Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword Review (Nintendo 3DS)
It’s taken a little while to get there – like a few months longer than we anticipated – but the Nintendo 3DS eShop is really starting to pick up in a variety of game titles. Not only do we have some worthwhile 3D classics to choose from, but several original games are validating themselves as must-haves. The latest to join this bunch is Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword, an action/adventure that has an abundance of hack n’ slash action, along with mini-games, an interactive shopping village, and a sufficient amount of weapon upgrades to keep you hacking away.
The story revolves around a princess who is spirited away by an evil overlord, and the land falling into chaos. Eventually, the dust settles and peace is restored, though the princess is never really found. Saddened over this news, an old man who hangs out by a pool of water weeps for her, then finds a destined warrior who can make the perilous journey to rescue her. You’ll set out on your way, making stops to do battle with warriors and eventually get to temples, where you’ll tackle tough bosses and gain the tools needed to save the princess.
Though the action doesn’t change much in Sakura Samurai, it’ll no doubt be familiar to those who grew up playing a Punch-Out!! game. There’s a heavy emphasis on dodging opponents when they strike, then hitting them back at the key moment, sometimes with a quick one-two slice, and others with a great combo move, a flurry of sword strikes with flower blossoms pouring out. As you proceed through each battle, you’ll need to take special care of your katana, using a stone to sharpen it up on occasion or calling upon a blacksmith in the village to treat it like new.
The balance between combat and strategy is very well done in Sakura Samurai, and the game has heaping amounts of action. Rewards include coins and health upgrades, so you can continue on your journey. Along with enemy encounters, you can also stop in villages, buy new items, upgrade your weapons, and play a few mini-games that will keep your skills from dwindling. You’ll also earn your own Rock Garden, which grows as you work your way through the game, unlocking a special hard mode as well as additional challenges. There’s replay value galore here, even if the gameplay doesn’t change much beyond dodge, strike, repeat. (But, hey, it worked for Punch-Out!!)
While Sakura Samurai doesn’t have the same style of visual pop as, say, the Ninja Gaiden games, it’s a very good-looking downloadable game. The traditional samurai environment pops out of the screen, and the bad guys, though lacking in a little bit of variety, strike just like traditional warriors -- some even with a running slash. The over-the-shoulder perspective is quite satisfying and gives you a decent enough view of enemies that surround you. The bosses are particularly well designed and give you a run for your money in the heat of battle. As for the sound, customary samurai tunes and strong weapon effects sufficiently do their work.
For a cheap downloadable game, Sakura Samurai is more than worth it, between its classic style gameplay, its striking 3D visuals, and its abundant extras, most notably the Rock Garden. If you even dreamed about being a samurai at some point in your life, this is one you’ll definitely want to holster in your virtual library.