Have you ever seen a bullet split down its center by a sword? You will if you watch the introductory video to Samurai Western. You'll see a lone warrior stand up against a town full of angry drifters, too, and watch as black silhouettes touched with oily light dance against a blood-red background. It's a stylish opener to a promising game, complete with rocking yet vaguely oriental music and the sound of swords slicing and projectiles deflected.
Following such an opener with gameplay is risky business. How could anything possibly live up to such promise? Somehow, though'"if only for a minute'"Cactus Gulch does. That's the name of the location where the game begins. Your samurai warrior walks into town and is immediately accosted by men who call him 'feller' and say 'hoowee' with all the energy you'd expect from dim-witted cowboys. Then, because your warrior is dressed oddly, they make the improbable and brutish decision to murder him in the street.
It's here that the game's mechanics come into play. Samurai Western uses the first encounter as a way to acquaint you with the controls, which so far seem simple and effective. It's easy enough to mash the 'Square' button to execute an attack or a series of strikes that will form a combo. Jumping into the air gives you access to air strikes, but also makes you more vulnerable. And if you're in the middle of a gunfight'"something that happens frequently early in the game'"then you can deflect bullets with well-timed swipes of your blade. You can even pick up destructible objects such as crates or bodies to form shields from all that flying lead.
Fighting in the early areas is satisfying because the theme is fresh. I never really thought to ask myself what it would be like to move a Samurai Warrior through dust-choked streets of a typical and cliche American Old West, but now I see all sorts of potential for it. Jackie Chan is no longer alone on this frontier, except in that he provides the comedy and Samurai Warrior does not. Here, it's all business. You don't have time to dawdle and look at the scenery too much (atmospheric though it may be) because you're busy rolling out of the way of bullets and knives and dynamite. That or you're slicing support beams so the scum above you topple downward and land in a stupor as you slice them to ribbons.
If all of this sounds cool, well, it is. And when the prolonged introductory stage is over and your remaining health and damage taken are tallied, it's hard not to be caught up in the game's unique spell. There's a level-building system (I went up one level for my efforts in the first area), and the game even keeps records of the most damage you inflict, or how quickly you complete an area. It's easy to imagine this fitting in with games of a somewhat similar nature like Devil May Cry or perhaps even a manly brawler.
The biggest concern I have at this point is the rather simple story. The traveling Samurai apparently has little motivation other than his need to prove himself a warrior. The first scene ends with him finding a 'Wanted' poster of some sort and mumbling something about 'I've found you at last,' so I'm guessing this is a trip around the world for revenge. But I'm getting ahead of myself. After all, there's plenty of time to play through more of the game and take it as a whole. Look for the possibility of further updates in the months to come, or just wait for the full review when the game releases. Either way, this is shaping up to be one title to watch closely.
If you would like to find out more about this game you can visit the website at: www.atlus.com