Few consoles elicit more confused reactions, amongst gamers and developers alike, than the Nintendo Wii, to this day lambasted for its gimmicky controllers and lack of power and storage compared to its two main rivals, not to mention the supposed lack of “decent” games available for it. Yet somehow, sales figures can’t lie, it is massively successful and enjoyed by many; the market it provides for, however, doesn’t overlap the group that is most vocal: the internet hard-core gamers and journalists. Some scorn at the success of the Wii Fit but no matter how such products don’t provide for the hardcore, they do provide for the Wii’s main market, and to criticise that is not unlike criticising a dairy farm for not producing the beer you like so much better.

And despite the fact the Wii has proven itself to be the console of choice for, what some call, the “casual market”, some developers and publishers can’t help but try to pander to the hardcore. Games like Madworld and No More Heroes seem a bad fit for the Wii’s market, and their sales figures are less than stellar. This month it is no other than No More Heroes’ publisher Marvellous who bring us “Oboromuramasa”, the latest game by Vanillaware of Odin Sphere fame.

The game itself is nothing more than a brawler set in an ancient Japanese setting, through which the player moves via small stages where the occasional brawler battle takes place. There are some RPG elements involved, like levelling up and forging swords, but generally the game is a button masher and would probably fare better on other consoles where the main market is more receptive to such titles.

That said, what Muramasa has going for it is, like Odin Sphere, the drop-dead gorgeous visuals, proving once again that art direction trumps technological prowess by a mile. This game would have been immensely lacklustre had it been rendered in “glorious” 3D utilising every single byte of memory that the Xbox360 or PS3 have to offer. Instead it runs comfortably in the Wii’s low-resolution environment with its beautiful, hand-drawn 2D graphics that are rich with little touches of detail and sometimes barely perceptible animations. Seeing Musamasa in motion is gratifying in itself, regardless of the game mechanics behind it. It is simply beautiful.

People versed in ancient Japanese art and history will find plenty here to get excited about. Images borrow heavily from famous artworks, and though generally fairly “anime” styled, it has an overall feel of historical paintings. This, the Japanese version of the game, also relies heavily on kanji and a little bit of an obtuse front-end, so importers are advised to wait for the European or American versions.

Once these localised versions are released, though, I suspect it will find somewhat of a larger market abroad than it does in Japan, especially among the “Japanophiles”, as the game drips Nihonese like nothing else. But even then it will have to compete with much better marketed games like Wii Fit and big licensed fare that the casual gamer might have heard of. I fear this game might not receive the attention it deserves simply because it is a new game and people need to know about it before they actively seek it out and buy it, as opposed to stumbling across it in a game shop and picking it up on a whim; that seems to be a tactic that doesn’t work well for Wii games.

Though I am becoming less and less of a “hard-core” gamer, I am immensely gratified developers like Vanillaware continue to pursue their art and create off-beat games like Muramasa; especially as a visual artist myself I am getting a lot of enjoyment out of the presentation alone. My thumb, however, probably won’t outlast the actual gaming experience and I am probably doomed, like many others no doubt, to get the main bulk of my enjoyment from HD Youtube movies created by others.

Oboromuramasa is a gorgeous game. I recommend it to anybody who is serious about the medium to look at it as another example of games being an art in and of themselves, as opposed to something similar or equal to the more established art forms. Buy it when it is released locally and keep your fingers crossed Vanillaware makes enough money out of it to spurn them on to make more games with this visual style.


  1. Well I am a fan of Vanillaware's games, even have Princess Crown on the Saturn which still holds up well today visually. The Wii is a great little machine, those core games are not selling well but there's no reason why gamers who consider themselves 'hardcore' shouldn't pick them up rather than complaining that there are no good games on the system.

    Granted I am just as guilty as anyone for getting most of my gaming kicks on an HD platform, namely the PS3. Seriously I think we've all got so used to the endless rhetoric of the Wii as 'that casual' system or 'just for kids' without taking into account that the little white box offers a lot more. Apart from some of the best games ever developed available on VC, sure most of us already own these on older systems but it's nice that they are there on one box-couldn't be more convenient.

    Nintendo's own triple-A titles namely, Zelda: Twilight Princess, Mario Galaxy, Super Paper Mario, SSB Brawl etc. are worth any gamer's time. Then ofcourse there are those 3rd party games, that may not set sales charts on fire but are sure to become cult-faves. Mad World, No More Heroes, Oboromuramasa....and a little underated gem by the name of Tenchu: Shadow Assassins shows that the Wii offers something for everyone.

    I hope Oboromuramasa does well enough to keep Vanillaware going. One can see they toiled long & hard to create one of the most distinctive & beautiful looking games in recent years. I can see old-skool gamers who happen to own a Wii picking this one up...I just hope there's enough of them to make Vanillaware's choice of platform a sound one.

    Btw your new layout looks cool.

  2. Just recently I picked up Odin Sphere and I've put about 12 hours playtime into it so far. While I absolutely cherish its lovely 2D visuals, the actual gameplay sadly got stale for me way too early.

    It was just too repetitive in almost every aspect. After finishing the first character's story I was under the impression that from now on the game was going to recycle and repeat everything I had seen so far (enemies, enviroments, bosses) about four to five more times.

    Then I went on and finished the second character's story, which kind of confirmed my initial impression...

    On top of all that the combat alone is, as you said, button mashing at its core and probably the most repetitive aspect of the game in itself.
    The tedious inventory managment / alchemy game might add a layer of depth to the whole, but in turn it utterly breaks the flow of the fast-paced action game it probably should be.

    Now my question is, how does Muramasa compare to Odin Sphere in this respect? Did they change anything under that pretty layer of paint?
    I really hope they did - I wanted to love Odin Sphere, but I couldn't. Hopefully Muramasa is different.

    (From what I gathered they reduced the number of characters to two, which sounds like a good idea to me.)

  3. Maybe the reason why they don't release these kind of games on the PS3 and the 360 is because:

    1) the developer doesn't have neither the budget nor the technical expertise to make an HD version.

    2) the HD console holders, Sony and MS, will most likely demand to include certain features that in games like these make no sense whatsoever making the their development time longer and more expensive, not to mention ruin the developers true idea/identity for their game.

    3) being 2D games, Sony and MS most likely will see them as downloadable games which might not be aligned with what the developers think how their product should be distributed.

    Just my personal opinion.

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