Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked Review

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Graphics: 7.0
Sound : 7.5
Gameplay : 8.0
Multiplayer : 7.0
Overall : 7.3
Review by Andy Levine
Bandai Namco Games has released loads of anime-based games in the past, including titles such as DICE, the Mobile Suit Gundam series, and even a few Inuyasha releases as well. The majority of such games have done nothing major to stand out from the rest of the crowd, and as a result they haven’t received a lot of attention. However, Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked is a whole different story; its zany storyline filled with oddball humor make it so much more than your average hack-n-slash. Based upon the anime series of the same name, Samurai Champloo creates a unique feudal Japanese environment with enough interesting combat twists and lengthy storylines to make it worth your time.

For those of you who don’t know, the two main characters Mugen and Jin were rescued from their execution by the lovable Fuu. To repay the favor, the two samurai decide to help Fuu on her journey for the “samurai that smells of sunflowers,” and of course they run into a lot of trouble in the northern land of Ezo. The crew eventually becomes separated, and this sets the basis for the three available storylines (you can play through as Mugen, Jin, or a third unlockable character). Occasionaly you’ll come across the same environments when their journeys overlap, but for the most part you can expect the experience to feel relatively refreshing for a button masher. The “sidetracked” storyline has nothing to do with the TV show at heart, but you expect the adventure to be humorous nonetheless. Whether you're battling it out against monkeys with knives or trying to fend off a crazed witch, Samurai Champloo is filled with randomly funny moments that will keep you laughing the whole time through, if you find anime-style humor funny, that is.

Instead of becoming just another game where you randomly press buttons, Sidetracked features plenty of different battle styles and cool minigames to keep you on your toes the whole time through. The most noticeable difference in gameplay between the two original characters is their overall nature; Mugen is a vicious mercenary that never tires out, while Jin is a conservative samurai that fights using more traditional methods. As a result, Mugen can be found performing monstrous leaps whereas Jin will perform a quick little roll. In addition, before the beginning of any stage you first go to the record store. You can buy and select up to two records for each stage, each of which not only determines the music but also sets up your combo attack tree. At the top of the screen is such a tree that will dictate available combos you can use to chain attacks together. Although you could simply use the strong and weak attack buttons to make your way through the fairly dumb AI, combining different records to create a perfect attack style is much more rewarding. There is even a two player deathmatch mode, and although there isn’t any online play, it’s still nice to see some type of multiplayer mode was incorporated.

Furthermore, hyper attacks can be earned by building up your tension meter. Basically, once you slash up enough baddies and performing a certain combo everything around you will be obliterated. While it can be a little unconventional to constantly have to refer to the combo tree to see which attacks to perform, landing such an attack is loads of fun. Again, once the tension meter is filled an enemy will spawn with a star above his head. Once you hit him, you will enter a minigame mode in which one of the face buttons will appear. If you hit the corresponding button quick enough, you then need to mash the four face buttons over 100 times in a matter of seconds. If this is accomplished, you will enter a silhouette trance state where you slash a seemingly endless swarm of enemies. Lastly, if you and a foe strike at the same time you will enter the counter attack minigame. In it, you will have to press the correct face button to perform one of four counter moves to counter you opponent, but if you fail you will be hit instead. While all of this is good, it’s hard to ignore the fact that most of this isn’t really necessary due to the weak, non-aggressive AI. A few other inconveniences, including the spastic, fixed camera angles and occasional endless streams of enemy clones, prevent this game from being as good as it could be. Still, Samurai Champloo is still a game that can provide hours of entertainment if you can manage to look past a few minor flaws.

The game’s comical presentation combined and interesting audio visual presentation also give it a pleasant twist. The voice actors and the cleverly written script give Sidetracked an authentic anime feel, which can be either good or bad depending on your own personal taste. The fast paced, electric soundtracks are also very fitting for any Japanese-themed button masher, and the customizable record feature makes this even more enjoyable. Although the game isn’t technically impressive on a visual manner, it still incorporates vivid colors and unique styles that make up for its fairly simple complexion. Again, don’t expect to be amazed by fancy shaders or lighting features, but instead you can look forward to seeing a clear-cut anime presentation.

As a whole, Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked is a surprisingly well done button masher which should be even more appealing to anime fans. With its in-depth storyline and clever combat system, there are plenty of aspects that prevent this game from getting old too quickly. Whether you’re a huge fan of the TV show or you just want to try out something a little unconventional, you won’t be let down with a purchase of Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked.