I don't see the term "graphics whores" used that much anymore. It was sometimes applied to people (or self-applied) to identify them as gamers so hung up on impressive visuals that they would overlook flaws, and it's one term I keep coming back to when thinking about Muramasa Rebirth. A PS Vita revamp of the 2009 Wii action game, Muramasa Rebirth is a beautiful game, and it's not about to let that fact be lost on its audience. Developer Vanillaware (Odin Sphere, Dragon's Crown) is known for its gorgeous 2D art, and Muramasa in no way disappoints on that front.
Characters are rendered in incredible detail with fluid animation. Enemies are likewise impressive, whether it's one giant boss multiple screens high or a flock of dozens of floating one-eyed shadow monsters darting about the screen. Every new adversary is another argument for the PS Vita's built-in screenshot capture function to exist, as is every new environment behind them. Each scene is a lush painting rich with animated detail. A field of wheat sways as individual stocks on what seem like infinite parallax scrolling levels. Sunlight breaks through the trees and bathes the world in a warm glow. A hellish landscape sees tiny human forms rising in the distance, shambling for a few yards, and then collapsing.
The world of Muramasa is a stunning achievement in gaming aesthetics, a fact Vanillaware wants to rub in the players' face at every opportunity. That must be why the game's sprawling world, a vast collection of tiny levels that can each be run across in under 10 seconds, is often so empty. Each scene is alive with animation, but not necessarily with enemies or interaction. As I sprinted through empty field after empty field, I had nothing else to do but examine the game's animations in great detail. That may have been an entirely intentional design decision as Vanillaware no doubt wanted to highlight its strength, but ultimately I thought the game suffered from what was essentially enforced art appreciation.
Early on in the game, I looked forward to the combat as a reprise from the running. The basics hinted at substantial depth, with players having to regularly swap between three equipped swords, each with a unique special attack, and each able to be broken (temporarily) if the player spams specials or tries to parry too many attacks with it. Throw in a hodge-podge of action game staples (double jump, multiple air dashes, launcher combos, charged attacks) and on paper, you have the elements of some interesting technique-driven action. In practice, the player's array of offensive options makes a match against a lone enemy nothing more than an annoyance. But with the game's large character art and abundance of eye-catching animation, taking on a mob of enemies devolves quickly into a button-mashing brawl where you're better off running through a "fighting a crowd of enemies" script instead of trying to respond to any of their individual actions.
Just as with the action, the enemy roster for Muramasa Rebirth looks great, with a visually striking variety of adversaries including samurai, goblins, monks, and ninjas. So many ninjas. Ninjas with bombs, ninjas on kites, ninjas who were so determined to stay where the developers placed them that if they were knocked a few steps away from their spawn point, they would pop a smoke bomb and teleport back to their starting position for maximum annoyance.
The ninjas, like the combat itself, became tedious after a few hours. Still, they were beautiful, and the promise of new enemies, be they bosses or simply new strains of ninja, was enough to keep me plugging through the game's two main stories. In one, a young woman possessed by an evil spirit pursues cursed swords capable of cutting the gods themselves. In the other, a male ninja with amnesia and cursed swords of his own is driven by a sense of duty to take up arms in a hopeless fight. Neither story is told especially well, but both have some interesting wrinkles borrowed from Japanese folklore.
The Nitty Gritty
- Visuals: Far and away, the best and most interesting thing about Muramasa Rebirth. Will be worth the price of admission for some.
- Music: Pairs well with the visuals, helps creates a mood without being too noticeable or getting in the way.
- Interface: The addition of a jump button instead of having to push up is a clear improvement over the Wii version. Beyond that, everything is serviceable but unspectacular.
- Lasting Appeal: Forging all 108 of the game's swords will take considerably longer than Unfortunately, I was ready to step away from the game after plowing through the two main stories in under 12 hours.
My appreciation for the art in Muramasa Rebirth is exceeded only by Muramasa Rebirth's appreciation for the art in Muramasa Rebirth. This is one of the best looking games I've ever played, but it feels like the gorgeous graphics came at the expense of the gameplay in a few instances.
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