemies you encounter, but the boss battles are always a thrill. And while there's no appreciable difference in gameplay from one zone to the next, the environments are so beautifully rendered that it's possible to be transfixed by the visuals while simply tolerating everything else.

But "style over substance" only gets you so far. Perhaps if the game's designers spent as much time polishing their work as the artists, Muramasa would play as good as it looks. Instead, it expects you to tolerate a whole lot of frustration for meager rewards.

Bottom Line: The fact that Muramasa is still somewhat compelling after its myriad failures is a testament to the artists at Vanillaware - they created a game world so beautiful that you're willing to put up with mediocre gameplay to see a bit more of it.

Recommendation: Rent it. Your patience with Muramasa may run out long before you've gotten your $50 worth.

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