Yours truly was among the first to start calling out the Wii as a poor shadow of a real console. A Little Tykes Coupe next to a Mercedes. A colorful toy xylophone next to a Gibson Les Paul. Lately, however, the Wii has been undergoing a little bit of a Renaissance. Games like Phantom Brave: We Meet Again, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom and Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles are making the Wii look like a tasty option for true gamers. Muramasa: The Demon Blade is one of the titles injecting life into the consoles’ mundane lineup, and it offers up a great deal of entertainment to old-school gamers.
The game features many control options. Like past Wii games, it allows the use of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, Classic Controller or Gamecube controller. I, personally, use the Classic Controller (I actually prefer the feel of a control pad for this game), but all three actually work well. The game handles largely as you would expect a 2D action game to, with a couple exceptions. Each character holds three swords at a time. Each sword is slow but strong, fast but weak or in the middle. With every blocked strike or landed attack, the sword itself takes damage. This occurs until either the sword is sheathed, or it snaps amidst battle. From there, you are forced to either fight with the broken sword (which does only about 20% of its normal damage) or press the left trigger (at least, that’s where it is on the Classic Controller) which acts as a “smart bomb”, damaging all enemies on the screen while letting you change weapons. Changing between weapons forces you to change your tempo during battle, which actually keeps lengthy fights relatively fresh. Also, the game allows the use of items, which have a variety of effects, from healing to escaping, that get mapped to the X button. On top of these, Muramasa takes other liberties with the established formula, peppering in things like random encounters, some RPG elements and upgradeable weapons.
While everything comes together nicely, the game isn’t perfect. As fun as the combat can be, it is generally repetitive. While levels are fairly short and are concluded with a fun boss fight, the game ends up feeling redundant if you sit down and play it for more than a couple hours at a time. Also, there is no control configuration menu, so if you’re a guy like me who actually wants to be able to jump by pressing up on the directional pad OR hitting a button, you’re out of luck. Also, there is a noticeable lack of anything other than the story mode. While Muramasa would lend itself pretty well to a co-op mode, a la Metal Slug, there is none to be had. Still, these are fairly small issues, and the game ends up being resoundingly entertaining.
The game’s strongest suit, by far, is its graphics. It has absolutely excellent sprites, splashed across vivid backgrounds, with fluid animations for each character and enemy. The only thing about the graphics is that they are so clearly not in high-definition. We’ve seen lots of HD sprites in recent years, from Alien Hominid HD to Street Fighter 2 HD Remix to Blazblue, and seeing high-quality sprites in low definition comes close to being painful. Like many other titles, the clear technological gap between the Wii and its Xbox 360 and PS3 is a serious blow to the title’s visual quality. Still, its finer points cannot be understated. I just wish it came out on the Xbox 360.
Ultimately, the game has a lot to offer actual gamers. While it sometimes feels like more of a quality WiiWare/PSN/Live Arcade game, I encourage you to pick it up. It’s got more than a few “wow” moments and it’s a much-needed addition to a Wii lineup dominated by expansions to mini-game compilations (yeah, I’m talking about you, Wii Fit and Wii Sports). Even though it’s not something you can just plow through in an afternoon, you can pop the game in, do some hacking and slashing and just go at your own pace. If you’re not getting it now, it’s something every Wii owner should put on their holiday list.