Developer: Wako Factory
Publisher: Wako Factory
Release Date: 13/09/2017
Samurai Riot is a side-scrolling fighter in the style of the classics that graced arcade machines and consoles back in the 90s – you know, ploughing from left to right across levels all whilst smashing up bad guys and racking up scores along the way. Everyone has played one and I’m sure almost everyone has loved one too, with my personal favourite being the Streets of Rage series back on the SEGA Mega Drive (or Genesis, for you American folk). Now, Samurai Riot hopes to re-create that experience of yesteryear, and to its credit it does – for better and worse…
Samurai Riot puts you in the middle of a Civil War in Japan, with you taking on the role of either the Ninja Sukane or the Samurai Tsurumaru. You’ve been tasked with taking control over a group of rebels, but quickly find that things might not be as they seem. Thus, the adventure grows on a grander scale, with Sukane and Tsurumaru forced to choose to fight either for their Grand Master or for what they think is right.
Samurai Riot has a few tricks up its sleeve as far as the narrative goes by allowing the player to make choices throughout the game, each of which will end up giving you one of the eight different endings that are possible. These choices don’t always feel like they offer huge changes from a gameplay perspective, but having that ability to dictate how some elements of the game plays out is pretty neat. Also, if you’re playing in co-op mode both players are able to make a choice, meaning there’s a bit of tension if you have conflicting decisions. The best way to resolve it? A fight of course, which certainly brought back memories from Double Dragon’s ‘fight for the girl’ conclusion. In all, the choices add a bit of replay value and character to the experience, and they were something I could appreciate.
Outside of the different choices you make though, there isn’t really a whole lot that’s fresh in Samurai Riot’s gameplay. It’s not that it’s bad by any means, but rather that it’s just incredibly dated. The controls and attacks are simple with very little in the way of combos, whilst the enemies themselves are little more than grunts who’ll slowly make their way towards you with little to no thought. Some of the boss encounters are a bit more creative, but again, they’re guilty of offering nothing that you wouldn’t have seen plenty of times before in the past. It just feels as though it’s a replica of the classic games we used to play; I’m all for nostalgia and it’s great to play something that reminds me of some of the classics, but in this day and age I kind of expected a little bit more.
At least the game does try to make things a bit more interesting by introducing ‘Fight Schools’ that you choose at the start of the game, but the fact that most of them were locked away during my first playthrough left me with no real incentive to explore the system. They change up your stats and offer a few unique abilities which is neat, but you have to play through the game and earn cash if you want to unlock them. In honesty, there wasn’t enough to Samurai Riot to really make me want to play through multiple times to unlock all of them, but if each Fight School was available from the get-go it might’ve added a bit more variety to the experience. Whether or not they’ll make a big difference during your playthrough will come down to if you’re patient enough to play through the game’s hour and a half story time and time again to obtain them.
Naturally given the style of game it is, Samurai Riot is at its very best when played in co-op. It was the same back in the day for old school side-scrolling fighters like Streets of Rage, Golden Axe, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, so why wouldn’t it be the case now? Despite how basic gameplay generally is, when you’re mashing at foes with a friend it’s not as noticeable; you’ll be too busy co-ordinating attacks or smashing down the damage-sponge bosses to think about how simple it all is. There are some powerful co-op moves to utilise too, which further justifies playing through the game with a friend.
Unfortunately, and perhaps fittingly given that almost everything about Samurai Riot feels like it’s playing on nostalgia, there’s no online play with the game only supporting local co-operative play. For me this wasn’t massive deal breaker since I find that playing these kinds of games is best done when you’re actually with a friend as opposed to simply talking with one over a headset. However, it’s simply not possible for everyone, so it’s a real shame that those who don’t have anyone else to play with them or a second controller are instead limited to Samurai Riot’s basic single player experience.
One thing I really loved about Samurai Riot was its cartoon-like aesthetic. Now don’t get me wrong, they aren’t the most detailed or fluidly animated visuals you’re going to see in a video game, but they’re certainly charming and add a lot of character to the experience. There’re plenty of nice touches to be seen in both the character and the environmental design, whilst the whole Japan/samurai theme that the game is based upon is cleverly conveyed through everything that’s on show. I really had a lot of love for the look of the game and I was always interested to see what the game would throw at me next (even if it was a bit guilty of overusing palette swaps at times).
Samurai Riot isn’t bad by any means and I actually had a lot of fun playing through the game with a friend – it certainly evoked memories of my younger years of mashing through enemies after arguing over who gets to play as what character (you’re my boy, Axel).
However, it all felt a little bit too simple and dated. The combat mechanics themselves are basic, whilst the level design itself follows the same tried and tested formula of simply seeing players walking to the right and beating up anything that comes in front of them. There was nothing that really impressed me or made Samurai Riot stand out as something unique, with it instead playing exactly like the games that have been around for over twenty years.
Still, there’s no denying there’s a charm to the old-school side-scrolling fighting that the game offers and that’s something Samurai Riot manages to nail. Unfortunately though, in 2017 that just might not be enough for everyone…