Mumbling about Muramasa: The Demon Blade

Man, you remember the Wii?  I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before, but for all the flak the Wii got for “having no games”, it sure had a hell of a lot of good games.  In a lot of ways, I feel the Wii got everything that the indie games market is covering now, before indie games even had a hope of making it.  In the face of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 pushing HD graphics and high processing power, but correspondingly high development costs, the Wii offered a more modest rate of performance at a much cheaper, and correspondingly less risky, development price.  Games didn’t port well to and from the Wii and you didn’t see it’s larger install base buying as many games as the other consoles, so it didn’t see that many AAA releases.  But established companies shooting out more experimental and creative secondary-level games?  That it had in droves.  And lots of them were really good.  At this point, my Wii library is pretty comparible in size to that of its competitors, and I find myself really glad for that.

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Case in point, there’s Muramasa: the Demon Blade.  Oozing art style, combat that’s at the same time buttery smooth and awkward, a game that’s not trying to make the huge statement of its AAA counterparts and is just there to be fun.  That last part is really representative of the Wii’s output for me.  How did it play out in this case?  Let’s find out!

Muramasa is made by Vanillaware, who at this point were notable for Odin Sphere and later because well-known for their beat-em-up Dragon’s Crown.  It’s a side-scrolling action game where you play as one of two characters roaming around beautifully drawn depictions of the various areas of feudal Japan, as you slay your enemies, collect the Demon Blades, and…. do things to get stuff done.  There’s a plot, but frankly, it really doesn’t matter.

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And yeah, it being Vanillaware, the art is the most prominent part of this piece.  And it is great.  Everything is lavishly hand-drawn, incorporating real-world art techniques from feudal Japan in a way that makes things look completely fitting to the setting even as they’re stunningly gorgeous.  Most of it looks even better in motion.  Being hand-painted, animations are a little limited, and some of them do look a little janky, but for the most part, they really breathe life into these characters and locales.

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The bosses are probably visually the best part.  If you’ve been playing video games for a while, chances are you’ve probably been pretty well exposed to lots of classical Japanese culture and mythology.  Muramasa draws from that well pretty heavily, but doesn’t just add art to it, it’s often dropping some really interesting twists on the classical mythology as well.  Inugami goes from classical mythology of being a dog poltergeist to the version here of being a blasted scary being with rows of teeth that never end.  Raijin keeps all they fierceness and aggression he’s had in classical mythology, but he’s in the form of a muscular battle woman here.  I found it interesting, seeing the unusual takes on familiar features all over the place.

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