the second of nintendo’s weekly discounted games in the 3DS’s eshop was sakura samurai: the art of the sword. the game was one of the first first-party downloads in the 3DS eshop and has been most readily compared to the punch-out!! series. the comparison is apt since there aren’t many other games that also feature one-on-one bouts that rely on reading your opponents’ signals, but there are significant differences that make this game completely distinct.
aside from the historical japanese setting, multi-man battles (as opposed to the boss battle only MO of punch-out!!), and the ability to move around the stage’s area instead of only being restricted to dodging left and right (not to mention items, villages with NPCs, mini-games, an upgradable sword, and fairly useless special attacks), sakura samurai‘s biggest difference from punch-out!! is that it focuses more on quick reflexes than learning patterns (although the latter comes more into play during the game’s three boss battles). the game’s combat system relies on soulcalibur-esque reactions: when an enemy attacks vertically, you dodge to the side to avoid it, and when he attacks horizontally you should dodge to the back and then quickly move forward and attack. the core mechanics are limited, but there’s a satisfying progression. in the beginning enemies are fairly slow and only present one attack move at a time, but as you progress they get faster, require more hits to defeat, and chain attacks, requiring you to dodge successfully multiple times in quick succession. there’s a relatively small amount of variety in the enemies and it’s not difficult to recognize the differences between them, but the game’s appeal is centered on the fact that being able to recognize an enemy’s attacks and being able to react quickly enough to avoid getting hit are two very different things.
the concept is simple, but developing your reaction speed does take some time (in terms of reacting to visual cues i suppose this isn’t unlike the DS training game flash focus). the game is on the short side, but its difficulty is relatively high. stages are simply collections of different combinations of enemies with little else to distinguish them, and you can replay any of the ones you’ve unlocked. if you fail a stage you’re given the option to replay a previous stage for more health and money than usual which helps remove the sting of losing, but since you keep all your loot and items, a “game over” doesn’t set you back at all. the game keeps track of your “precision points”, which are gained by dodging attacks with the right timing, and your current streak is highlighted at all times (although extending your streak is pretty trivial since you can just replay the easy stages over and over again).
the game’s final boss is more difficult than anything else, mostly because he has some attacks that can’t be dodged, but refining your reactions becomes strangely addictive. there are a few slicing melons mini-games, some timed “marathon” modes, and a hard mode that limits your overall health which means basically requiring you to focus on earning and spending a lot more money for its equivalent, the invincibility item, as well as a “rock garden” mode in which you can donate steps taken with your 3Ds to make sakura trees bloom. these extras help round out the package, so although the game is a bit on the short side all in all this is a pretty worthwhile purchase, especially for fans of the punch-out!! series. i wouldn’t mind if the developers find ways to expand the gameplay and make this into a retail release.
flash focus on these sakura samurai links:
– official site: includes tips on how to play
– it’s interesting to compare reviews. the review at 1up complains about the high difficulty, whereas the review at nintendolife.com is more similar to my take on the game and says “Sakura Samurai’s balance feels fun and never cheap; messing up tends to encourage doing better next time”.
– theme music, on youtube
– entry at wikipedia