A slice of reality.
When I lodged the Samurai Warriors: Katana disc into my Wii (sounds painful), something terrible must have happened. Maybe I hit my head on the TV and had a concussion, maybe I had crossed a threshold into Opposite World, or maybe the tequila was finally kicking in, because everything was strange and terribly wrong.
I was standing on the ceiling, and the television was looking at me. I waved my Wii system at a remote on the shelf and sank upwards, headfirst into the couch. As a can of soda loudly sipped me with an inverted straw, the weirdest occurrence was happening near my television screen.
I was playing Samurai Warriors and liking it, even though the overarching meta-game and the hardware performance were not up to snuff. Truly this was the opposite of every other Warriors game I have ever played. I was terrified!
GR has weathered about sixteen slight variations on the same run-to-base, press-X action game, and what do you know? Dynasty Warriors 6 dropped last week. After so many iterative sequels, however, Katana feels like a breakthrough. Though it sacrifices a little quality and functionality, it turns the Warriors formula into a fun and accessible experience.
Unlike its cousins and their third-person perspective, you peer into the Katana world from the hero’s point of view. It’s a first-person rail shooter (and slicer): point the remote and press buttons to stab and shoot, or swing and thrust the remote to perform special moves. The motion-control gestures can be slippery. Some “mini-game” activities, such as pumping your arms to run, don’t feel as rewarding as they should, but in general you will land enough hits and breeze through the game feeling fine.
Katana is not the first samurai shooter, but you can see years of Warriors iteration baked into the extra game mechanics and story content. You can freely mix motion and button pressing into longer, tricky combos, breaking the old Warriors malady of one-button combat and distinguishing Katana from shooters like Time Crisis. It isn’t the realistic sword-slinging game that Wii owners crave, but it’s a pretty welcome step past doing one attack and pressing X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X.
You are, as always, cast as a nameless, faceless rising star who wins key battles with and against familiar Warriors heroes. The story and core action scenes have been broken into much more appealing chunks. This edition’s campaign mode is split between four separate story arcs, starting with the standard "unite the land" campaign, and each arc is broken further into a wealth of unique scenarios. Sadly, you can’t bring a friend along for these adventures, which is one of the game’s biggest oversights.
Furthermore, the slow, simplistic narration will lull you to sleep, because Katana is written for children. Distilling these complicated feudal dramas is an accomplishment in its own right, but when you’re clicking through long, slow sets of text boxes, looking for some important or interesting piece of information - and nothing shows up - it’s not enjoyable. It’s even less enjoyable when your allies start blabbing in the level, and there’s no skip button.
Where a typical Samurai Warriors level involves six or seven repetitive base raids and sub-boss battles, Katana cuts each stage down to a single three-minute task: raid one base, defeat one boss, keep the horsemen out. This bite-sized breakdown of the Warriors formula is delightfully different. Even boss battles have been fleshed out to have players use unique sets of patterns and strategies.
Though I enjoyed the hell out of Katana’s moment-to-moment gameplay, limited functionality and slow progression drag the experience back to “meh”. The lack of co-operative multiplayer hits hard, more so because the head-to-head bonus levels are a riot to play. It takes a few minutes to explain all the buttons, but the point-and-shoot setup is very straightforward. Completing one of the six maps range from three to thirty minutes, as players race to survive and complete objectives.
Also missing: If you’re going to do split-screen multiplayer, how about straight-up, head-to-head dueling?
Katana isn’t the ugliest game ever, but it has its fair share of grainy textures and rough edges. It gets worse with so many enemies jumping right in front of the camera. Nothing pops out of the flat colors, both in the game and during the motionless menu screens, so Katana may put your eyes to sleep as your fingers continue to blast away.
As you might have noticed, I must have woken from my concussion or escaped the Twilight Zone, because I’m able to complain about Samurai Warriors again. And you were worried about me… weren’t you? Honestly though, for all these complaints, Katana is a fun and promising new direction for the series, enough to make me anticipate a more polished, more multiplayer-friendly follow-up.
(Eek!, I just asked for another Warriors game. Duke might make me turn in my GR badge after this one!)