I've always enjoyed the Dynasty Warrior series because it provides mindless button-mashing that is enjoyable every once in a while. Samurai Warriors 3 on the Nintendo Wii isn't much different. If it's not a series you're familiar with, I'll preface this review by telling you that it's a KOEI title that's basically a spin-off of the main Dynasty Warrior series, but there are so many similarities between the two games that it's really difficult to pinpoint any major differences.
In Samurai Warriors 3, you take on the role of multiple characters, each with a story line to flesh out. There's a huge number to pick from at the start, and plenty more serve as unlockables during the course of the game. As you pick your character, keep in mind that each has a slightly different play style based on the weapon he specializes in, meaning that someone with a small blade will typically handle in a quicker fashion than someone sporting a large ax or hammer-like weapon. The game defaults to a character who is a great starting point for new players, as he is an all-around warrior who will get you acquainted with the game.
Nintendo is actually publishing this title in the United States. The Dynasty and Samurai Warrior games have usually been published by KOEI in the past, but Nintendo has decided to back this particular title, and it seems like there have been some additions in the form of tutorials and overall access for newcomers. If you haven't played a Warriors title in the past, Samurai Warriors 3 is the perfect game to start with because you won't find a more accessible title without going back to the original games. You can still get inundated with the different menus, weapons, power-ups, and crafting options, but the game does a solid job of explaining the basics.
Another reason behind Nintendo backing this particular release is a new mode called Murasame Castle. Retro game fans might be particularly excited about this mode, as it's a 3-D throwback to a classic NES game that never made its way to North America. The Mysterious Murasame Castle was created by Nintendo for the Famicom and released shortly after The Legend of Zelda. On the surface, it kind of looked like Legend of Zelda but played a lot quicker, with more emphasis on action. It imposed a time limit on players and limited the amount of power-ups, making it a tough game.
The Murasame Castle mode in Samurai Warriors 3 ditches the classic look but uses the in-game assets of enemies and heroes in a similar gameplay style. You'll take on the role of a character, move about an overworld map that allows you to select your level, and jump into a stage to do battle with demons or other bad guys. Honestly, I didn't really appreciate this mode. The maps are a little too large for the limited number of enemies inside of it, and it feels less action-packed than the main game. I was far more entertained by the basic story mode in Samurai Warriors 3 than I was in the Murasame Castle mode, but maybe that's something fans of the original will appreciate more than myself.
For the regular story mode, once you've selected your character, it's time to do battle against the various armies that oppose you. This mode is very similar in setup to other Warriors games in that you'll typically move across a large map with multiple objectives to tackle within a one-hour time limit, often with your objectives changing during the stage. Just like other Warriors titles, you'll defeat numerous unnamed minions in an effort to find and eliminate various generals, which are basically named enemies who will put up a bigger fight. Once you reach your final objective, which usually involves the defeat of a big bad guy, you'll clear the stage, accumulate experience points and items, and move on to the next world.
I really enjoyed the addition of bonus goals or objectives in Samurai Warriors 3 because they'd net you some rare items if you completed them. Sometimes this would involve defeating an enemy general within a particular time limit, or not using a healing item or Musou power during a particular stage. Hardcore fans of the Warriors series will run through the same story line multiple times to max out character levels and unlock super-secret weapons and whatnot, but for the more casual fan, the optional goals increase the game's replay value and give you more of a reason to revisit stages.
Another nice thing tossed in for Warriors fans is the ability to select your controller preference. You're not locked into the Wii Remote and Nunchuk combo; you can use either the Classic Controller or GameCube Controller. I thought the Wii Remote and Nunchuk controls worked really well; I played a good chunk of the game with the default controllers and had little trouble. It helps that the game doesn't emphasize goofy motion antics, like swinging the Wii Remote to swing your sword. With the default setting, everything is still button-centric. I'm always appreciative of Wii games that give you a controller choice, especially when that game stems from a long-running series that has a well-known control scheme in place.
The game doesn't skimp on the items and things you can collect on the battlefield, and you'll typically have quite a few weapon variations after each stage. You can keep them or offload them, and most weapons are upgradeable with gems that can be found during gameplay. The upgrade system is simple to track, and the game does a solid job of letting you know what you'll need for particular upgrades.
Finally, Samurai Warriors 3 also offers a completely capable co-op mode that supports both local split-screen play plus some online co-op. I had expected local co-op, so I was pretty happy to see the addition of online play. It's worth noting that the online connection works pretty well. Most of the games I entered were lag-free affairs, which is nice to see considering how many enemies populate the screen at one time. That's not to say that the frame rate doesn't take an occasional hit, but it doesn't become as bogged down as I thought it would.
For those who aren't fans of the series, Samurai Warriors 3 is going to do little to change your mind. It features a lot of mindless combat, some less-than-stellar visuals, and the Wii isn't up to the task when it comes to displaying the amount of enemies that the series has been able to show with the HD consoles. I found it to be an enjoyable title because I like the series, but I can definitely understand the complaint in terms of overall innovation. While this particular release tosses in a few new elements, like the Murasame Castle mode, it doesn't really change up the core gameplay enough to warrant calling it a must-have title.
Samurai Warriors 3 is strictly for hardcore fans who already know what they're getting, or the newcomer who has yet to experience the series. It's definitely friendly for new players, but it's not going to deter the people who hate these games from bashing it on their forum of choice.
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