Samurai Champloo

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Bandai is hell bent on developing a game for every anime in the universe and Samurai Champloo is its latest pet project. Capturing the essence of the hit show, it's a hack-an-slash game with a unique musical twist that allows you to unleash cool looking combo attacks while grooving to all different types of hip hop. The story is being considered a lost episode but it continues the story of Fuu, Jin, and Mugen's quest for the samurai who smells of sunflowers, and while the game lets you play as Jin and Mugen, there's a third playable character that's brand new to the series, so if anything, Samurai Champloo should be a nice compliment to the show. However, Bandai's track record as of late has been incredibly inconsistent, so there's also a very good chance that it will screw the game up big time. Look for it during March 2006.

In-Depth Preview

Part of the reason why I've been upset with Bandai the past few months is because its anime-based games have lacked depth. Inuyasha and Zatch Bell (just to name a couple examples) are shallow fighters that are complete button mashers to the stars, which is fine if you surround this core gameplay with plenty of unlockables and additional modes, but the developers of those games failed to do that. So with that being said, I'm searching for something new and innovative, something exactly like Samurai Champloo, which is Bandai's latest fighter. Similar to its brothers it's a hack-an-slash title, yet its creators have incorporated an intriguing musical element as well as a distinct visual style that makes the game stand apart from the competition.

Samurai Champloo is an odd duck in adult swim's star studded lineup. It looks like any standard anime yet it comes packaged with hip hop music, and these contrasting styles, feudal Japan merged with rap, well, it's so goofy that it works. It revolves around three characters, the adorable female Fuu and two warriors Jin and Mugen. Fuu is in search of the samurai that smells of sunflowers, and in order to locate him, she's recruited these two brawlers to aid her on her quest, though they both hate one another and want to battle. But the group stays together and gets into all sorts of trouble in the land of Ezo, which is actually current day Hokkaido, Japan.

The game continues their quest but Bandai is treating it as a sneaky lost episode, so right there, clever marketing demands that fans of the show must pick up the game or their lives will be hopelessly incomplete. But there's much more to this title that tricky buzz words, a gameplay style that is bar none the most interesting idea that Bandai's come up with in probably a year.

At its core, Samurai Champloo is a beat-em-up, a game where you freely roam the countryside looking for trouble, and when you find it you can wail on enemies with over 60 different weapons. However, it's how you wail that makes the game so fascinating. Taking cues from the show, Bandai's managed to fuse hip hop into the gameplay, and the result is this strange hack-an-slash Dance Dance Revolution hybrid experience where the combos and the music are directly linked to one another. So when you first encounter an opponent, you'll select an LP (that comes with its own combos) and then go nuts, but you can swap LPs in and out at will, so the gameplay is supposedly a mix of these crazy affairs where you're switching LPs and busting out all these funky combos. But that's just one part of the action. After you fill up your tension gauge, which is accomplished by completing a set number of combo attacks, the game transitions to Tate mode, where you square off against a single enemy set behind an intricately crafted Japanese screen. It appears to be similar to Shenmue's QTE events, where you have to press a corresponding button on the DualShock 2, and if you do that correctly, the game will pull you into Trance Mode, where the characters become silhouettes and you're attacked by a gaggle of enemies at once.

Now if you manage to survive all of that the game will reward you with a new weapon or item, though throughout the course of your adventure you'll be able to purchase new stuff and even repair worn weaponry.

Everything that I know about the Samurai Champloo game came from a conference call, so I haven't had the privilege of playing it, but Bandai's definitely piqued my interest. I like how both playable characters have different fighting styles, Mugen's break dancing tactics and Jin's more reserved yet very deadly technique. It's also cool that each has a separate story, so if the game is decent, there's incentive to replay it. And as for the LPs, there are eight, but you can only carry two at one time, so providing the music is good, it'll be fun testing each one.

Although I don't know how the game plays I know how it looks, and thus far I'm not all that impressed. It's still a bit too early to judge, but based on what I've seen, it's not especially attractive. The CG sequences are nicely done, but the characters have been modeled in 3D and they're weird looking when compared to their 2D counterparts. As for gameplay, everything lacks detail and there's enough jaggies to make it look like a PS2 launch title. But the game comes out next March, so there's still time to spruce things up. Till then, I'll try to get some hands on impressions up, but expect the review shortly before the game is released.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.