The best martial arts movies know how to wrap drama around a simple act of violence. A teahouse shootout thanks to a character’s inborn recklessness, for example. Samurai Gunn is the simple acts of violence, and you and three of your friends are that inherent drama. At its best times, playing Teknopants’ arena brawler is like playing your favorite Wu-Tang Clan cd. At its, albeit few, worst times, its like playing the Wu-Tang Clan video game, Shaolin Style.
This title revels in aged and classic experiences. It’s entire visual direction is a smorgasbord of Kurosawa-esque homage. The very little detail you can make out of your tiny little pixelated avatars are precise references to feudal Japanese combat culture (at least, what Hollywood represented it as). The very small portraits of pixeled pugilism are heavily inspired by both kung fu movies, and old school platformers. With only a short list of real visual variety between them, the various layouts of platforms and additions of traps gives these locales long legs. For example, There may only be one forest theme, but there are several different maps that adopt the style, and no two maps have the same collection of interactive obstacles.
In the quest to kill your friends, you are armed with a sword and a gun with only three bullets, all of which will slay your foes outright with a single strike. This lethality is the backbone of the tactical meta-combat that will be going on in the spaces between you and your frenemies on the couch. You’re always a stray bullet or flashing blade away from a respawn, and death can come quickly, from all angles, and when you least expect it. Swords can be parried with strikes of your own, and bullets reflected with well timed strikes, making no offense completely safe. The gameplay is simple, almost Mega Man 2-like (minus the impossible platforming), but this is a thinking man’s game, despite the chaos that may be happening on the screen.
At least it should be. Sometimes, death will come from a sword that one would swear couldn’t hit you, a bullet you most certainly hit. Sometimes you will respawn with bullets, sometimes you won’t. More than once did one of the more exotic game options (2v2, 2v1v1, etc.) crash on arrival. There is also no online multiplayer to speak of, and no intention of adding any. Couch Co-Op is the only way to fly, which makes enjoying this game to its fullest as easy as finding four people with PC controllers. Even the single player survival mode is better with more people, but not allowing to ability to really capitalize on it via the modern comforts of online matchmaking will make you feel like you’re only playing this game at its best on rare occasions.
But when its on, Samurai Gunn is a very fun Smash Bros. alternative for those who like their party brawlers drenched in old school sauce. Combat is fast and furious, and gets a much needed assist from the variety of arenas you can do battle in. The visuals have a charming samurai western flair, and the soundtrack may be worth the asking price of the game on its own. Exploring how the games moving parts can create unique and nuanced gameplay is a great deal of fun. Just make sure you bring your own friends.