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Muramasa: The Demon Blade review

Great
AT A GLANCE
  • The unequaled visuals
  • Chaotic, satisfying combat
  • Two genuinely different quests
  • Not learning moves as you level up
  • Lots of unnecessary backtracking
  • Wii Remote handling. Use a controller!

Without question, Muramasa: The Demon Blade is the most beautiful game on Wii. Its lavish, superbly animated world shames the system's tepid 3D offerings to the point where "pretty for a Wii game" should be forever stricken from gaming phraseology. No doubt you've peeked at the screens, maybe even watched some videos, but to truly appreciate these visuals you need to experience them firsthand, a sincerely welcome task given that the backbone of the game is a battle system that allows you to chop ninjas, monsters and demons into bits.

Combat is a mix of Devil May Cry's stylish acrobatics with Castle Crasher's juggle-happy combo strings. Nearly every move can be chained into another, so you can strike two ninjas in front of you, hurl them in the air, turn around and deflect a shuriken back at another ninja across the screen, then leap into the air and continue pounding on the first two guys before they hit the ground, all without breaking a sweat. It goes on like this until they're all dead, at which point you see a brief tally screen judging your performance, and then you're running off in search of the next jaw-dropping, building-sized boss.


Sounds fun as hell, right? It truly is one of the flashiest, most satisfying combat schemes we've played in years, even though it's handled with one attack button and some flicks on the direction stick. The one-button limitation doesn’t hinder the experience, but the lack of new moves sure does - you begin the game with literally every move you'll ever know. You have access to all of your attacks from the get-go, and even though you'll gain experience, money and equipment as the hours wear on, you never learn new moves. Imagine if Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden began with Dante or Ryu in full possession of their entire battle repertoire, robbing the player of character growth and a sense of progression. It's a strange choice somewhat balanced by the forging system, the method in which you purchase new god-slaying blades.

Instead of learning new moves, you unlock new swords from a branching chart. Each sword handles roughly the same and only brings one unique special attack to the fold. Thus, you're not unlocking new weapons so much as unlocking one new special attack per sword. It's great for initial experimentation, but inevitably you'll find a special that you love, one that really racks up the combo count, and have to discard the sword it's attached to because it's too weak to fight off the next area's tougher enemies. If you dig around the chart long enough you'll find a newer, more powerful version of that special attack (as in Slash I, Slash II etc), though that makes your options appear even less varied. It’s a surprising lack of combat options for a game built around slaughtering enemies by the hundreds.


While the combat may ultimately prove shallow, Muramasa has a less tangible depth that many contemporary action games do not. It handles like an old-school, no-nonsense title from the Super NES and Genesis days, with clean and clear level structure, challenging yet enjoyable boss encounters and melodic, catchy music that'll undoubtedly live on for years after we've stopped playing. If you missed this style's heyday in the '80s and '90s, this is a perfect game to use as a buffer between today's obsession with glitz and yesteryear's devotion to design. The little problems are still there, but you're far more likely to forgive them in favor of the pervading sense of artistry, care and expertise.

Action games usually land in the 8-10 hour range for one standard playthrough. In a welcome departure, both playable characters' stories take about 6-7 hours to finish, putting the final game clock near the 15 hour mark. Even better, both Kisuke and Momohime (which literally means Princess Peach, another retro shout-out) have different stories and different bosses to tackle, so there actually is a reason for playing both sides. The second time through opened our eyes to a few more problems (lots of empty, unnecessary rooms, a vague map, several repeating backgrounds etc), but once again we're able to overlook those shortcomings and soak up the imagery instead.


This certainly isn't the first time we've seen this style though - developer Vanillaware has twice wowed the world, first with Odin Sphere and then with GrimGrimoire, both late-release PS2 titles that showed the older systems still had some life. Seeing Vanilla's third title land on Wii, however, is much more meaningful than it appearing on PS2 again, or even PS3, as Wii is in desperate need of such sturdy adventures.

Muramasa will stand out on Wii, shining as one more ray of inspiration to other developers who have passed on Wii for good. Are we saying spend $50 just to show support? No, but surely there are less deserving games sitting in your pile that could be used a trade-in fodder for one of the platform's strongest offerings to date.

Sep 8, 2009

More Info

Release date: Sep 08 2009 - Wii (US)
Available Platforms: Wii
Genre: Action
Published by: Ignition Entertainment
Developed by: Vanillaware
ESRB Rating:
Teen: Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Suggestive Themes
PEGI Rating:
Rating Pending

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21 comments

  • garnsr - September 8, 2009 9:08 p.m.

