The 3D samurai experience has come a long way since the days of Onimusha, a game that masterfully adopted the Resident Evil engine and turned back the clock to ancient Japan and a world filled with all manner of creepy demons. It was atmospheric and exciting, albeit very short, ultimately ushering in a new genre, one that has evolved for better or worse to more recent offerings like Genji: Dawn of the Samurai. A fan of the genre will no doubt be a fan of this game--it has lush visuals, and from the 3 playable levels, a lot of customizability, though so far, my biggest concerns are the difficulty level and long-term playability.
Genji shares elements of Shinobi, Bujingai, and of course Onimusha, among other offerings in the genre (it should since the development studio was founded by an ex-Capcom producer). The expansiveness of the levels and speed with which you move through them are the elements that make it so fun to pick-up-and-play. In true Shinobi-style, I was able to make use of my insane agility to climb on top of buildings to find hidden items, descend from cascading waterfalls, and run through shallow streams while dispatching throngs of armor-clad thugs and, hungry for more, the game let me re-enter areas with re-spawned enemies to fight to my heart's content.
As either the samurai or the huge bald dude, I tried out various weapons, armor, and accessories, such as flame swords and a gigantic hammer. When I counter killed the freakish demon boss in mission 3, I obtained a piece of his claw, which hinted at a blacksmith portion of the game, very cool! You can level up attack, defense, and stamina and the game handled the large number of enemies on screen very well.
Where Genji attempts to really innovate is in the "counterattack" system. You hit "L1" to enter a counter state and then "square" to dispatch each enemy who charges you--if you miss the timing, you are knocked out of the counter state. The concept is interesting but doesn't have any of the difficulty that say Onimusha 3 had with the critical chain timing. This in itself isn't all that big of a deal, but within the 3 playable levels, I found less focus on precise one-hit kills and more on mashable 10+ hit combos. The difficulty just wasn't there, but it's unfair to base too much of the game on only 3 levels. Besides, this doesn't mean that Genji isn't fun; in fact I played all 3 levels multiple times to get the hang of each one. There was one particularly exciting segment in mission 2 that I replayed quite a few times. As the huge, hammer-wielding hero I fought on a bridge as enemy group after enemy group rushed me from all sides. Using the counter system, I racked up some serious combo points and had a great time overall with the huge amounts of enemies sent my way. There was minimal slowdown and the death effects, especially when countering, were tight.
The storyline wasn't well developed in the demo though there were some cinema scenes, nothing to the level of Onimusha's intros, but good enough. If anything the demo did exactly what it should, make me hungry for more. And, of course, it filled me with tons of questions. The game is set to ship sometime this fall. If you're a fan of the genre, or just action games in general, put this on your radar.