Title: Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time
Release Date: August 21, 2020
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: Adult Swim Games
Genre: Action, Hack-n-Slash
Samurai Jack is a defining cartoon for thousands of people. Personally, it was the first thing I ever remember watching that featured an intense continuing plot as opposed to episodic adventures. You’d think that the series’ hack-and-slash action would translate perfectly into a video game, but we haven’t seen a game based on it in over 15 years. However, three years after the revival of the series comes Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time, and although it nails presentation, there are some systems that could use some sharpening.
Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time serves as a retelling of the series finale, with Aku trapping Samurai Jack in a time loop. As he strives to reunite with his lover Ashi and defeat Aku once and for all, Jack is forced to face all of his most formidable foes one more time.
I can appreciate a good licensed game. When done well, they deliver ways to dive deeper into an established IP. On the other hand, when done poorly, they can be some of the most laughably terrible games to be released. Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time lands somewhere in between these two extremes, creating a final product that can sometimes feel like it’s more trouble than its worth.
Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time is a relatively simple action game with a few RPG elements thrown in. Players will spend most of their time tearing through hundreds of robot beetles, demons, bounty hunters, and zombies as they progress through the main narrative. Some enemies are downed with one hit, while others will take skill and determination to defeat.
If you play on any difficulty other than easy, combat can be pretty challenging. In contrast, the first few missions start incredibly easy, about halfway through the game’s ten mission campaign, difficulty spikes. It doesn’t become unbearable, but enemies do get a bit more spongey, and attacks against Jack become less forgiving.
Combat can be made slightly easier by upgrading Jack across three different skill trees: spiritual, physical, and combat. Each of these helps Jack in different ways, from unlocking skills such as a double jump to longer, more powerful combos. Upgrading these trees periodically throughout the game is essential to success.
Another way that players can customize their experience is through the weapons and items they use. While Jack himself is most known for his iconic magic sword, he can wield a slew of other weapons such as hammers, axes, and staves. Jack can also equip several ranged weapons to help deal with enemies at a distance. Each weapon plays a little differently, allowing players to fine-tune their playstyle according to the weapons they like most.
As players cut down wave after wave of enemies, they will be rewarded with gold that they can use to purchase items in shops. This sounds like a good idea in concept, but strangely, enemies don’t drop enough gold for you to be able to consistently buy useful items. This made it feel like I was continually being held back from progression for no good reason.
Combat in Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time isn’t the most demanding in terms of action games and can be enjoyable in small doses. However, the more you play, the more tedious combat becomes. You pretty much see everything there is to see by the game’s midpoint, so progress becomes more a rush to the conclusion.
In fact, the bulk of Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time is mostly doing the same things over and over again across different themed levels. You move from one combat encounter to the next, sometimes with platforming sections in between, with each level culminating with a boss fight. This cycle can be fun in smaller bursts, but trying to go through more than three levels in one play session is asking for boredom.
One of my favorite things about Battle Through Time is how it rewards exploration. If players take the time to look around, more often than not, they will discover hidden secrets or upgrades. These secrets almost always directly help you upgrade Jack or give him new weapons and items, so taking the time to find them always feels worth the effort.
Fans of the original Samurai Jack show will be happy to hear that playing Battle Through Time often feels like you are playing the show. All of the original voice cast from season 5 return, with all story cutscenes being fully voiced. Sadly, not all interactions with characters in levels are voice acted, which stands out in contrast to the cutscenes.
While it isn’t a visual marvel, Battle Through Time looks like how I would expect a 3D version of Samurai Jack would look. It keeps the show’s stylized visuals as much as possible and, for the most part, succeeds. Each level is based on a different location from the show and, while there usually isn’t much going on in each level outside of combat, there didn’t really need to be. I found exploring each new level to be a delight, and I was always excited to see where the next one would take me.
Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time ended up being an incredibly mixed bag. Though it may have been great to play during the series’ original heyday, it doesn’t entirely hold up to modern standards. Like any blade, the combat becomes dull over time, but the graphics and systems are there to keep players slicing-and-dicing until the conclusion.
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