If you're reading this, you probably already know what Samurai Champloo is. It's a popular animated series, currently airing on Cartoon Network and available on DVD, that combines 19th century Samurai action with cutting edge comedy, underscored by a soundtrack made up of jazz and hip-hop.
What you may not know, however, is that Namco Bandai Games is bringing a video game based on the hit show to the PlayStation 2 next month, an action-packed sword romp called Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked.
As the title implies, the game isn't a re-tread of the TV show. Instead, it is an original side story that takes place in-between the first and second episodes of the show. Players will get to see the earliest moments of Fuu, Jin, and Mugen's partnership, as they set out in search of the sunflower Samurai, and be able to participate first-hand in some of the events that lit the fuse for key confrontations that occurred in the show's later episodes.
Stylistically, the game has a structure similar to that of the animated TV show. There's a lengthy cinematic opening, which introduces the characters, gives credit to the voice cast, and gets the story going. Each episode (or mission, if you prefer) begins with a lengthy story sequence explaining why Mugen and Jin are about to lay waste to the dozens of ninjas and thugs we're about to encounter, followed by the actual hands-on portion of the episode, followed by more talking and story development. The story has many twists and turns, but, in a nutshell, Mugen ends up poisoned and constantly pursued by a crazy witch that has the hots for him, Fuu is kidnapped multiple times, and somehow all three manage to find themselves embroiled in a civil war. Yep, this is definitely Samurai Champloo .
Fans of the show will appreciate that the game tries to closely mimic the TV show's style. The cinematic scenes, while not hand-drawn, employ the same close-up perspectives and quick cuts that the TV show uses. The juxtaposition of gorgeous 19th century scenery and modern jazz music is particularly noteworthy. Furthermore, the dialogue and narration are cut with the same sort of wry humor that makes taking in an episode on Adult Swim such a guilty pleasure.
Even though there are many, many, many story scenes to sit through, Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked isn't a role-playing game. That may surprise those of you that have come to know Bandai as "the company that makes role-playing games based on animated TV shows." Instead, the game's hands-on aspects involve hack-and-slash style combat similar to that found in games like Samurai Warriors and Genji: Dawn of the Samurai , which is right in line with the TV show's action-packed nature.
Each environment is populated with groups of robbers, ninjas, and other baddies. In true video game fashion, you have to eliminate them and the "boss" waiting at the end of each mission (who is usually another Samurai or some ungodly demon). Combat, and there is LOTS of it, primarily involves tapping the square and triangle buttons to perform various attacks and combinations. Multi-hit combinations are the way to go, because the higher your hit counter climbs, the more money the bad guys leave behind when they die. Money, in turn, lets you buy better weapons and upgrades from the shops situated in certain areas.
Also available for purchase are additional music tracks, which change the accompanying soundtrack, but not in the way you'd expect. Each piece of music adds another combination to your character's arsenal. By tapping the buttons in the order shown, you'll unleash attacks in time with the beats. Anytime you want, you can tap the right analog stick to switch songs, thereby changing the attacks and combinations your character can perform. It's sort of like being a DJ and a fight choreographer, all in one.
Combat isn't all about mashing buttons. Grasshopper Company, the developer Bandai contracted to produce the game, took some of the concepts they thought up for their previous work, Killer 7 , and incorporated them into Champloo's fight system. If you tap the attack button the instant an enemy initiates an attack, you'll bring up "counter" mode, which is a button-matching minigame. By pushing the indicated buttons, you'll dodge the enemy's assault and nail him with your own attack. Performing successful combos will sometimes trigger what's known as "fate" mode, a state where the action slows down a la The Matrix , allowing your character to make multiple attacks in a split-second. There's also a state called "trance" mode, which is a two-parter that first lets you dish out 100+ attacks on a single enemy, and then lets you follow that up by doling out one-hit-kills to 100 individual enemies locked in a silhouetted room.
Players can go through the game as any of three different characters. From the outset, Mugen and Jin are available. Sadly, Fuu, in all her ditzy glory, isn't playable. That wouldn't make sense, since she's always getting into trouble or locked up in some kidnapper's lair. A third character, unique to the game, becomes available once you complete the scenarios for either of the other two characters. In all, there are roughly a dozen different missions to play through for each character. Some missions and story scenes change based on the character you play, which should give diehard fans enough incentive to finish the game with all three characters.
Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked for the PlayStation 2 is scheduled to ship April 11, 2006.
In the meantime, click here to see some screenshots of the game .
Or, click here to watch a video clip of the game in motion .