Muramasa: The Demon Blade Updated Hands-On

As we slice our way through feudal Japan, we realize that there's more to Muramasa than just a pretty landscape.

With all the chaos and excitement during events like the Tokyo Game Show and the Electronic Entertainment Expo, it's easy to miss a game that isn't backed by a huge publisher taking up a hefty chunk of the show floor. Muramasa: The Demon Blade, however, has always been able to stand out on its own, with its gorgeous hand-painted visuals and stunning action-packed gameplay. Developer VanillaWare (makers of Odin Sphere and GrimGrimoire) brings a fast-paced, action role-playing game to the Nintendo Wii, with the freedom to explore an intricate network of 2D levels and enough customization to keep you busy for hours. A representative from publisher Ignition Entertainment came by our office to give us some more time with this Wii exclusive, and we're happy to say that it's as fun as it looks.

There are two storylines to play through in Muramasa, both based on famous Kabuki plays. The game is set in feudal Japan, and you can follow the rogue-ninja Kisuke or play as Momohime, the tragic princess who has been possessed by an evil samurai. The two characters will make their way across Japan's charming countryside, but the experience is different depending on which character you play as. There will be some overlap in terms of bosses and levels, but we were told that for the most part you'll explore unique locations and fight character-specific bosses.

Kisuke's quest is to defeat this evil shogun, while collecting demon blades in the process. There are 108, but unless you're willing to explore every nook and cranny of Japan and learn how to forge swords, it's going to be difficult to collect all the blades in one play-through. Our demo began with Kisuke, and we watched as he hacked and slashed his way across beautiful landscapes until he came face-to-face with three giant centipedes. Boss battles are epic showdowns that require some quick thinking and sharp reflexes. He leapt gracefully from one rooftop to another, flying through the air while armed with three deadly blades. As much fun as it was to watch the game unfold, we were eager to play it for ourselves.

The mechanics in Muramasa are very simple, but that doesn't mean the game is easy. It's important to be fast and aggressive because enemies deal quite a bit of damage. The good thing is that you don't have to spend too much time figuring out what to do, because you're just using the A and B buttons to perform regular and special attacks and the analog stick to move around and jump. The game will support the Classic Controller as well as the GameCube controller, and there are no Wii motion controls anywhere to be found in Muramasa. You level as you vanquish a wide variety of enemies, many of which come in waves. After each fight, your performance is rated, and extra experience points can be earned depending on how you did. The game won't penalize you for button-mashing your way to victory, but with a bit more finesse, you could be rewarded with more XP and even special items.

What you do have to keep in mind is your sword health. It's easy to forget, and once your sword breaks, you'll make a mental note to pay more attention next time. Your sword will heal in time, but when it snaps, it takes much longer for it to be useful again. Using special attacks, blocking, and just everyday wear and tear cause your sword to lose health until you switch to another blade, giving it time to regenerate. There are items and souls to collect that will speed up the process, but if you pace yourself and swap swords when necessary, then you should be in good shape. It's tricky once you're dealing with bosses, because you can rack up some crazy hit combos, but it's crucial to keep an eye on your sword meter at the top of the screen and quickly switch up when your blade is about to break. Switching swords is a matter of holding the C button--which pauses the action--and picking the blade you want. Each sword has its own special attack, and you can only carry up to three at a time. There's a lot of customization if you want to get into sword forging and cooking, but if you want to just plow through the game, you can do that as well.

We were able to jump to Act 4 of Momohime's story to get a feel for the game, running through the snowy mountains to eventually face a bizarre hog that can transform itself into a giant green monster. Without giving away too many details of the boss battle, it's mainly a matter of figuring out how it moves and then unleashing your special attack anytime you have an opening--without breaking your blade. The action is fast, but by holding the A button and dashing across the screen, you'll slice through clusters of enemies with little effort. Using the GameCube controller might be the best option for tighter controls, especially when jumping, but the Wii Remote setup wasn't bad either. Healing items can be assigned to the D pad, so you can easily swap through items and use them.

A crude, hand-drawn map will help you keep track of where you need to go. It's possible to have to do some backtracking, but the areas themselves aren't that big if you're just running from one end to the next. You'll come across save points and towns, where you can stop and do a bit of shopping and eating. Keep an eye out for monkeys, because they'll take you to a hot spring where you can regain all of your health. In addition to being able to check out Momohime in a towel, there are some funny conversations that take place there, so it's worth making a stop.

This princess doesn't hold back.

There's some incentive to go through the game on a higher difficulty setting because there are hidden bosses available only in normal mode and a third difficulty setting to unlock once you beat the game in this mode. Depending on the player, it can take 12 to 15 hours to play through the quest to find and craft everything. For the purists out there, the Japanese voices are included and everything is subtitled, which is fitting because of the time period and storyline. With all the commotion onscreen, we didn't get a chance to listen to Hitoshi Sakimoto's score very carefully, but from the sections that we did pay attention to, the music seemed to capture the essence of the game perfectly.