    I thought early on they were saying the waggle worked well, but this says it's no good. I never could really get into Odin Sphere, is this more accessible?
  • Romination - September 9, 2009 12:37 a.m.

    oh, no super review? I was looking forward to one... So it's like a Wii version of Castle Crashers, in a way? Too bad i'll just be fapping all over its pretty face to care.
  • Riodoku - September 9, 2009 12:47 a.m.

    Man I wish I could afford this :/. Also, I lol'd@GoNintendo people getting mad about the "you'll hate" section.
  • FriendlyFire - September 9, 2009 1:28 a.m.

    My sole question would be: why the Wii? Are the motion controls used at all (I didn't seem to notice any mention of them in the review)? Are they essential to the overall experience? I don't want to bash, but it just pains me that every single game that reviewers say "buy it, it's a good Wii game!", I notice that the game either doesn't use the Wii motion controls or allows you to use standard controls which end up being more reliable. It just strikes me as odd. I'd love to play this, in any case!
  • TrigunGunner - September 9, 2009 1:46 a.m.

    I thought it'd be a super review. First you didn't add it in the games of fall 09 in an earlier feature and then you don't give the game a super review. Pokemon Platnium got a super review, and that's just the same pokemon game plaeyed since the GB days with a face lift. Seems to me something isn't right here
  • AyJay - September 9, 2009 6:18 a.m.

    @Embolado Really? Really? Why the hell did you bother commenting? So that you might win over some Wii gamers? This game is proof that the Wii IS in the same generation as the PS3 and 360
  • crumbdunky - September 9, 2009 3:04 p.m.

    I've been waiting for this game for a while now and, you're partially right Ay Jay, the artstyle is amazingly refreshing-though whether it wouldn't look better on PS360 in HD is another matter! I do fiond it odd that they aren't using any motion controls, mind, as it's the one true advantage the Wii has, apart from install base but with a niche title like this I would imagine on PS360 it could have been a better bet sales wise. Whatever, I'll be playing it as it looks cool as and I liked OS on PS2-lets pray that it doesn't fail, like Madworld, to sell what it deserves but I really doubt it'll make much progress after les niche games have failed pretty badly to catch the Wii owners imagination lately.
  • Useoam - September 9, 2009 6:13 p.m.

    This looks awesome, and beautiful! Thank's for bringing it the appreaciation it deserves, God know any game on the Wii that won't make you "fit" needs it.
  • Corsair89 - September 9, 2009 7:45 p.m.

    I've only been able to play this for a short time thanks to college, but what I have played is absoluity stunning.
  • Cyberninja - September 9, 2009 8:09 p.m.

    thank god it does not use motion controls and yes going to pick this up soon
  • CatrParrot - September 12, 2009 7:16 a.m.

    Looks like a great game, I'll probably pick it up eventually. Let's see if Nintendo of America will do anything to advertise it. Cult classic waiting to happen, amirite?
  • husk94 - September 8, 2009 9:06 p.m.

    Ive been waiting for this beutiful game for quite a while and will be getting it...............fafafafafafafafafaffffirst
  • Pheonix03 - September 9, 2009 12:19 a.m.

    This game is by far one of the best games I have ever played! The action in Muramasa puts all 3D action combat systems to shame. Also, the graphics and music are astonishing!! With Bayonetta pushed back into 2010, Muramasa is hands-down my Game of the Year 2009. I haven't been this impressed by a game in years.
  • Embolado - September 9, 2009 12:48 a.m.

    Never gonna play, just bought a PS3 with MGS. I have pretty much given up on Nintendo.
  • TrigunGunner - September 9, 2009 1:48 a.m.

    "played" not "plaeyed". my bad
  • MrGreen - September 9, 2009 1:57 a.m.

    well something that looks good for the wii finally
  • Usgo - September 9, 2009 9:02 p.m.

    totally buying this game
  • thor0997 - September 9, 2009 9:38 p.m.

    Would have been better on a stlightly updated N64 with a large hard drive. No motion controls = no point in putting it on the wii. If the wii can do this well then clap clap, but this kind of gameplay has been done before. Brett, baby, I love you, but you know that this is treading old gound with a new set of paint. People praised Braid because it had stunning 2D visuals AND a new way to put two great gameplay elements together.(Platforming and the time foolery) This is just Castlevania in medieval Japan.
  • lewis42025 - September 9, 2009 11:54 p.m.

    i'd love to give this a try, but i'm finna buy a wii for just this game. however, i am pretty sure that it will be mostly ignored bye the wii masses which give me a sad face.
  • Awesomeforthemasses - September 10, 2009 12:42 a.m.

    I would honestly buy a Wii solely for this game, and possibly getting Okami(again).

Showing 1-20 of 21 comments

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