reviews\ Mar 28, 2004 at 7:00 pm

Samurai Jack:The Shadow of Aku - GC - Review

If you're reading this review, chances are you're a fan of the show.  That alone makes it easy to enjoy Samurai Jack: The Legend of Aku, thanks entirely to the gameplay.  If you've never seen the show but became intrigued by the game, or even if you clicked the link by mistake, do not fear.  Samurai Jack's story, characters, and its setting will have the most significance to the fans.  But the gameplay is something anyone can enjoy...for a while.

Upon entering the world of Samurai Jack you'll discover the developer's love of Zelda and other adventure games.  The hack-and-slash gameplay doesn't feel too much like Zelda at first, but hold down the R button for a Matrix/Zelda treat.  The picture becomes letterboxed (TV manufacturers call this "widescreen"), and your enemies are slowed down to the point where attacks can be completed before any blocking can occur.

Another Zelda-type gameplay element is Samurai Jack's bow and arrow.  Its use is self-explanatory, so the only thing that needs to be said is how effective it is on your enemies.  Most can't (or won't) block arrows, making it easy to take out robots from afar.

Surprisingly, there is no way to lock-on to a specific enemy.  That sounds bad, but it's actually an improvement.  I'm getting tired of every adventure game playing like a Zelda clone, aren't you?  By not being able to circle enemies and attack with ease, Samurai Jack is a bit more challenging.  Standard enemies are easy to kill with your sword, bow and arrow, or any other weapon you choose to use.  The bosses, however, are not so easy.  You'll need good timing and a lot of patience to eliminate them.  Endurance is necessary since you'll be tempted to quit after being crushed many times in a row.  This is the only part of the game that felt truly challenging, and because of the leap in difficulty it often comes across as being cheap.

The L button has two functions, the first of which is expected: block.  The second function is much more interesting.  When blocking you can enter a button combination (example: A, X, X, A) to execute a powerful combo in slow motion.  It cuts through most enemy defenses, and is usually fast enough to connect before they block.  Plus, they look cool.  The Matrix-style slow-motion effects are nothing new, but combos themselves (which include a sideways spinning sword attack) are pretty impressive.

Samurai Jack's levels are very straightforward.  They have varying paths to try and cover up the game's linearity.  Some of the levels have hidden paths where the local creatures are being held captive (that's one of the goals – to free all from captivity.  Doing so enables you to increase Jack's health, strength, and Zen).  Despite the additions, there's nothing that makes the levels feel overwhelming.  (Being overwhelmed is what I look for in an adventure game.  It helps separate the gameplay experience from real life.)  You might not find every item or free every creature the first time through, but it's doubtful that you'll ever not make it to the goal. 

Besides being an overly familiar experience, Samurai Jack has only one thing against it: it's repetitive.  As you collect important items (which always seem to exist in adventure games), free prisoners, and defeat the onslaught of enemies, you begin to realize that that is all the game will give.  The levels lack significant differences between each other, and the enemies don't differ much beyond their appearance.

Cartoon Network is watched most by the kid and young teen crowd, so it could be assumed that their gameplay experiences are somewhat limited.  If that's the case for your child, then he or she might really enjoy Samurai Jack and never think of it as being a familiar or repetitive experience.

On the other hand, if you're planning to buy this game for yourself, you should probably stop and think for a minute.  Have you played through Jak II or its predecessor?  How about The Ocarina of Time?  These games – and their many clones – could be credited as the titles that "inspired" Samurai Jack.  Anyone who has been playing games since the days of PSone will recognize the similarities.  This is the kind of game that I would be happy to rent on a long weekend, but would not be in a hurry to add to my collection.

Reviewer's Scoring Details

Gameplay: 7.2
Amaze Entertainment brings the Samurai Jack series to life in The Legend of Aku.  Graphically the game looks plain, but the gameplay is quite flavorful, including all of the elements your tastebuds desire: impressive sword attacks, enduring bosses, and an intriguing Zen system.  The Zen meter enables you to slow down the world and attack enemies before they have the chance to react.  Zen is also used to power weapons, like the helpful fire sword.  Blue balls of energy automatically dive into Jack whenever he defeats an enemy, replenishing his Zen, and bringing back memories of Devil May Cry.


As you're likely conclude from the review, nearly everything good about Samurai Jack was introduced in another game.  Knowing this, you can expect the experience to be somewhat repetitive at times.

Graphics: 5
The backgrounds look okay, but what is with the characters?  They're horrendous.  GameCube is capable of doing great things with cartoon characters but Samurai Jack doesn't acknowledge any of that.

Sound: 8
Way-better-than-average music, decent voice acting (which sounds just as good as the show's acting), and quiet sound effects that won't make your ears bleed.

Difficulty: Easy/Medium
A new trend in gaming?  It seems like more and more titles are going for that easy/medium difficulty rating.  I'm not sure the reason.  Don't developers know that gamers want to be challenged?

Concept: 6.5
A good game but with nothing unique.

Overall: 7
Samurai Jack has a lot to offer – cool levels (just because they're linear doesn't mean they can't be cool), excellent controls, and an immersive soundtrack.  The story is somewhat intriguing as well, though not as much as the cartoon it came from.

Where Jack fails to succeed is an issue that will never be fully resolved in gaming: repetition.  Samurai Jack is the same thing over and over.  It never changes, never evolves.  Each level is a revision of the first one, the only differences being enemies (who have similar attack patterns), the graphics (new worlds require new artwork), and the music.  For those reasons this game is best enjoyed in small portions.  Play it a little here and a little there, but don't plow through it in one sitting.  You'll get bored if you do, and then there'll be nothing left to keep you coming back.


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