You know what I realized? Aside from the Super Smash Bros. series I haven’t played a lot of arena brawlers. My lack of knowledge on the genre is severely hampered by the shadow of Nintendo’s monstrously successful, fanservice behemoth of a series that has become a flagship title of its own. Luckily for me, there are have been amazing games recently to expand the arena brawler market. Games such as Samurai Gunn.
Samurai Gunn pits samurais against samurais in a multiplayer free-for-all in which the faster sword wins. Of course, you could just shoot the other player too, that works. Really, it’s just samurais with guns, and it. is. awesome.
The gameplay is immensely satisfying with a surprising amount of technical skill and depth involved. Sword play is lightning paced with your character jumping and dashing across the screen just to kill his enemies (your friends) on screen. This isn’t just a hack-and-slash affair, either. Parrying and deflecting are all viable options with some good timing and the fact that each warrior has three bullets per life adds an additionally lethal layer of strategy. For the most part, the game plays as fun as it sounds (and it sounds like samurais with guns so what’s not to like?).
But the game is only as fun as the arenas to play in and some of these level designs are just extremely fun to play around in, each hidden with traps and strategic advantages. For instance, it’s the details of the games that make me smile and the fact that your gun fails to shoot if you fall into a pool of water is one of the best features I’ve had the chance of falling victim to. Of course gunpowder fails to fire when wet. The fact that you find a feature like this in retro-inspired game just makes the little pixel animation of your failure even more enjoyable.
Artistically, the game excels at creating mayhem and carnage via little pixel samurais and there are several flourishes that make the game as much a joy to look at as it is to play. Additionally the soundtrack is a combination of old-school samurai movie music with modern touches and rap vocals. It’s most like the Samurai Champloo soundtrack in that regard.
However, as an arena-based battle game with up to four players, this is a multiplayer game first and foremost. If you’re alone or maybe just smell bad that one day and no one wants to hang out with you, then unfortunately you wouldn’t have a whole lot of fun. With only two modes of play, one being versus and the other, a survival mode that’s not only very difficult, but also not as fun solo, there’s not a whole lot to justify a single-player experience.
Additionally, there are some technical limitations that just exist to cause frustration. Controller support is present but takes several tries to work properly. Additionally the need for these controllers to have a good time on a computer with four friends is hampered by the complicated means to access the option as well as the fact that you all need the same controller, lest you crowd around a single keyboard. There also isn’t a lot of variation between the characters to choose between. I couldn’t quite tell if there were any stat differences between fighters but even if there were, there wasn’t enough to notice immediately.
Also, some gameplay rules seem counter-productive. For instance, the showdown feature which is a fantastic sudden-death mode triggered when both players reach 9 kills (out of 10 necessary to win). However, the mode is triggered as long as both players have 9 kills regardless if one player has 10 kills and the other has nine. While one player is leading in kill count, the mode is still triggered as both players have the necessary nine kills. It’s a weird rule that occurred a couple times as me and my friends were playing and while it’s nothing to complain too much about, I found it a little odd and mostly funny.
Samurai Gunn is surprisingly deep and a lot of strategy is mixed in with twitch reflexes, much like a sophisticated fighting game. However, the lack of game modes, serious decrease in enjoyment as a solo game, and some technical issues hold back this otherwise immensely fun game. If you can grab a couple friends and get controllers working, Samurai Gunn can make for an enjoyable night.
[+Amazingly fun multiplayer game for you and your friends][+Retro throwback with sophisticated gameplay][+Good ol’ fashioned retro visuals with fun modern soundtrack][-Technical issues prevent gamepad support immediately][-Lack of variety in game modes and characters][-You need to have friends]