Samurai Warriors 3
You may not have noticed, thanks largely to continual critical and commercial failure in the West, but Koei's series of Dynasty Warriors games are actually insanely popular in their Japanese homeland. With countless titles across all branches and spin-offs, and with more appearing at a seemingly unstoppable rate there's bucket loads of games for fans to devour. Despite the impressive quantity of releases the series has rarely felt the need to deviate from the core values established with the release of Dynasty Warriors 2 way back in 2000 on the PS2.
On the face of it you can see why they're so popular, after all a 3D action brawler where you take on whole armies on your lonesome sounds kind of fun. Who doesn't love a bit of weapons based hack and slashing now and then after all. Add in the kind of equipment and item fiddling beloved by so many as well as a stupidly large roster of playable characters each with detailed histories, a typically confusing storyline and you can almost understand the fuss.
The problem is, as it always has been, that the end result always turns out to be so much less than the sum of its parts. This situation is by no means changed with this third entry into the spin-off Samurai Warriors series. To pander, right at the start here, to anyone burnt by previous games and keen not to repeat the experience, what we're 'treated' to in SW3 is once again a mindless button bashing brawler that exhibits uninspiring enemy AI, ultra repetitive gameplay and is built on an engine that, even on the Wii, looks dated.
As usual the main story mode sees you picking a character (from the thirty seven on offer) before controlling them thought a whole series of large scale battles all set in the Warring States (Sengoku) period of Japanese history. Once on the battlefield you have a main objective to work towards, normally to kill a certain opposing general, as well as secondary missions which may require to you defend a stronghold or, again, kill someone specific. There's also tactical bonuses on offer should you perform certain actions in a certain way, kill a particular enemy using a certain special move for example and these reward you with upgrades and new kit to play allowing some kind of customisation to your character.
The trouble is there's really nothing more to it. Every single battle is fundamentally the same. Go here; kill everyone, go there do the same. Sure there's History mode which lets you create your own impossibly haired hero as well as a mode based on a Japanese-only NES game called Nazo No Murasamejo (The Mysterious Murasame Castle) which turns SW3 into a kind of ultra linear action adventure game but still, however you play it, it's always the same cycle of monotonous killing - repeated endlessly (well okay, not endlessly, but you get the point).
It's not even like the whole thing makes any sense on some historical accuracy level that would excuse the drudgery of the action. Any such delusions go right out the window the moment you see a female warrior battling through the hordes dressed in what amounts to armoured swimwear. To add to the silliness of it all, if you can ignore for the moment what it would do to the game's balance, it's bewildering to find yourself accompanied into battle by troops completely incapable of holding their own against even the weakest of foes. Obviously if they could then any sense of challenge would collapse but still, as we're clearly ignoring real history here couldn't they just have all been beamed aboard an alien mothership leaving you to fight the battle alone in an attempt to rescue them or something?
All of this wouldn't be such a problem were the combat itself deep and involving. Unfortunately it's really really realllly not. You have three main types of attack to plough through enemies with, there's your bog standard RSI inducing 'A' button sword slash attack which is augmented by a power attack triggered with the Down arrow. Then you've got your special Musou attack activated with a squeeze of the B button once your Musou gauge is full. It sounds like there's some room of depth here but the reality is you simply wander through battles hammering A till your finger bleeds with the occasional tap of Down to break things up or B when your gauge is full and that's about it. You'll die a few time along the way of course, for all it's simplicity SW3 isn't an easy game in parts with sheer weight of numbers often proving to be your downfall. The thing is when you do die it never feels like there's anything to learn from your fate, you just simply try again, doing the same thing, and all being well this time you'll deal a few more blows at the crucial time than you did last time.
There are a couple of additional moves to play with should you really feel the need to delve. A tap of the '-' button calls up your fighter's spirit to do some work for you while a charge attack gives your kind of super powered shoulder barge through a few rows of enemies. However, you're only ever really performing these out of curiosity since most enemies can be dispatched using pretty much any repeat until dead combination of the standard attacks you feel in the mood to unleash.
However, the worst thing about the combat is the physical demands it places on your poor hands. With the on screen odds always stacked heavily against you and the speed of your characters sword swipes depending on the speed of your button presses you're forced into the kind of button bashing frenzy that will give older gamers 'fond' memories of games like Track and Field. Had full on motion control options been included I'd wager SW3 could have caused serious injury to anyone who played it for longer than three minutes.
As you can see there are many many levels where SW3 fails horribly. However, and I know I'm going to sound massively contradictory here, it's only fair to point out that if you're able to ignore its problems and take it for what it actually is rather than what it could, should or even perhaps hopes to be, there's a certain amount of fun to be had despite all those failings. Treated as a kind of gaming B-movie there's some stress relief to be found in the ever repetitive combat, the absurd plot and cheesy dialogue often raise a smile while the multiplayer (split screen and online) can provide genuinely enjoyable post-pub style entertainment after the right amount of drinks.
Its hard to recommend any game purely based on 'so bad it's good' reasons of course and I'd certainly suggest only the most devoted fans should ever consider picking Samurai Warriors 3 up at anything close to full price. Manage to grab it on the cheap though and you may find it becoming something of a guilty pleasure, a game to be popped into the Wii when all you really want to do is disengage your brain and kill thousands of bad guys while mutilating your own fingers in the process.