If you're lucky enough to get a PS3 on launch day and you've got a burning hack-and-slash itch, Genji: Days of the Blade might look like a pretty good way to scratch it. It's stylish and pretty, and its Onimusha-style samurai-on-demon action is fast and visceral. But while its dazzling visuals and animation are a decent showcase for what the PS3 can do, don't be fooled - scratch the surface, and there's very little here that qualifies as next-gen.
Set in ancient Japan during the legendary Genpei War, Days of the Blade continues the story begun by 2005's mostly excellent Genji: Dawn of the Samurai. As you wade through dungeons, sweeping mountain landscapes and recreations of actual battles (re-imagined with lots of demons, magic and giant skullfaced crabs, of course), you'll bust out flashy, flawlessly animated sword combos on hordes of monsters and solve simple puzzles.
You'll also be able to switch between four warriors on the fly, each with their own upgradeable combos and special abilities. Acrobatic swordsman Yoshitsune returns from the first game with a new complement of Prince of Persia-style moves, and he's got his hulking, giant-pillar-swinging retainer Benkei in tow. Joining them are Lady Shizuka, a young priestess who whips around circular blades on wires, and Buson, a spear-toting god who's possessed the corpse of the first game's final boss.
Their varied talents inject a lot of variety and even a little strategy into what might otherwise be a stale exercise in button-mashing. Unfortunately, not even the cool blade-brawling can keep the game's repetitive, interminably lengthy battles interesting for long.
The main problem with Genji: Days of the Blade is that you've already played this game a million times, only it was usually a lot snappier than this. Apparently responding to complaints that the first Genji was too short, the developers decided to make each level really long and fill them with repetitive, inescapable, force field-enclosed fights against waves of baddies. Some of the levels are pretty cool, sure, but even the awesome boat-to-boat naval battle at Dannoura gets old after an hour or two of slicing up tough demon samurai and dodging offscreen archers.
Luckily, Genji has a few cool touches that keep things somewhat interesting. You've got incredibly stylish Kamui attacks, for example, which enable you to transport all nearby enemies to an alternate plane of reality. There, you can cut them all down in turn with a button-tapping minigame that leaves them helpless to defend themselves, so long as you hit the buttons on cue. You can also beef your fighters up with boosted stats or unlockable weapons that open up new combos and attacks.
Unfortunately, stuff like that gets overshadowed by the game's uncontrollable camera, which makes things way more awkward and difficult than they need to be. Sometimes it tracks you around just fine, but it often likes to switch between constant close-ups of your character (meaning you'll have to look at arrows on the radar to find out where your enemies are) and fixed, "cinematic" angles that make jumping around a little more difficult.
Another thing that makes jumping puzzles a nightmare? Accidentally shaking the Sixaxis pad. If you turn motion-sensitivity on, you can dodge in any direction just by jerking the pad around, which is really neat. However, it's less neat when you've just completed a difficult jump and an involuntary movement sends you somersaulting into the abyss.
When stacked against some of the PS3's other launch titles, Genji certainly looks impressive, but it almost feels more like a polished tech demo than a robust hack-and-slasher. It's not a bad game, certainly, but if you're expecting a mind-blowing experience from your expensive new hardware, this isn't the place to start.