Review: Muramasa Rebirth comes back to life on the Vita
Back in 2009, Wii owners were treated to yet another fantastic game from developer Vanillaware, who's not only bringing their unique and charming art style to the table, but some rather deep and tactical combat to boot. Four years later, fans can once again revisit Muramasa: The Demon Blade through Rebirth on Sony's PS Vita, giving old fans a great reason to replay this fantastic hack-n-slasher and offering the chance to those that might have missed out on the original to rectify that.
Muramasa Rebirth has you taking on the role of either Princess Momohime or the ninja Kisuke, each following their own unique story path. Momohime is on the run after being possessed by an evil soul of swordsman Jinkuro, who is obsessed with attaining the Demon Blade for himself, while Kisuke is on the path of vengeance after losing his memory. Unique stories aside, both characters will traverse the same territory and often cross paths with one another.
At first glance, Rebirth might look like a simple button masher, when, in reality, it is quite the opposite. While controls are kept relatively simple, they take a while to master, especially if you plan on ditching the game's easy difficulty. Everything from slicing to blocking, dodging and parrying is done with a single button and a directional combination. This simplified control scheme allows for some truly flashy combos that will have you hacking away at an enemy, blocking their attack, dodge-rolling behind them, and then performing an air dash to deliver the finishing blow. Combine this combat flair with a bunch of enemies on the screen at once and you have a spectacle that's not only fun to execute, but fun to watch as well.
A big draw to Muramasa is the blade-collecting mechanic. The game contains over a 100 different blades to either collect or forge, split up into two categories: the agile yet somewhat weaker Katanas and the slow but strong Nodachi. Each blade also has a unique Secret Art associated with it, which can turn the tide of battle, though overusing these can cause the blade to shatter.
Therein comes yet another layer of strategy. You always have three blades equipped at any time. Switching out blades before they break becomes essential, as every time you block or use a Secret Art, the durability of the blade is decreased. When the blade is not in use, it regains its strength and becomes usable again. All of these layers of complex strategy are certainly welcome in a genre that usually consists of nothing more than mashing a single button over and over again.
Since it's a direct port, all the fantastic features of the original come along with some of the more tedious ones, the biggest offender here being backtracking. After defeating an area boss, you're usually required to run all the way back to the area you came from. This wouldn't be a problem if the way back was at least filled with enemies to kill, giving you some potential to level up. Instead, you'll be traversing from screen to screen without unsheathing your blade. An option to quick travel would have eliminated this tedium.
Playing on the PS Vita works for the most part. The only big problem is with the left analog stick. Since it's so much smaller than the ones I'm used to on consoles, it makes every movement overly sensitive. Often I found myself performing moves I didn't necessarily mean to, just by pushing in a direction ever-so-slightly. Crouching becomes almost impossible. If the analog stick isn't pointing exactly down, a slight tilt to either direction will have you rolling in a direction you most likely didn't mean to.
However, the game looks absolutely stunning on the Vita's OLED screen. The vibrant colors, dynamically moving backgrounds and stellar character art look better than ever. Sure, the Wii version could be played on an HDTV, but it was never this sharp. The voice acting was kept strictly Japanese, though the subtitles got a massive overhaul from the nonsensical Wii ones. Following the story, as ridiculous as it may be, is now much easier.
The Vita is always in need of some heavy hitters. While Muramasa Rebirth is a port of a four-year-old game, make no mistake here, it absolutely deserves to be revisited or experienced for the first time on the Vita. The small and overly-sensitive analog sticks might make precise combat rather tricky, but it's hardly a deal breaker.