We could use a transfusion.
We've seen many strange things over the years, but recently the oddities are multiplying with more tenacity than rabbits popping Viagra. Dung beetle simulators, magical dating games, and now Sega brings us our first paraplegic samurai warrior.
Yup, that's right, the quirky, entertaining and hopelessly dated hack 'n slash brawler Blood Will Tell lets you play as a limbless swordsman. But while the character progression and leveling up add some spice, the bland gameplay leaves plenty to be desired.
What Blood Will Tell does best is successfully immerse you in its surprisingly engaging story, likely due to the fact that it's adapted from the manga Dororo by legendary manga storyteller Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy). The game stars Hyakkimaru and his androgynous pal Dororo. Legend states that a savior will come to end the suffering of Japan's feudal period by vanquishing the 48 Fiends, who secretly fuel the fires of dissent. So the Fiends, being such, claimed 48 body parts from the chosen one, Hyakkimaru, upon his birth. However, a doctor/mad scientist created wooden prosthetics (which double as concealed weapons) for our hero, allowing him to pursue his destiny, crush the Fiends and, most importantly, reclaim his stolen body parts.
As Hyakkimaru (and occasionally Dororo), you slice and dice your way through over 100 different enemy types, including the 48 Fiends and 60 demons. Along the way, you'll spend time cracking open every crate, box and barrel for hidden weapons and items to increase your abilities and attack level.
Reclaiming your body parts from the 48 Fiends gives you additional powers or awareness, which in turn affect the gameplay itself. When you find your left eye, you'll be able to see in color. When you find your nose, detecting the stink of demons becomes much easier, causing your controller to rumble when one is nearby. It's an interesting, weird feature that gives the game its unique feel.
Your encounters with the Fiends are almost always in the form of end-level boss battles. Some of the Fiends are not much bigger than you, while others are towering monstrosities, ranging from nasty Tiamat beasts to strange ghostly apparitions and ghastly multi-armed deities. Though they can be quite imposing, pretty much every one can be beaten by learning its patterns through trial and error. Skill takes a back seat to patience and repetition.
Justice is meted out mostly through your various combos. These are handled relatively well, with a good number of blade attacks for our hero's swords and his peculiar sword arms, which he brandishes by casting off his wooden prosthetic forearms. Pretty nifty!
You'll also do damage with a growing list of powerful ranged Spirit Attacks. Your Spirit gauge is replenished as foes are dispatched, and cracking open the many containers scattered throughout the game will occasionally yield additional Spirit attacks. If your attack connects, you can deal even more damage by quickly pressing the button sequence that conveniently appears on screen, resulting in a huge combo for major damage. These are undoubtedly the best-looking moves in the game, with great lighting and particle effects to pump up the brutality.
Rounding out Hyakkimaru's offensive repertoire are his knee cannon and gattling gun arm. These are stationary attacks aided by a floating cursor for aiming. While not the most inspiring or balletic ordinance for a samurai, these ranged attacks do come in handy.
And so does Hyakkimaru's eventual sidekick, Dororo. The few levels that require you to play as him/her/it feature gameplay more suited to Dororo's agility and thievery. This is also where the game suffers the most, with incessant platform jumping and a gross lack of action. Luckily, these levels are few and far between, but they will definitely make you second guess a second run once you've finished the game.
In a twist, a second player can play as Dororo during the levels where the CPU would normally be at the helm. Sadly, this turns out to be just an afterthought since the camera only follows Hyakkimaru, making a joke out any sort of functional co-op feature. Dororo is much more useful under the computer's command.
Speaking of the camera, it could use a serious overhaul. You can rotate and snap the camera back to center, but the vantage point will occasionally shift, forcing you to rewire your brain as the controls may be reversed. Now forward is back, left is right, and so forth. Ugh!
Another less forgivable issue is the dated graphics engine. Blood Will Tell looks more like a first-generation Sega Dreamcast game than one coming out at the tail end of the Playstation 2. Washed out graphics, rough edges, bad character models – it's just not polished.
Nor is the A.I. Enemies are mindless and predictable, leading to Blood Will Tell's biggest problem: boring repetition. Although the combos are cool, there are simply not enough of them. The game lacks the style and verve of greats like Devil May Cry or Onimusha.
Ultimately, the dated feel, dumb enemies and repetitive gameplay leave you wanting more. The blood is decent and Osamu Tezuka tells a great story, but the will to play just isn't there.