Reviewed: April 28, 2006
Released: April 11, 2006
Samurai Champloo you say? A wacky hip-hop romp through feudal Japan with two swordsmen who would just as soon try to kill each other as anyone else and a girl who couldnít stay on her feet if they were nailed to the ground? Sounds like fun, sign me up.
Well, I wish this game was that quirky and fast paced. Samurai Champloo: champloo delivers on the action, but falls quickly into stale repetition. By the third or fourth stage you feel like you just canít be bothered to kill that next minion, youíll come back when itís someone important to kill. I mean there are separate over-lapping stories, much like happens in the show, but really you canít help getting bored. Maybe itís the voice ďactingĒ.
A mindless button masher is something that I generally welcome. Itís light, fluffy, the video game equivalent of a popcorn flick. Jump in, march a bloody path through the endless faceless minions (now being sold in bulk, itís like youíre loosing money if you only buy one), and curb stomp some bosses. Samurai Champloo here is no different from the genre in that respect, but it does offer up its own unique take on the theme.
First off your combo attacks are linked into the background music. In the top center of the screen there is a combo tree showing you what sequences of buttons will get you a combo, and these trees change depending on what music you have selected. Not only that, but you can switch between two tracks at any time, and you can extend the combo tree by smacking guys around.
Extending the combo tree also allows you to enter hyper mode by landing a hit with the proper combo. Doing this gives you a few seconds of impossibly fast hits, useful for those pesky bosses or just dispatching flunkies faster. Not only this, but there is also counter attack mode and ďtate modeĒ. Counter attacking basically works like a simple version of Simon; buttons come up on the screen, hit them and get the counter.
ďTate modeĒ however, is weirder. When an enemy pops up with a star over his head, hit him. Then you get dropped into a mode where you hit the button displayed, then go on a button mashing frenzy, much like I would imagine a lab rat on crack would do if the button was part of a machine that dispensed more crack. If you succeed in getting over 100 hits in before time is up then you go into an even weirder mode where you kill 100 guys. After all of that you unlock a secret and then go back to the game where, you guessed it, youíre killing more guys.
All this sounds great, but there are some problems. The stages are very simple, usually just consisting of straight paths that you run down to an arena at the end. Not only this, but the enemies are endless, so sit there and kill as much as you want because it wonít stop. Itís not like they are particularly challenging either, mostly they are just punching bags appearing periodically for your amusement.
Also, this is one of the most load happy titles Iíve ever seen. Not only are there long, poorly animated story sequences, they are often broken up into multiple parts. There was one instance where I skipped through six story scenes before I got to any game play, so thatís at least double that number in loading screens. Think like youíre playing a really trashy version of Xenosaga that they didnít even try to put make-up on.
What bugged me the most about this game were the screen transition controls. In general they are simple, you get to the edge of the screen and youíre prompted to hit the circle button, you do so and mayhem resumes. The first thing that really broke the game experience was that there were occasional gates you would run across which needed a certain number of special coins to pass through. While I dig that historically speaking that was kind of accurate, at that time in Japan travel was restricted by the Shogun, however in the game suddenly running into a door that is manned by a head in a box seems more than a little out of place with the rest of the game.
Worse though, is that in Mugenís fourth stage (itís really stage three, but the first one is numbered 0) they change from the circle button to the X button. This, of itself, is no big deal, if you just hit the X button once and then the screen changed. Instead of that much more sensible option the game designers decided that it would be cool to do a wall jump there to get through to the next screen. Never mind that this is the only place in the game where you can wall jump. Never mind that the only prompting the player is given is to just hit the X button. Theyíre smart folks, those gamers, they can figure it out.
I ran through every button on the controller twice, changed controllers and tried it again, decided the game was broken and finally got a clue from the producer at Namco Bandai that the double jump maneuver was the solution. So thereís the heads up to all you kids who donít have access to the gameís producer.
As mentioned above, graphically, this game is something less than a stunner. The opening is a rendered version of the showís opening credits, unfortunately the models are terrible. Fuu, the resident cute but horribly inept girl, looks closer to ninety than nineteen and Jin and Mugen look like they just survived a famine. The proportions on the characters are skewed as well, with everyone having arms like gorillas, which may have been a deliberate decision but one that should have been examined a little more closely.
Animations in the game arenít too bad, if you arenít looking too closely. For the most part the combat animations are good, though a little stiff and jerky. You feel like youíre watching a movie with a couple of frames missing every few seconds, so you go from pose to pose with nothing fluid in between. Worse though is the lip-synching. If the characterís mouths moved just out of synch with the dialogue that would be tolerable, because any movement at all is an improvement at this point.
Stylistically, the game is very much in line with the series. The characters all look at least vaguely like they should, and the crazy samurai soap come hip-hop remix feel is still there, but it really just ends up rather flat. Mostly because they rely on the same scene cuts and bits of ďwackyĒ again and again, so instead of getting the same sort of inspired craziness itís just like someone copied and pasted a bunch of Dalis together.
The environments you play through are also lacking, not in details, but just in general. You run through narrow paths that are blocked in by only the vaguest of backgrounds, and the textures and features along that path are rather pixilated and just poorly put together.
I would talk about special effects, but really, you can only beat a dead horse for so long before it becomes hamburger. Suffice it to say there is a reason that people who are burned by acid prefer to wear masks, and why itís not considered polite to point and stare at people who have physical deformities. Itís just not polite.
With music being as intimately tied into the combat system as it is you would expect there to be a good variety of tracks in the game, and you wouldnít be disappointed. There is nothing here that would be considered a top twenty contender, but the music has phat beats (check it out, Iím hip, I swear) and gets along nicely with the combos they are synched up with.
This is all well and good, but the voice acting is terrible. T-E-R-R-I Ė well you get the idea. I think they got the same people who do the English language of the show to do the game, but itís hard to tell. Mugen is especially erratic, sometimes sounding like a completely different actor during the same cut scene. Pronunciations run the gamut from good to painful, and thatís not even including the actual Japanese words they left in the game.
While there are some unique elements to the controls and presentation for the game, it still suffers from the same problems of all button mashers in that the game gets repetitive quickly. At a shelf price of $39.99 itís a bit steep for what you get. Unless youíre a huge fan of the series and just have to have it to complete your collection, Iíd say wait for it to hit the bargain bins. There are some secrets and in game collectable sorts of things, but I canít really see a whole lot of replay value here.
The unfortunate thing about licenses is that they basically are cash cows for the industry these days. While I eagerly anticipate the next blockbuster title as much as any gamer, I dislike being milked for the money to make it.
Samurai Champloo: champloo is halfway in between something that was rushed out the door to capitalize on the popularity of the series and a game that actually had some crafting. Itís worth the look for some mindless fun, but the price of admission is a bit high.