Muramasa: The Demon Blade - hands-on

Ninja Gaiden meets Wario Land in quite possibly the most gorgeous game of 2009

Developers Vanillaware have created a mothers-lock-up-your-daughters looker; a rich, hand-drawn 2D world, a warm bath of colour that begs your eyes to soak in it. Like the recent Wario Land, 2D enables the kind of intricate art design that would crush a 3D game. The demo opens in a dark bamboo forest – pea-green stalks in the foreground parallax-scrolling against a static background to give the impression of depth. It’s a great impression too.

Enough ogling, time for hobblin’. Your ninja – you can choose from female ninja Momohime or manja Kisuke – is accosted in short bursts by clumps of enemies that must be offed before the fight’s graded. Much like in Viewtiful Joe, combat boils down to a relatively slim move list applied with surgical precision. Bashing the A button deals out crude swordings, though prodding up on the analogue stick sends you skywards, where swipes and leaps can create massive aerial combos.

Our sword breaks. No fear: we have two more. As in Onechanbara, the blade dulls over time, so you must rotate to enable recovery. Adding to the strategy, each blade activates a different special move. Our red sword – we’ll call him Stabby Joe – rips into a single foe multiple times. The long blue blade, Lanky McStabberson, enables our ninja to split into five and pull off a nifty aerial roly-poly. Special moves eat half the blade’s health, though, so should be used sparingly.

We enter a quiet town – no enemies, but plenty of doors with flashing entrance arrows. There’s an RPG edge to proceedings that gives you good cause to explore every nook and cranny of the environment. Hoping for a health potion we enter a friendly looking house, only to find it belongs to the most ill-tempered ghost in Japan, who dedicates the next 30 seconds to kicking our exquisitely penciled ass all over his lounge.

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