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Muramasa: The Demon Blade

Platform(s): Wii
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Rising Star Games (EU), Ignition Entertainment (US)
Developer: Vanilla Ware
Release Date: Sept. 8, 2009 (US), Nov. 13, 2009 (EU)

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Wii Preview - 'Muramasa: The Demon Blade'

by Erik "NekoIncardine" Ottosen on June 8, 2009 @ 9:00 a.m. PDT

Muramasa: The Demon Blade is a unique, highly stylized action RPG players take on the role of a male ninja or female kunoichi, utilizing their ninja prowess to traverse the clever side-scrolling levels that feature vertical progression as well as the traditional horizontal stage advancement.

Xseed Games, what were you thinking when you let Muramasa: The Demon Blade slip out of your hands and over to Ignition? You had a game that could have potentially given you indie cred faster than NIS America and Atlus' 2009 lineups combined, and you ended up passing on it. You even said that it was going to be awesome in a released statement after dropping it. Man, that's a strange move on your part.

OK, enough about the publisher switch. Muramasa: The Demon Blade was on display at Ignition's booth at E3, and the demo was shown on more screens than any other game in their lineup. Fortunately, they're pretty safe in their knowledge because if the game holds up even half as well as what was shown to us, the September release of this game in English is going to be beloved by fans of good, old-fashioned 2-D action gaming.

The game casts you as two different characters: a Japanese noble who is forcibly possessed by an evil sword-wielding spirit and an amnesiac ninja who apparently has done something to really piss off some ninja clans. Both wield the titular Demon Blades. There are 108 blades in total, each with its own special move and varying stats; they're split among three types that majorly influence basic combat. The demo only provided three blades, but each played with significant differences. Changing them is as simple as tapping a button to cycle through a set of three, and you can change which three blades you'll be carrying before combat. Time stops as you switch so you can more carefully choose which blade to change to, and if it has been long enough since you last switched, you'll even land a nice full-screen attack as you draw the new blade. You'll also gain an experience bonus for every enemy you kill with it. Be careful because your swords will break, but they'll also magically regenerate.


You use the blades with one button, but it's made surprisingly complex by adding button options. Ducking slashes with a quick tap are different from ducking slashes after holding the button, while aerial attacks can take all forms. Combined with several options to move around the 2-D battlefields, it is not infeasible to be defeating entire encounters of six enemies (the most I saw in the demo) in one long combo.

Then there's the artwork, which combines a beautiful, semi-painted look for everything with smooth animations and great little effects, but anyone who has played Odin Sphere shouldn't find that surprising. What is surprising, though, is that the graphics have greatly improved between that game and this one, with a platform switch and a move to widescreen. It's beautiful enough on-screen, but in motion, every so often, it'll take you moving your hands far apart while playing to make you remember that you're not playing on the Xbox 360; they are seriously that good. You can also use a GameCube or Classic Controller, which are both available options, because the game is completely waggle-free. I had a wonderfully intuitive time using just the Wiimote and Nunchuk. I am also told that the game will be fully uncensored in the U.S. release, which I am sure some of the fan base of Vanilla Ware will enjoy immensely.

The sound effects, similarly, don't suffer. The vocals are the original Japanese with only subtitles, and every slash, crack and grunt manages to have a certain punch that can be sorely lacking in many games nowadays. I didn't get to hear the music clearly at E3 because of the crowds, although I have heard that it is also quite impressive.

With the right marketing and a large enough printing, Muramasa: The Demon Blade could make a lot of fans happy, especially people who are looking for a hardcore-friendly experience that can also be enjoyed by more casual fans and, well, fans of fan service.


 


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