Those of the Bushido Blade cult are undoubtedly anxious about the imminent PS2 release of Kengo: Master of Bushido - the spiritual third installment in the series, and the only game in the series not published by Square. But based on our recent hands-on with the game's latest build, it's safe to say that Kengo is a different game entirely.
While many of the gameplay mechanics native to the series are present in Kengo, there is one drastic difference that distances Kengo's gameplay from the other Bushido Blade games - the characters have life bars. The games in the Bushido Blade series were widely known for their realistic take on the fighting genre, down to the trademarked one-hit kills that characterized the series. Bushido Blade was part strategy, part fighting, as you were forced to take a more deliberate, strategic approach to sword fighting. The life bar essentially eliminates the strategy of the previous Bushido Blade games and encourages more berserk tactics. A blow that would have been fatal in the previous Bushido Blade games now only takes a large chunk off your life bar. One-hit kills are still possible, but because they take a considerable amount of time to complete and draw heavily from your soul meter - another one of Kengo's new gameplay mechanics - the game is more suited to fast, shallow attacks that are more accurate and difficult to parry.
The supermoves are another of Kengo's new features. Not as flashy or as ridiculous as the supermoves found in your standard fighter, the supermoves in Kengo are actually just lethal attacks that usually take a considerable amount of time to execute. The moves are regulated by your soul meter - a power bar that fills depending upon your tactics. Being aggressive and charging the enemy fills your soul meter, while showing cowardice and backing away from the fight will deplete your soul meter. Activating a supermove is as simple as holding down the triangle button, which causes your character to stop and charge, for a moment, before unleashing the onslaught. Once activated, your character will slowly advance toward your opponents and nail them with a series of rather damaging blows. All of the characters present in the preview build exhibited a similar style of special move. While the supers are quite lethal, you will usually find them relatively easy to avoid. you have discharged a super, the enraged enemies will simply attack in the direction from which the super was executed. This then makes it rather easy for you to just circle behind the enraged enemies and apply the necessary sword strokes.
Kengo also features a nifty dodge function, which lets you safely roll away from enemy attacks. The dodges boast a generous range, which make this function one of the better tactics in the game. Bushido Blade's well-known fighting stances didn't seem to be fully implemented in this build. While there was no function to alter your fighter's stance, the characters did so automatically depending on several factors such as the distance from their enemies and the direction they were facing. Lightweight has assured us that the game will carry a feature that will give you the ability to change your fighting stance on the fly, and we hope to see this in a future build of the game.
Graphically, Kengo seems to be coming along rather decently. Many of animations are still jerky and awkward, but it's safe to assume that Lightweight will clean them up before the game ships. The stages included in this build seemed tighter and simpler than what we've seen in previous installments. Still, the backgrounds were nicely detailed and showed plenty of promise.
When considered independently from the excellent legacy of the Bushido Blade series, Kengo: Master of Bushido seems to be a decent enough sword-fighting game. However, when compared directly with the games it was inspired from, Kengo shouldn't be considered the sole sequel to Bushido Blade 2, as Lightweight took Kengo's gameplay in a completely different direction and abandoned most of the elements that made Bushido Blade so successful. Still, there's plenty of time to change things and add elements before the game is scheduled to ship, and Lightweight could very well have an ace up its sleeve.