Muramasa The Demon Blade Preview: So, So PrettyS

Who wants a Wii game with great graphics and no motion control?

The single-player adventure or action game genres are not as popular on the Wii as mini-game compilations. But an increasing number of publishers and developers seem undeterred, making games designed to please the hardcore, like MadWorld, Dead Space Extraction and The Conduit. If that's not bold enough, then this game, Muramasa, does it without the aid of motion control, which the developers thought would not allow for the precision gameplay needed during the most frantic 2D crowd-fighting moments.

Avoiding the shakes, the game's creators are hoping other elements will sell gamers on Muramasa.

What Is It?
Muramasa The Demonblade is published by Ignition Entertainment and is one of those rare third-party Wii exclusives made for traditional gamers. It's a side-scrolling scored beat-em-up featuring two playable characters with two occasionally overlapping runs through the game's story. The stronger boy hero, Kisuke, and the speedier female warrior Momohime, are each on quests to find the Demon Blades. Each hero has dozens of swords that the player can choose to wield. The game's hook is that it looks gorgeous, exhibiting the museum-ready painterly style seen in developer Vanillaware's PS2 cult classic, Odin Sphere.

What We Saw
I played through the easy-mode E3 demo level for Momohime. She can jump and swing her swords, three of which she can carry at a time and all of which have unique secondary attacks. As with Odin Sphere, the character's progression is paced across discrete side-scrolling stages barely wider than a screenshot. Clearing the enemies out in one of them will cause a scoreboard to appear, ranking player performance and adding experience points to unlock new swords.

How Far Along Is It?
The game is already out in Japan, so even though it's not going to be sold in the U.S. until September, it doesn't seem like much will change.

What Needs Improvement?
Separate Lives: Even though the game's two protagonists adventure through 20 of the same levels out of a total of 40, there is no overlap between a player's progress playing as one or the other — no shared experience points, no traded items... nothing. In fact, the player can only commit a save file to their play-through of one character. This prevents a player from hopping back and forth between characters without employing multiple save slots. Such a system seems like it divides Muramasa into two games, and we're left wondering if there's any advantage to that design. It's hard to see what it would be.

Really Long Health Bars: This is not a universal bias, but some gamers don't want to fight a boss whose screen-wide health bar represents maybe a sixth of its overall health. Five more screen-wide health bars to deplete after that.

Muramasa The Demon Blade Preview: So, So PrettyS

What Should Stay The Same?
Those Beautiful Things: Screenshots of this game look great. Movies do too. Seeing it in person is no less visually stimulating. Characters are colorfully drawn, sunsets and wheat fields are painted to look equally splendid. Enemies are worth a gawk, some of them massive storybook paintings come to virtual life.

Motion-Free: Muramasa is played with a thumbstick for movement and jumping, as well as just a few of the Wii remote and nunchuck buttons activating attacks and special attacks. It's hard to see how motion control would add anything constructive.

Broken Swords: The one limitation in the game's easy mode — as opposed to its other difficulty level, which is said to be ultra-hard — was the decaying of the player's sword. Spam the same sword attack buttons too much and that sword breaks. The fractured swords restore themselves over time, but the minutes during which the sword is broken force the player to change weapons and sometimes change strategies. That's an interesting wrinkle to a combat system that otherwise seems to be about as basic as it gets.

Final Thoughts
Muramasa The Demon Blade doesn't seem to have gameplay deep enough to engage gamers for a long time without some other attraction keeping players engaged. Thankfully, Muramasa has that: a graphical style as imaginative as a storybook and as beautiful as anything rendered in a 2D video game in a long time.