Is this what happens when Punch-Out meets feudal Japan?
Hirari Sakura Zamurai kind of came out of nowhere during the Nintendo Direct conference in late October. The game puts the player in the role of a young warrior in Japan as he is on a quest to save a princess. Using the mystical Sakura Sword, players battle through waves of enemies testing their reflexes and dodging ability. With the release of the game on November 16 in Japan (and is set to launch in North America in January), Nintendo are flexing their digital muscles to show that there is a place for high quality Nintendo published titles in the downloadable arena.
Come on big guy! Let's see what you got!
The controls are simple. The D-pad is mapped out with a health restoral item, two projectile attacks, and an item to mend your sword. The A button is your standard attack and is what you will be using in most of the game. B in conjunction with the slide pad will allow you to move quickly out of the way of incoming attacks. Pressing R or L blocks incoming overhead attacks by blocking with the katana and sheath. After dodging and making numerous successful attacks, a gage begins to fill a katana at the upper right hand side of the screen. Once the gage is completely full, the player can unleash a flurry attack with the Y button that does significant damage to an enemy. Most of the time, the player will be in a sword stance ready to attack, which makes free-roaming on the battlefield not a main staple of this game. When not on the battlefield, the player is roaming the game’s over-world by visiting various points laid out on the game map.
Gameplay in Sakura Zamurai is very reminiscent of old-school, twitch-reflex, pattern recognition games like Punch-Out. In this game, however, the fighting takes place in pre-industrial Japan with weapons. While the main character has a sword, enemies are divided up into different classes with some enemies carrying swords, bows and arrows, spears, or even bombs. Similar to Punch-Out, this game is all about pattern recognition. Things start out pretty simple, with the enemies moving pretty slow and attacks being pretty easy to read. As you progress through the game, enemies get faster, stronger, and have multiple attacks that you need to dodge in multiple directions to avoid being hit. All of the enemies in the game are the same size as the main character with the exception of the bosses, which tower over you and have their own set of specific attacks.
The aspect of dodging at the last possible moment also plays a large part in Hirari Sakura Zamurai. While players can easily mash the dodge button continuously to avoid incoming attacks, dodging at the last second builds up a counter on the bottom of the screen. If a player gets hit or even accidentally makes contact with the enemy (for example, getting their attack blocked), the counter resets.
When visiting the shop, players can choose to enter their most recent score from the counter with the shop keeper, who rewards the player with money. After submitting your score to the shop keeper, the counter resets and the record is kept at the shops in the game. This feature sounds simple, but is one way to encourage players to dodge at the last moment by offering a high risk-reward structure so that they can be potentially rewarded very handsomely for it.
The level of challenge throughout the game mostly increases appropriately, although it starts off simply at first. Advanced gamers might have a bit of trouble getting through some of the latter parts in the game which can at times be frustrating. Even in these late parts in the game, the control scheme remains solid, and this is where it needs to be.
Dodging plays a significant role in the game
Apart from the combat, there are several other distractions in the game world and in the main menu to do. Throughout the game world, there are small towns that you can visit to shop, rest at an inn, or play mini-games. There is also a sword smith in the game where you can upgrade your sword by using the money you have collected from defeating enemies in your previous battles. This is extremely helpful as you progress in the game as the enemies become stronger.
The mini-games in the town are fun and can at times be a sure way to make money. Some of the mini-games include one which involves you cutting down incoming fruit being thrown at you, cutting specific fruit out of a the hands of a strange, green mythical creature you encounter at the beginning of the game.
Once unlocked, players can access a 30, 50, and 100 man challenge mode from the main menu. These modes are timed and have the player fighting through the hordes of enemies to try to achieve a high score. Not only this, but after completing the main campaign, players have the option to play through the game in expert mode. Expert mode really ramps up the difficulty as it limits the players health and ability to use healing items.
There is also a cherry blossom viewing mode which makes use of the built-in pedometer. The more steps you walk in a day, the more cherry blossoms will appear on the trees and the more non-playable characters will come to take in the beautiful view. It’s an interesting addition and is a great way to show 3D effect.
Visually, Hirari Sakura Zamurai is a decent-looking game that uses the 3D effect very well. It is easy to spot the layers of depth as projectiles are being thrown at you or as boss characters’ huge weapons are pointed right in your face seeming to pop right out of the screen. The feudal Japan motif is also embodied perfectly throughout the game from the title screen, the character clothing and mannerisms, to the music in the game. If you like pre-modern Japanese settings, this game is perfect.
I will cut that watermelon in half! Bring it!
Hirari Sakura Zamurai is a great game, but does suffer from on flaw – lack of online support. The game features no support for online leader boards which could have made the 30, 50, and 100 man challenge mode something for gamers to continually come back to compete with their friends. For a digital game, a game where players had to access the Internet to get the game, it seems nonsensical in this day and age to not include any kind of online option. This doesn’t break the game by any means, but an online component could have stretched a six hour game into something much more.
Is Hirari Sakura Zamurai worth the premium price of 700 yen ($7 in North America)? It really depends on what kind of gamer you are. If you are the type of gamer who despises pattern recognition, or twitch-reflect enabled games, you might want to take a pass on this one. However, if you are in to games like Punch-Out and/or are somewhat of a Japanophile, this game is for you.