Muramasa: The Demon Blade Hands-On Impressions

This visually stunning action game is finally leaving Japan, and we got to play it for the first time.

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Muramasa: The Demon Blade
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We've seen Muramasa: The Demon Blade before, specifically at the Tokyo Game Show last year. Then, there were no definite plans for a North American release. Fortunately, Japanese audiences won't be the only ones treated to this beautiful action game for the Nintendo Wii: Muramasa is slated for a September 2009 release in the US, with a European release due from Rising Star Games not long after that. We had a chance to get our hands on this visual stunner behind closed doors at E3 2009 and are pleased that this inspired 2D action/RPG hybrid from the makers of Odin Sphere and the underappreciated GrimGrimoire plays as good as it looks.

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First, a quick rundown of the game. Muramasa: The Demon Blade takes place in Feudal Japan, and you take control of either a female character named Momohime or a male character named Kisuke. Whichever you choose, your goal is to retrieve 108 cursed blades, though it isn't as easy as it sounds. An evil shogun is also seeking them for his own evil purposes, and it's your task to stop him, as well as the hundreds of demons and gigantic bosses that stand in your way. Like VanillaWare's previous game Odin Sphere, the gameplay is action-focused and takes place on a 2D plane. The backgrounds are the visual highlights. During our playtime, we saw sun-drenched farmland, enchanted woodlands, and dark, chilling forests, and they had a stylized look and feel similar to the developer's previous games.

When you first begin, you choose one of two difficulty levels (a third is unlocked when you complete the game). Once you choose a character (we went with the lithe Momohime), you enter this moody paradise and slash up the demons that come your way. Controls are simple. You move and jump using the nunchuk's analog stick, perform standard attacks using the A button on the remote, and unleash special attacks with the B button. You will possess three weapons at any given time, though over the course of the game, you will naturally accumulate 108 swords that you can use, each of which has its own special attack. Muramasa doesn't use any motion controls.

Once we got used to the jumping and moving, we leaped onto tree limbs to collect the glowing blue souls floating there. We scrolled from one screen to the next until we had out first encounter against a horde of terrifying demons. Using the analog stick, you can jump and float while stringing combos together. The combat looks furious and is a lot of fun, and along the way, you might enter various huts to collect items, though it was unclear during our time with the demo exactly how they can be used or how they might enhance the role-playing aspects of the game. Finally, we met a huge, haggard, hairy creature with a single eye; he resembled a giant, even-hairier James Lipton. During this fight, we discovered that weapons could break, and according to publisher Ignition Entertainment, breaking every weapon is akin to certain death. However, we managed to dispatch this horrendous beast, at which point the demo ended.

There is also a cooking/eating aspect to Muramasa: The Demon Blade, but Ignition Entertainment reps were close-lipped on the details. Nonetheless, we're eager to spend more time with Muramasa. It looks terrific and plays smoothly, and it's a game every Wii owner should be keeping an eye on.

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