Published on September 9th, 2012 | by octaneblue1
Review: Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword
Developer: Grounding Inc.
System(s): 3DS eShop
Release Date: February 2, 2012
Nintendo has published several titles for their eShop service on 3DS, many of which are completely new IPs. These include Freakyforms: Your Creations, Alive! and Pushmo. Featuring engaging, timing-based sword fights, Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword is another new IP on the eShop. It’s certainly worth your time and attention, but it will take both of those traits to get through this quest.
The story begins with the kidnapping of Princess Cherry Blossom by the evil enemy forces. The titular hero goes off on an adventure to rescue her, but is first trained by Master Melonbowl, a friendly Kappa, in the game’s opening tutorial. The tutorial gives you a great look into the gameplay and controls. The controls in the game are simple. The A button swings your sword, the B button is used for evasion, and the Circle Pad moves Sakura Samurai around. The L button is used for blocking, the Control Pad direction are for items, and the Y button does your strong attack once the appropriate meter is filled.
The gameplay of Sakura Samurai is more focused on timing and precision, and not going crazy with slashes everywhere. In a sense, the gameplay is a bit similar to Nintendo’s own Punch-Out!! series. You can only attack enemies when they’re off-guard, and this is done after they attack. Enemies will broadcast when they’re about to attack. For instance, the sword-wielding enemies with grab the hilt of their sword when they’re about to strike. This is your chance to dodge and counterattack. Mistiming a dodge results in damage, and mistiming a counterattack will cause the enemy to block or avoid damage altogether. You do not want enemies to block or resort to blocking yourself, as that will decrease the sharpness of your sword. This results in much weaker hits.
Dodging enemy attacks is beneficial, as not only do you avoid damage completely, but the game makes a tally of how many dodges Sakurai Samurai does in a row, in the form of Precision Points. These can be sold at the Item Shop for extra gold. The Precision Point amount goes straight down to zero if you get hit. So if you accumulate a high amount of Points, it gets pretty frustrating to see that all that time and effort is taken away at an instant. Sometimes it’s more frustrating because the camera is focused on the enemy you’re fighting, and while dodging, you’ll dodge into part of the stage or another enemy. So you’ll get stuck for a split second and the enemy gets a free hit on you. Because of this, you’ll have to be aware of your surroundings.
Defeating an enemy sometimes results in drops, such as Coins or Petals, the latter of which restores a bit of health. Once you defeat all the enemies in the area, you’ll be taken to the map screen and you can move onto the next level. Clearing a level the first time nets you a piece of Heart; collecting two of these extends your life meter. There are towns scattered about the map. Here, at the respective buildings, you can save your game at the inn, upgrade your sword, and buy items.
There are three boss battles in the game, and they can prove challenging to defeat. The bosses hit harder, and have a larger variation in their attacks. Without spoiling too much, the final boss of the game is quite insane with his attacks, and just surviving the ordeal takes complete concentration. In the boss stages, you’ll have to fight chains of enemies before engaging the actual boss. So you’ll definitely want to stock up on items and save your game at the inn beforehand. If you fail at the boss fight, it’s best to just turn off your 3DS. While this may seem like an odd recommendation, if you fail, you’ll continue with whatever you have left. So you’ll have to backtrack and fight more enemies for more gold to buy more items.
The graphics of Sakura Samurai are decent for the most part. The character models are nice, and some parts have a cool watercolor-look to them. The environments look pretty bland and barren, though. The music in the game is pretty nice too, with relaxing tracks for the map screen and towns, but tense tracks for the enemy and boss fights.
As you defeat bosses in the game, you’ll unlock 30, 50, and 100-Thug Challenges. As the name implies, these are survival modes against a set amount of enemies. There’s also the Rock Garden, which keeps track of the steps you’ve taken with your 3DS in Sleep Mode. More steps causes more cherry blossoms to bloom, creating a pretty garden. These unlocks can be decent diversions, but nothing really worth pouring much time into. Defeating the final boss unlocks a hard mode, where you only have 3 Hearts, no access to healing items, and enemies deal double damage. Good luck with that, if you attempt it.
Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword is not for everyone. Its punishing difficulty makes this one hard to recommend for those looking for a more laid-back adventure. But for those who are looking for tense action and challenge, definitely check this one out.
+ Engaging action
+ Easy-to-learn gameplay
+ Great soundtrack
– Difficulty may turn off some
– Bland environments
– Mediocre post-game content
Final score: 4 out of 5