We really enjoyed our time with the game, and it's obvious that Muramasa stands out because of the care that went into re-creating feudal Japan. Also, watching your character beat up enemy shogun in a flurry of sword slashes never gets old. If you're looking for an action adventure game that will take you on a journey through a fascinating era of Japanese history, then have your sword ready when Muramasa: The Demon Blade is released on September 8 in the US... though European gamers will have to wait until November to get their hands on the game when it's published in the region by Rising Star, it looks likely to be worth the wait.

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Discussion

26 comments
fang_proxy
fang_proxy

tradition of japan,samurai's,ninja's,jaw dropping sword fighting,awesome game play....if you are into anime's or japanese games.you will love this.....best game of wii!

KHann34
KHann34

This game is visually stunning and the slash 'em up game play definitely benefits from the visual flair. This game may, quite simply, be the deciding factor behind me finally purchasing the Wii. Great game.

Lisandro_v22
Lisandro_v22

looks awesome, i'm definitely picking it

eldin4444
eldin4444

well I'm getting this game looks good, stilish and I't may have a good difficult level so I'm buying this one

CybermasterX
CybermasterX

I played a bit of the Japanese import, and I must say it's a lot of fun, but half the time, I didn't know where to go or what to do, because I can't read Japanese. I also didn't know how to continue a game I had saved, so that kinda made progression in the game difficult. I really look forward to the English release of this game as I can finally play through it and understand what to do, and yes, the game IS fun.

creepy_mike
creepy_mike

It certainly looks great, but early reviews are kinda killing my excitement a bit (only a 69 average on metacritic).The consensus seems to be that the visual style is the only redeeming virtue in an otherwise simplistic, shallow and repetitive game. I'll keep my fingers crossed and probably end up at least renting it anyway, though.

wigan_gamer
wigan_gamer

Finally a game with original japanese voices, I hate when I dont get the chance to have original voices and have to suffer through epic failing dubs. Good times coming up with this game I suspect :D

cochipahue
cochipahue

the version of ninja gainden for wii.

Stepeo
Stepeo

Dude, read the article, first of all it says there are NO motion controls in this game, plus it clearly says that moving around and jumping is done with the analog stick, like in SSBB. So stop worrying

Kpt_Fantastisk
Kpt_Fantastisk

Suddenly I'm kinda worried about the controls. They say you have to use C to switch swords, but the C button is on the Nunchuck. We can therefore safely conclude that you are going to be using both controllers. So how do you attack? I surely hope we won't have to swing the remote, because eventually you'll break your wrist (considering the amount of sword-swings in this game). It was a pain getting through Okami (great game, terrible attack-function) so hopefully game developers have learned a lesson. The attack should be done in the same way as in No More Heroes; but then where will they place JUMP!? You can't jump in No More Heroes, so making A the attack button wasn't hindered by anything. I sure hope this turns out good.

skullflower
skullflower

I think I'll have to end up getting a Wii sooner rather than later, as I do really want to play this game. Muramasa would be a good XBLA/PSN title I reckon.

Joeker96
Joeker96

looks wicked, ive been waiting for this for ages

kavadias1981
kavadias1981

This game reminds me of the the 16-bit era of gaming, just with up to date graphics. A great combination in my opinion.

nintendoboy16
nintendoboy16

As I think about this a bit more, I'm begginning to understand why they said "screw motion controls". This should be good gameplay wise, but I won't use the Classic controller though, the analog sticks on that controller feel so awkward on that controller (Star Fox 64/Lylat Wars proved that). So for best results, I think the Gamecube controller is the best bet. I'm still not convinced at the Graphics though.

izayoi
izayoi

Have it pre ordered already.. hopefully with the wall scroll too. Been eying this game from the beginning. EB says sept 1 but most gaming websites says sept 8. hmm...

Bigboi500
Bigboi500

Gosh I hope this doesn't get pushed back again.

Sepewrath
Sepewrath

This is definitely going to be one of the highlights of the year, and with all the mechanics outside of the basic combat like difficulty specific AI and Bosses, should go a long way to keeping this fresh througout both campaigns. The dual campaigns certainly sounds like it wll be handled better than it was in DMC4, this game looks like it could stack up to any 3D hack and slash.

CthulhuFhtagn0
CthulhuFhtagn0

So wait...I don't need to buy an exercise bike/dance platform/vitality monitor to play this game? And it's on the Wii? I'm pleasantly surprised : )

dareough
dareough

This just got me excited for this game.

chang_1910
chang_1910

Omg.. This game sound eveb better that what I though, can't wait

nintendo-naut
nintendo-naut

@NeonNinjaLolz. :lol:Anyways, I was afriad this game would suffer from button mashing, but appears I'm wrong, thankfully. Looks awesome, and the fact that there's GCN controller compatibility and no Wii-waggle is just brilliant. Finally, a dev who got the message. "Just because it's Wii, doesn't mean you HAVE to have waggle."

NeonNinja
NeonNinja

OK, I know I was going to get this game already on day one, but any game that involves monkeys taking you to a hotspring really just climbs up the list of "most anticipated." This and Halo 3 ODST will be my two September purchases.