Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time Review
Jack is back! The cult classic TV show, Samurai Jack, has finally received its first video game adaptation since the show ended. Developed by Soleil and produced by Adult Swim Games, the aptly named Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time has a story that sticks close to the blueprint from the show and puts a lot of effort into the fighting. The game makes the player feel as if they are mastering the weapons as they progress. However, the game lacks depth in its enemies, and some game mechanics will leave you wondering what the developers were thinking.
For anyone who never watched the show, the intro to the show sums it up nicely, but here is a quick precise. Samurai Jack is about a Samurai who has his life ruined when Aku — a demon with the epic nickname of ‘the shape-shifting master of darkness’ — conquers his village and enslaves his people. Jack trains for many years and with the help of a magic sword defeats Aku in battle, but at the last second, the demon uses his magic to send Jack to the distant future, a future where Aku controls everything. Throughout most of the show, Jack is trying to find a way back to his own time so he can defeat Aku and save the future. Along the way, Jack saves countless victims who were being oppressed by Aku or other deviant creatures. The show originally aired in 2001 and wrapped up in 2017 after a 13-year hiatus.
In Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time you get to take control of the magic sword-wielding samurai. But the story does not directly follow that of the TV show. Instead, it breaks off from the main storyline, then reconverges at the end. While it is technically an original story, it still closely follows some of the show’s beats. In the game, Aku sends Jack into an unfamiliar time filled with evil henchmen. After destroying minions for a while, the player must defeat a boss. Once the boss is dealt with, Aku sends Jack into a new location to repeat the process. All the while, Jack looks for a way to break the cycle. This premise works wonderfully because it takes players to several memorable locations from the show and divides the game neatly into sections.
There are some emotional points during one location, but for the most part, the story is just an excuse to get you to battle more bad guys — something I support. The two characteristics that made Samurai Jack a hit among fans were the high-intensity fight scenes and interesting characters. While I wish there had been more involvement with characters from the show, the game did a good job of putting an emphasis on combat.
Without a doubt, the fighting in Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time is the bread and butter of the game. There are no puzzles to be found. Players will spend the vast majority of their time slicing down enemies and then moving onto the next section. There are a few places with traps, but they are not difficult. It seems the developers put them in to keep things fresh. At first, Jack’s only weapon is his sword, and he knows just a few combo attacks. But as the game progresses, you unlock new weapons that work better against particular enemies. For example, spears work well when taking on large groups of enemies by letting you hit many with each swipe, while hammers are excellent for making the large targets crumble. You can upgrade your weapons abilities using in-game currency, allowing you to perform more powerful attacks. In most modern games you can get through the game by bashing one button over and over, but in Battle Through Time you must learn to use advanced combos if you want to make it past the more grueling parts. By the end of this roughly eight-hour game, I felt I had gone from novice to master.
In a lot of ways, Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time felt like an old-school game. It makes you wait for autosaves that don’t occur as often as they do in modern games, you don’t regain health automatically, and it’s pretty difficult. In the later stages, the game kept spawning wave after wave of enemies to the point where I wondered if it would ever end. I loved all those aspects. It's fitting that a game about a show that first aired in 2001 would feel like it was from that era. But there were some characteristics from older games I wish they had left in the past. The camera mechanics can be clunky, and when you see Jack climb for the first time, it’s jarring. Never have I seen a character climb so slow. In the series, Jack is as nimble as a cat — why did the developers make him climb like a grandma suffering from a severe case of vertigo?
My biggest gripe with the game was the variety of villains. The show had over fifty episodes, but the game only offers a handful of unique enemies. The bosses were unique enough, but killing the same minions over and over became tiresome. This is especially true when you are forced to go against the same mini-boss roughly seven times. None of the fights with him have different formats either. It got to the point where I would roll my eyes when I heard his high-pitched voice announce his return. For larger games, it makes sense that you would have to fight the same monsters many times, but in a game that barely breaks double-digit play through time it stands out. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s a shame because I believe creating a few more enemies would have taken the game to another level.
If you’re fond of sword fighting games, you will probably enjoy Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time. If you are a fan of Samurai Jack, it’s worth playing just for nostalgia. If you happen to love both those traits, then good news, this game is perfect for you. The lack of diversity in enemies is a shame. The same goes for the peculiar mechanics. But overall, Soleil did a wonderful job of making a game that lives up to the legend of Samurai Jack.
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