Who knew famous battles that actually took place in ancient Japan were so psychedelic?
Sengoku Basara is Capcom's series of combat games loosely based on the Sengoku ("Warring States") Period of Japanese history that bear more than a passing resemblance to Koei's Dynasty Warrior and Samurai Warrior series. In them, you control a general ripped from the pages of Japanese history. You run around labyrinthine battlefields, capturing camps and beating the ever-living hell out of thousands of mindlessly defenseless enemy foot soldiers. Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes brings the excitement of feudal warfare to the Wii, and it does it with a hilarious flair for the dramatic.
For a short while, feudal warfare can be exciting. Your super-powered hero has the ability to cut down enemies like stalks of wheat. As they fall you fill your "BASARA Gauge" and "Hero Gauge." Once your BASARA Gauge is full, you can unleash powerful Basara attacks, which glow like neon lights, and cause a torrent of destruction. Using a full Hero Gauge slows down time for everyone but your warrior, allowing them to deal a series of blows to the tightly packed enemy forces. Sadly that is the extent of combat strategy: Kill enough enemies until a gauge attack can be used, use it, repeat.
I guess it is good that there are plenty to kill
Each of the game's 16 generals wields a different weapon, controls differently, and possesses unique powers. Some require more strategy than others. The priestess Tsuruhime, whose childish and naive character seems more akin to a schoolgirl than a priestess, uses a bow so she's not well suited to up-close combat. Others use their own unique combat techniques such as demonic powers, rapid-fire pistols, or a giant steel ball chained to their wrists.
Sengoku Basara is a strange game. As can be surmised from above, the game's characters are bizarre. A good example of how Sengoku Basara treats its historical basis is the character Date Masamune. The historic Date Masamune was known as a brilliant, if impulsive, tactician who went on to found the city of Sendai. Due to his missing eye and military achievements he gained the moniker "The One-Eyed Dragon." Date Masamune of Sengoku Basara takes his title to a strangely near-literal level. Masamune constantly spouts dialog about his "dragon's claws," which are a series of six swords he holds between his fingers, using them like a bird would use their talons.
A day in the life of Date Masamune
Sengoku Basara is thankfully aware of the comedic campiness it is selling, as such its developers decided the best approach was to increase the campiness exponentially. Everything from the opening movie to the very last unlock is over the top. Examples include: an enemy who attacks by riding around on his spinning cooking pot, a "battle" in which you have to chase the aforementioned Masamune on horseback through an obstacle course, a "samurai" who is in fact a giant flying robot who can summon lightning, an attack on a school for the "uncoordinated" samurai, and the ability to unlock the "king of all demons."
Sengoku Basara's glorious foray into the weird is its best asset, and alleviates some of the sameness caused by the repetitive nature of the gameplay. With few exceptions, all battles come down to pounding on nameless foes for 10 to 20 minutes before dismembering another bastardization of an actual Japanese historical figure. The game features two modes: one where you fight a single battle and another where you wage a campaign to conquer all of Japan. If it weren't for the absolutely bombastic nature of the game, it would be far less compelling.
This would be classified as bombastic
The game does feature a lot of content. The generals have their own story modes, each featuring multiple paths. There is also a difficult to follow, horizontally split, two-player mode for both a single battle and the entire campaign. Many of the game's generals are unlockable, and require repeated playthroughs to gain access to. Each character levels up by gaining experience, and their stats can be upgraded with items collected during battle. Unfortunately, all this content does nothing to change the fact that the gameplay's core mechanics grow stale quickly.
I have no idea what's going on here
The game controls well, featuring support for multiple control options, including Wii Remote and Nunchuk, Classic Controller, and Classic Controller Pro. It even use of the two extra shoulder buttons on the latter controller. All three configurations are capable of steering your torrent of metal and death across the fragmented lands of ancient Japan.
The game is a visual assault on the senses, sporting a version of Capcom's MT Framework engine. Even with a veritable ocean of enemies on screen, the frame rate rarely drops. Slowdown is usually the result of using the BASARA powers, which fill the screen with a colorful cyclone of death. The battlefields are detailed and diverse, ranging from massive Japanese castles to lush riversides. The designs of the main characters are vibrant, detailed, and completely insane.
The sound design is a bit lacking compared to the visual barrage. However, the game does feature a lot of hilariously stilted voice work, complete with dialog that in any other game would be considered a major flaw, but here seems more of an asset.
Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes isn't a bad game. The problem is that there is so little depth in the gameplay that the experience can quickly grow old. The amount of content is nice, but it's highly unlikely anyone will ever see all of it. The game's desire to be as strange as possible does serve to dampen the feeling of sameness; not knowing what weird scenario the game is going to use next does provide some motivation to keep playing. However, once the desire to be immersed in the strangeness wears off, there's not much left to keep the player going. If the developers had spent more time creating diverse gameplay and a bit less making diverse oddities, Sengoku Basara would have been more enjoyable.