It’s only appropriate to begin this review by reflecting on next-gen hardware, both since the PS3 and Wii are right around the corner and because Samurai Warriors 2 appears on a current-gen and next-gen system. Before the Xbox 360 launched, gamers wondered what gameplay innovations developers would deliver with these more-powerful systems. By and large, we’ve seen only a few actual innovations, but plenty of sexy graphics. A shining example of this is KOEI’s Samurai Warriors 2, which releases in North America tomorrow (Tuesday) for Xbox 360 and PS2.
Much like the recently released Ninety Nine Nights, Samurai Warriors 2 is a hack-and-slash game set in feudal Japan that follows the stories of multiple warriors. In turn, these games both follow almost exactly in the footsteps of games like the Dynasty Warriors series, which is driven by mindless button-mashing action and fancy super moves. To be fair, the PS2 version of Samurai Warriors 2 lives in the current-gen console world, so perhaps expecting innovation is out of line. But we’re reviewing the Xbox 360 version, so our expectations are considerably higher. Even the editors of Electronic Gaming Monthly have expressed concern that we’re starting to see more of the same stuff, just in a different and higher-priced package. And indeed, that’s what you get with Samurai Warriors 2.
The game has five different modes: Story, Free, Survival, Sugoroku and Xbox Live. Story mode follows the exploits of 27 characters, seven of which are available from the beginning and each of whom has a five-chapter story. Every chapter begins almost like a Rainbow Six game, with a map of objectives, weapon loadout options and a chance to select the AI-controlled hero you want to be your sidekick. Once you enter these chapters, though, you’ll find they’re essentially identical in structure: there’s a boss who can only be accessed by traversing a monotonous battlefield (a la the Library in Halo), there are multiple mini-bosses protecting him at various points in each level, and you’ll be inundated with text messages that certain factions of your army need your help, which requires you to plod over to another part of the battlefield to save their inept bacon.
In this respect, Samurai Warriors 2 is almost identical to Ninety-Nine Nights, with two notable exceptions: the AI in Samurai Warriors 2 is generally good, and you can’t issue commands to your army. Samurai Warriors 2 also improves on the Ninety-Nine Nights formula by making the levels for each character actually feel unique. In both games, each character’s “campaign” involves playing through the same story, but from a different character’s point of view. In Ninety-Nine Nights, this strategy led to the levels feeling identical in nearly every regard. In Samurai Warriors 2, however, the levels and objectives are different enough to make the game feel as though it includes more than one campaign — even if they all involve identical gameplay mechanics.
Samurai Warriors 2 has received some changes from its predecessor, most notably that leveling-up your character and improving your skills are no longer accomplished solely by buying upgrades at the store, but also by killing enemy captains on the battlefield. There’s also co-op play, though it’s strictly an offline experience. The Xbox Live mode, in fact, doesn’t even involve playing with another person; instead, you both play against an AI-controlled general, and the winner is determined by whoever defeats the general fastest.
A third mode, Free Mode, lets gamers play all previously cleared chapters with any character they choose, while a fourth mode, Survival, involves making your way up a pagoda fighting through as many waves of enemies as possible. It’s the Sugoroku Mode, though, which is actually a minigame, that offers the most interesting content. Sugoroku is basically a Monopoly clone playable by up to four players, but rather than buying railroads and Boardwalk, players buy squares of feudal Japan. As players land on your square, they must pay the rental amount, and the first person to reach a predetermined amount of gold wins the game.
It’s a sad state when the minigame is the most compelling part of a full-priced title, but that’s pretty much the case with Samurai Warriors 2. The gameplay, while decent in the traditional button-masher sense, offers absolutely nothing new, and it’s often difficult to point your character in the right direction when attacking or blocking. Riding horses is also a chore, as the turning radius is roughly half a battlefield, rendering equestrian combat far from efficient. Then there’s the lack of a checkpoint system, a serious oversight considering many of the levels take upwards of 45 minutes to complete. And the multimedia aspects, from the “is this really a next-gen title?” graphics and the too-close camera to the horrendous surfer-dude voiceovers and NES-era sound effects, don’t exactly make the game any more compelling.
Samurai Warriors 2 is going to have its fans, but we’re just not among them. The core button-mashing mechanics aren’t broken, so publishers may argue that they shouldn’t tinker with a successful formula. But when every button masher starts to feel, look and sound the same, publishers have to do something to set themselves apart, especially with next-gen games costing more and more. And this game, unfortunately, doesn’t set itself apart in the least.
- Overall: 7
- More compelling than Ninety-Nine Nights, but that’s not saying much. The graphics are disappointing and the audio should’ve been left in its original Japanese. Truly, with CG sequences this good, the use of cheap SoCal voice talent removes any sense of immersion. At least the Sugoroku minigame is fun.
— Jonas Allen