If you were a child in the 2000s, chances are you watched Samurai Jack.
Created by Genndy Tartakovsky, it’s quite possibly one of the most critically acclaimed animated programs of all time, though fans were understandably disappointed when it ended without a conclusion after four seasons in 2004. Something magic happened in 2017 though; it came back for a fifth and final season, which actually had a proper finale. And fans now have something else to be excited about: a new Samurai Jack game.
With a story put together by Genndy Tartakovsky and series writer Darrick Bachman, along with voice-acting by the original cast, action platform game Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time is about as authentic to the franchise as you can get. It pits Samurai Jack against the troublesome Aku once again, forcing him to battle through time as he attempts to defeat Aku, in the past, to save the future.
“Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time is about as authentic to the franchise as you can get”
Each one of Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time‘s levels finds the titular hero in a new environment, and there’s a decent amount of variety to be found within them. There’s a spooky graveyard, a creepy cave, a craggy mountain, and even a train to battle across. No matter where your journey finds you, however, the action remains the same. Progress forward, beat any bad guys that stand in your path, then face off against a powerful boss.
Combat will be familiar to anyone that’s played an action game in recent years. You have a standard attack that forms the basis of your combos, and a heavy attack that does more damage but is more cumbersome. Both can be combined with a range of other actions for a bit of versatility, such as jumps, dodges, and a handy guard rush. There are ranged weapons, too, which can be quickly flung out or fired with a tap of the right trigger, or aimed with the left trigger for more precision. And you have a powerful super attack that’s best saved for large groups of enemies or troublesome bosses.
Of course, Jack’s magical sword is his primary weapon, but a whole host of additional melee weapons can be picked up and wielded too, from maces to sticks. They all have their strengths and weaknesses when facing certain enemies, but will eventually break if you don’t pay to repair them when encountering Da Samurai. He’s your man for upgrading your level with all of the available weapon types as well, allowing you to then use your skill points to learn new abilities.
Chances are you’ll be far from completing all three of Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time‘s skill trees by the time you’ve finished its sub 10-hour campaign, however. As such, you’re best prioritising the skills you want the most, then finishing things off by replaying levels or engaging in the unlockable missions mode. Opening many of the loot-filled chests strewn throughout the game’s levels require you to double jump or Jump Good, for example, so they’re skills you should probably unlock as soon as you can.
“If you’re a fan of the franchise, you’ll get a real kick from seeing many familiar faces, all brought wonderfully to life”
The slow pace at which you unlock skills does unfortunately bring the gameplay down a little. On your first playthrough, the one that really matters, you’ll be rather limited by Jack’s moveset. On top of that, combat just doesn’t flow quite as well as it should, and the lock on system isn’t the best. Sometimes you’ll find yourself battling upwards of five enemies at a time, and with your attack animations not interruptable for a quick dodge or block, it’s easy to find yourself in a world of pain when an enemy lunges at you from offscreen, and then have other enemies capitalise upon it.
It’s not fun being hit by one enemy and then not being able to do anything until yet another gets a hit in, leading to some frustrating moments at times. And then there’s the fact that your own hits often don’t appear to do any damage at all. Enemies rarely flinch or react when you actually do damage to them, giving you little feedback. And their health is variable; when there are many enemies on screen, they’ll generally go down in just one or two hits each. But when you’re tackling just a few, they’re much harder to put down. It leads to an experience that feels inconsistent.
“It’s just a shame that Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time‘s combat hasn’t been given a little more care and attention”
Once you’ve expanded Jack’s repertoire though, and got used to the game’s clunky mechanics, you can start having a decent amount of fun with Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time. It looks rather nice, has a nice mix of platforming and combat, and allows you to go off the beaten track frequently enough to grab yet more loot and collectables. If you’re a fan of the franchise, which you most likely are if you’re reading this, you’ll also get a real kick from seeing many familiar faces, all brought wonderfully to life.
It’s just a shame that Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time‘s combat hasn’t been given a little more care and attention to ensure that it flows better. With there being so much of it, its clunky nature drags the game down a fair bit. Still, if you’re a huge Samurai Jack fan who wants to spend some more time with the character, it’s worth a play. But if you have experience with the likes of Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden, you will find its gameplay lacking.