Muramasa: The Demon Blade Hands-On PreviewBy Sterling McGarvey - Posted Jun 10, 2009
Amidst the fanfare of Nintendo’s press conference at E3, the company took the time to highlight some mature-geared third-party titles. Unfortunately, Muramasa: The Demon Blade didn’t make the cut for the big Tuesday. Not to take away from the likes of The Conduit or Dead Space Extraction, but that’s a real shame. Muramasa is, without a doubt, one of the best titles I saw on display at the show.
Vanillaware, the team behind the PS2 cult classic Odin Sphere, delivers a new vision that’s a bit less tactical than the developer’s previous effort. Instead, it draws from the same style of side-scrolling adventure as the likes of Super Metroid and Castlevania. Also, unlike the Norse-inspired motif of Odin Sphere, Muramasa is deeply rooted in Japanese mythology.
The visual style doesn’t boast the production values of Okami, but it’s an impressive display of classic Japanese art. Muramasa moves at a fluid pace, and that’s crucial for a game that’s so combat-heavy. You’ll step into the shoes of two characters, Kisuke, a young ninja with a bad case of amnesia, and Momohime, a princess warrior possessed by an evil warrior’s soul. Both are armed with three out of a total 108 swords to collect throughout the journey. Thanks to the two paths, Vanillaware has ensured a degree of replay value to the experience.
In my demo, there were two difficulty modes: Muso (normal) and Shura (painful). I opted for Muso to get a feel for gameplay. I picked Momohime, whom Ignition’s Shane Bettenhausen recommended for a first play-through. Like another E3 sleeper, Shadow Complex, Muramasa succeeds because it does such a great job evoking games of a bygone era while providing a contemporary facelift.
It’s intuitive to play -- jumps and slashes are easy to learn -- but it gets challenging quickly. Although you start with three swords, you’ll learn that it takes some careful planning to keep them intact. Enemies can shatter your blade if your defense and offense are sloppy, and you won’t be able to rebuild it until you’ve given it some rest. As a result, you need to keep an eye on your sword gauge and keep a constant rotation of new attacks at your disposal. Button-mashers beware. I learned this the hard way, as I broke two of my swords in my first encounter.
After fighting through a half-dozen waves of enemies, I encountered a demonic priest. It resembled a blend of a giant cyclops and “Inside the Actors’ Studio” host James Lipton. Unfortunately, the beast offered up fiery attacks instead of histrionic behavior. After some careful leaps, dodges, and attacks, I managed to fell it.
Although my time with Muramasa: The Demon Blade was rather brief, I was more impressed with it than any other game I saw for Wii during E3. During a press conference in which Nintendo did its best to appease its loyal fanbase, one of the most hardcore games on the console came from an unlikely source. Hopefully, we’ll all be richer for it when the game comes out.