I had the opportunity to see a lot of publisher booths on the E3 show floor, and Ignition Entertainment's definitely ranked among my favorites. It was undeniably classy, with clean white-on-whites framing a modest handful of hardcore titles. Once you finally managed to pull your eyes from the stunning spectacle that was King of Fighers XII, they would fall on a game that was just as captivating: Muramasa: The Demon Blade.
"3D games are great and all, but man, look at what we lose."
Once upon a time, Japanese developer Vanillaware was an internal studio at Atlus. It was responsible for Princess Crown in 1997, an Action RPG with 2D visuals that pushed the Sega Saturn for all it was worth. Grim Grimoire and Odin Sphere on the PlayStation 2 only served to solidify the developer's reputation, and now with the upcoming release of Muramasa: The Demon Blade, the legacy has been all but cemented. So many developers are focused on driving their tech forward with higher polygon counts and more reactive lighting, but this title seems to eclipse many of their efforts with hand-drawn landscapes and characters that will stick in your mind long after setting the controller down. Did I mention that this is on the Wii?
Stepping up to the demo, I was given a choice between two characters: a male, Kisuke, and a female, Momohime. Both seemed to draw from the same set of controls and had different but parallel storylines that revolve around acquiring the cursed demon blades. Difficulty came in two flavors as well, and I selected the decidedly tougher Shura mode for my first attempt. I'm happy to report that I was defeated before reaching the end, and while the easier Muso mode was something of a walk in the park, there is definitely a challenge to be found here.
Being a side-scrolling action game, Muramasa controls exactly how you want it to. I would imagine that playing this game with attacks bound to gestures and waggle would result in the player looking something like an epileptic chimpanzee. Fortunately, they are executed with a simple press of a button, with more advanced techniques also incorporating analog direction from the nunchuk. A character carries two swords at a time, and these present the main dynamic in combat. One weapon will be slow while dealing heavy damage, with the second being more agile and allowing for some very satisfying aerial combos. Using one sword too much will deplete its Soul Gauge and cause it to break, but this is only temporary. Filling the Soul Gauge to maximum, on the other hand, allows the character to unleash a devastating full-screen attack upon switching weapons.
During my hands-on time, a spectator's comment met my ears and I couldn't help but smile when I heard it: "3D games are great and all, but man, look at what we lose." Muramasa's artwork really is that good, and is sure to be the focus of a conversation where this game is concerned. Whether it was the sun setting over rolling fields or the eerie glow of moonlight penetrating a deep forest, the stages left me wanting nothing more than to see what was next. We won't have to wait too long, fortunately - the scheduled release is this September. Also, if you're interested in learning more about feudal Japan's war for these demonic swords, keep your eyes peeled for TNL's import review of Oboro Muramasa Youtouden.