reviews\ Apr 11, 2004 at 8:00 pm

Samurai Jack:The Shadow of Aku - PS2 - Review

Cult cartoons often rely on slick animation, furious action, or offbeat humor to power their way into the minds of geeks everywhere.  The spectacular Samurai Jack, part of Cartoon Network’s excellent lineup of original programming, deftly uses a combination of all three to defy genre and keep fans consistently enthralled.  The show follows (you guessed it) Samurai Jack, a hearty warrior trained in the ancient arts to defeat the evil shape-shifting demon Aku.  Aku banishes Jack to a strange future world under Aku’s control via a time portal, and Jack must somehow find a way back to his time and defeat Aku.


It was only a matter of time before Jack got his own videogame, and being far from the drivel that pollutes sugar-coated Saturday mornings, the digital rendition has a lot of Bushido to live up to.  Does Sega’s action-platformer live up to the honor of the mighty Samurai or does it cut like a rusty katana? 


All too often I have written reviews for licensed video games with the disclaimer “Fans of (insert licensed product/TV show/movie here) will likely enjoy the game, but hard core gamers should stay away.”  As badly as I wanted to give Samurai Jack the thumbs up, it unfortunately falls victim to the oft-said disclaimer previously mentioned.  Samurai Jack does have its saving graces however, and may not alienate those who are unfamiliar with the clever cartoon. 


Sega took the most obvious option and made Samurai Jack: The Shadow of Aku a third person action-adventure game.  In the game, Jack bounces from level to level, helping out villagers, and easily Cuisinarting enemies with his steel.  That just about summarizes Samurai Jack: The Shadow of Aku.  Not a lot of invention went into the game, leaving the overall gameplay generic and repetitive.


Jack’s primary weapon is his katana, which he wields as though it were an extension of his hand as he slices and dices like an infomercial product.  Gamers can choose to hack with a regular swing or power swing, and combo the two for some wicked maneuvers.  Along the way, he’ll learn new devastating combination moves that can be performed with a simple four-button sequence.  These are great for offing multiple opponents and adding a bit of spice to the doldrums of simple slashing.  Jack can also use shuriken and a long bow to dispose of enemies from a distance, and thanks to a handy auto-aim, dispose of them with ease.  Using the longbow brings perspective to a near first-person mode, but auto-aim takes over, rendering the change of perspective useless. 


Being at one with his world, Jack uses Zen as a source of power.  By falling enemies, he gains their Zen power for his own use (not exactly a traditional use of Zen, but we’ll forgive them…).  This fills a meter that serves a few purposes.  By holding the R2 button, Jack can enter Sakai mode, his own version of Max Payne’s bullet-time.  By slowing his enemies down while increasing his own speed, Jack can easily handle enemies.  Zen power can also boost Jack’s blade.  After Jack picks up power-ups for his katana, he can channel the power to his sword for extra damage at the expense of his Zen meter. 


Now with all these devastating combos, Sakai mode, and blade power-ups, one would expect the game to be slightly difficult.  Wrong, wrong, and more wrong.  Samurai Jack is the kind of game one can just fly through by going through the motions.  This game is about as hard as a stick of butter on the sidewalk during a New York summer.  In addition, Jack is constantly given health and armor for even more protection.  It’s obvious that the game was targeted at kids, but seeing as how the cartoon airs at 10:30 pm during the week, shouldn’t they have looked towards an older audience? 


Anyone who has seen Samurai Jack will tell you that their favorite part of the show is its cooler-than-thou artistic style.  Each frame is a work of art with its bare-bones cell-shading, prominent reds and blacks, and unique style.  The game does use cell-shading very well, but the originality and slickness of the cartoon just doesn’t translate to the home consoles.  Sure the Windwaker-like animation looks pretty good, but it’s still a far cry from the successful art from the show. 


The sound in the game is simple, yet very effective.  The music is just what you would expect from a light-hearted Samurai slasher, and some of it downright rocks.  There are lots of sword-swinging clanks and shings! that emphasis the butt-kicking Jack bestows, but nothing else really goes over the top or is noticeable.


Samurai Jack fans may forgive the simplicity of the game and enjoy this short game, but hardcore Jack fans looking for an extension of the cartoon should just pick up a controller, watch the show, and pretend they’re controlling Jack, because they won’t get their satisfaction here.  Younger gamers will enjoy the ease-of-use, linear playability, and cartoon quality of the game, and shouldn’t hesitate to rent this one out. 


Gameplay: 6.5

Samurai Jack is what it is – a game that isn’t going to test nerves or require cheat codes, and it does this very well.  This is pure, simple entertainment to the simplest degree, and the game can’t be faulted for it.   


Graphics: 6.5

The cell-shading isn’t bad, but its several degrees below Windwaker and Sly Cooper.  Being originated from a show that has some of the coolest visuals out there, it is slightly disappointing. 


Sound: 7.0

Better than you would expect, but not much more.  The music is great, even in the title screens.  The sound effects are fairly standard, but anyone who has seen the show knows that sound is used minimally, but effectively. 


Difficulty: EASY!

The game is a cakewalk and will suit those looking for mindless entertainment perfectly.  A great game for novice gamers just looking for a little action.


Concept: 5.0

The game is incredibly generic, with nothing out of the ordinary and very little challenge.  After playing for just a little while, I was already 20% through the game. 


Multiplayer: N/A


Overall: 6.0

It may be a 6.0, but it’s a solid 6.0.  This ain’t Ninja Gaiden or Shinobi, it’s just simple fun.  Because of its short gameplay, it is the consummate rental – a game that is easy to pick up and play and can be beaten in a few days.  The life of a samurai warrior is simple, and so is this game. 


Above Average

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