Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Usagi Yojimbo - The ying and yang of retro gaming

I really enjoyed and have recently revisited Samurai Warrior on the C64 (emulator). I really think it captures the best and worst of, so-called, retro gaming.

Play it now before reading any further, if you haven't played it before...

The graphics are still fab - really distinct with well drawn sprites and animation. The gameplay was original and it was a progressive game in discovering new things as you went through. Some of it was excellent - (skip this bit if you haven't played it) finding the eating house to replenish your energy, the duel to first blood, the monster in the cave and the consequences of different actions. Combat and passive modes determined your controls and the use of karma was also intuitively original in keeping a tally on your progress and as a determination of where you restarted from; something that I cannot recall being done since.

On the downside, it also represents the real buggers of older games. The combat could be fiddly to time the 3 different actions you could perform while in combat mode (or mood, if you prefer); deflect (quick press), swipe (not as quick, but not too long) and overhead cut (long press). The last stage was a veritable nightmare of combat and once killed, it was back to a previous stage, where you would be unlikely to build up the karma to the same level, so you would go further back when killed again.

The positives still outweigh the negatives, especially when played in an emulator with a snapshot function. The building up of karma by giving peasants money and bowing to the right people was really well done; especially when you can bow to the guards of a nobleman, then kill the guards and watch the nobleman kneel in shame leaving some money behind.

I think that Samurai Warrior represents the direction that games could have gone in with the increase in hardware ability, but have rarely managed to replicate. The ability to really affect your path and the direction of the game have rarely been as well performed. Genuine surprises in games and fewer and fewer in the market driven games we have now; given the preceding years of publicity, screenshots and demos.

I'd recommend giving it a try and playing a truly unique game.

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