The developers of the Way of the Samurai series bring the East to the Old West in Samurai Western, pitting a lone swordsman against all manner of masked outlaws amid the tumblin' tumbleweeds. Unlike that series, though, this is a straightforward linear action game with no branching paths, no dialogue trees, and nothing to do but violently dismember lots and lots of enemies. While the fast-paced combat can be entertaining, its appeal is severely weighed down by the ridiculous amount of repetition in the battles, environments, and enemies and by the brain-dead opponent AI and bizarre design choices. There are a wealth of extras to unlock in this game, but only the most tolerant completists will make it that far.
The name Samurai Western immediately conjures an image of a traditional samurai warrior making his somber way through the land of stagecoaches and saloons, and that's pretty much how the game is set up. Gojiro Kiryuu is unceremoniously plunked down in the middle of a Western town, is beset by outlaws, and starts stabbing. As the game progresses, it evolves that he has come to the United States to chase his older brother, who put aside the samurai way to take up firearms under the service of a wealthy, oppressive landowner named Goldberg. You'll fight your way through 15 stages of Goldberg's inexhaustible supply of minions in order to reach said sibling and a showdown with the bristly mustached bad man himself. The story isn't particularly motivating and has a habit of throwing in random enemy characters who have no bearing on anything besides rasping nonsense terms or giggling briefly at Gojiro before he slashes them to pieces. The narrative is bland and predictable, so that leaves the action as the game's sole possible salvation.
And on the surface, the combat isn't that bad. Gojiro can attack his enemies with short combinations of slashes, pick up objects in the environment to shield himself with, destroy some surrounding items like tables or balconies, and leap and dodge. He can use a variety of different swords that you'll unlock as you progress, and the weapons each have different properties. High-stance swords let you sweep enemies off their feet, low-stance swords deflect bullets deftly, sheathed-stance swords are extremely powerful but cannot deflect, and dual-wield swords won't let you pick up items but will protect you from getting knocked down by enemy assaults. As you fight and defeat foes, you'll gradually fill an MP meter that you can then use to trigger a high-powered attack mode with your given weapon. The real trick to the battle system is abusing the living hell out of the dodge button, which lets you avoid incoming bullets by tapping it as many times as you need to. While each of the swords plays a bit differently, by alternating your slashes with maniacal dodge presses you'll be able to get through just about everything. It isn't all that complex or layered of a system, but at its best, whirling through a hail of gunfire while gutting multiple enemies in egregious fountains of blood is pretty amusing.
However, there are a number of problems that mar this perfectly serviceable form of violence. Firstly, the game is only 15 stages long, and it has only five areas that you'll go back to over and over again. It's not as if you're going to, say, different spots of that same environment; you go back to the same exact place and fight the same exact enemies, which just spawn in different areas and in different numbers than before. Furthermore, these areas are really small, so as you proceed, increasing spawn numbers means you'll fight a bunch of bandits, do a 180-degree turn, and fight a bunch more. What gets nasty is that there are certain enemies that throw dynamite (which explodes after a period of time) or bombs (which explode on contact with someone), and if a bunch of bombers spawn behind you, you can get exploded to death before you even realize what's going on. The game's camera won't help you out much, because it frequently swings around crazily, particularly in small indoor areas where it likes to get caught inside walls and such.
Boss battles aren't much better. In fact, most bosses are downright stupid, and if you leave their spawn area, they won't bother to chase you most of the time. What's unintentionally hysterical is roaming one of the small areas trying to get a health pickup while the boss is not only standing in his room, but taking bomb damage from his own minions who are apparently not smart enough to stop chucking explosives when you're not even in range. Bosses also seem to like getting stuck on level geometry every so often, meaning either easy dispatch from behind or irritating maneuvering to be able to even attack them. So, while fights can be showy, the relative ease of combat combined with unintelligent foes of the same type in ever-increasing numbers makes even dramatic bullet-dodging wear thin after the fifth stage or so.
The game seeks to reward you for all the tedium by providing a large number of unlockable items, from accessories like cowboy boots and lassos, to parrots and monkeys, to bandanas, bunny masks, pirate hats, afros, and more. You can also unlock additional stages (not new areas, mind you--just more iterations of the same areas) and new characters for both the single-player mode and the two-player co-op mode, which lets you play through the single-player matches with a friend. While a number of the unlockable items are crazy and awesome, the amount of mindless slashing you have to do through the same six enemy types to earn the points to get them doesn't seem worth it.
And the journey isn't that easy on the eyes, either, as Samurai Western manages decent animation for characters in the battlefield but matches that with bad-looking textures, jerky cutscene animation, really rough-looking character models in close-ups, and average environments. The game is prone to graphical slowdown, particularly in the later levels with large numbers of enemies spawning and shooting all over the place. The game's sound is predominated by music that runs the gamut of banjo-strumming, fiddle, scraping, and whistling, while at times infusing a more Eastern sort of mystical edge, and it sounds decent. The sound effects aren't all that notable aside from the wet sound of blood gushing from defeated enemies, but there are a number of enemy voice clips and some cutscene speech in the game, and most of it's pretty mediocre. Delivery ranges from the utterly unfeeling to the downright comical, though the voice work is not helped much by the dull script.
Samurai Western is all about repetition. If you can stomach staying in largely the same places and killing the same people over and over and over again in a bid to win your character a pair of sunglasses or to unlock an elementary schoolgirl to murder varmints with, feel free to check out this game. Everyone else can have any curiosity sated by a short rental.