Review: “Samurai Riot” (Nintendo Switch)

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Konichiwa, bitches. Today we’re going to take a look at Samurai Riot, an co-op, arcade-style brawler developed by Wako Factory and published by Hound Picked Games.

Enough setup! Ikso! (いくそ!)

Samurai Riot takes place in a time of political unrest. You play as one of two warriors loyal to the master: the Tsurumaru (つるまる) the samurai and Sukane (すかね) the kunoichi (くのいち). Sorry readers, but I’m going to practice my Japanese a bit with this review. Your master reigns over the local subjects, though not everyone is happy with his leadership, and a revolution has begun percolating among the masses. At first, the game’s aesthetics suggest that Samurai Riot is set during Japan’s feudal era. However, it does not take long to realize that this must in fact take place in some kind of fantasy/science fiction future, as characters use guns and explosives, and some of the levels are clearly staged in what I would term “modern” settings, such as an industrial factory. 

I can smell some of your dissatisfaction in the air, dear readers. Samurai Riot is a beat ’em up. Why am I spending so much time discussing the story? I do so because the story is one of the most interesting aspects of Samurai Riot that sets it apart from other games in the genre. There are multiple decision points throughout the game where you must decide to join or abandon a faction, kill or spare an enemy, or other actions. This all leads to eight possible endings, and despite the bleak opening cinematic, it is possible to achieve a “good” ending. In every playthrough, the story jumps between the peasant revolt and the balance between the natural and supernatural worlds. 

Bondage. …That’s it. That’s the caption.

Other than the multiple story paths, the stage progression changes based on your decisions, too. Samurai Riot’s seven stages are all the same no matter how you proceed, but you will play them in a different order. They include a towns, a mining cave, the aforementioned industrial area, a haunted forest, etc. Despite being a brawler, the stages are fairly long, too, leading to a full playthrough taking between two and three hours. 

As noted above, you also have the choice between two characters, Tsurumaru (つるまる) and Sukane (すかね), and you can play with two players simultaneously. Unfortunately, I feel as though the player who is stuck with Tsurumaru is going to have a less pleasurable experience than the one who plays as Sukane. Not only does Tsurumaru look like a very generic samurai, but his fighting style is less interesting – and also less effective – than Sukane’s. His “block” defensive” move is less effective than Sukane’s evade, his grenades are not as useful as her shuriken (しゅりけん), plus Sukane has a magical kitsune (キツネ) fox familiar and a “Falcon Punch”-like charge attack. 

To commit a war crime, or not to commit a war crime…

Whether you choose Tsurumaru or Sukane, the combat is still fairly deep and there are several strategies you can use when dealing out damage. Sure, you can still try button-mashing your way through the game and you’ll probably be okay on normal difficulty (Samurai Riot isn’t remarkably difficult), but it’s far more satisfying to best your opponents by swooping and slicing like a samurai rather than bludgeoning them like an ogre.

No matter who you choose to play as, most stages give you a lot of room to maneuver. This makes it easy to use your ranged and dash attacks, plus backtrack a bit to grab items if you run into problems farther down the line. These items don’t include any extra weapons, though, which is odd for a brawler of this kind. It seems like you should be able to pick up one of the enemies’ spears or a kunai (くない) every now and then.

“Dun-dun-dun! Lightning!”

Speaking of the enemies, Samurai Riot falls into the same pit as so many other games from the beat ’em up genre in that there are far, far too many repetitive enemy designs. You will battle the same enemies throughout most stages – spear-toting peasants, tonfa-wielding chicks, ninjas, and a turtle-looking guy. Sure, some of them have slightly different attacks, but especially in a story-driven game like Samurai Riot, it simply doesn’t make sense. Why are you still fighting against the same peasants even if you join the rebellion? Shouldn’t you be fighting against soldiers or other samurai? Why are there not more oni (おに) or yokai (よかい) enemies to fight as you traverse between the physical and spiritual realms?

Fortunately, the boss battles are more interesting. There are those less inventing such as a typical swordsman, but there is also a naked spider lady, a robotic titan with an arm cannon, and a bloated, blubbery fatass body positive gentleman (who is easily defeated with a combination of dash and evade attacks).  A couple of these bosses will become standard enemies later in the game, too, because why discriminate when it comes to repeating sprites? 

Yep, she’s nekkid, but she’s still disgusting, so kill her with reckless abandon.

Aesthetically, the characters animate well and have a flat, well-defined art style. it’s all very competent, but like the stages and backgrounds, there’s not a lot of flash or anything notable that stands out. On the sound side, the music is very “Japonesque,” but I found it to be a bit on the dull side. Perhaps the Streets of Rage, TMNT and Golden Axe series have spoiled me, but I expect a few memorable tunes. The sound effects were all standard too, with some grunting and slashing but not as much in the way of voices. I should note, however, that I experienced an error on my second playthrough where many of the sound effects were completely muted. It was pretty annoying, and no manner of adjusting audio options or restarting the console managed to fix it.

In addition to the story, Samurai Riot’s other big selling point is its replay value. There are the afore-mentioned multiple endings, buy you also collect coins every time you play, which can be spent to unlock different costumes and “martial arts schools” for each character. It would have been nice to be able to switch between stages or fully customize their look no matter which fighting style you choose, but it’s still a fun way to explore new ways to play.

A mighty load, blows he!

There are also multiple difficulty levels to master if you’re looking for a challenge. Normal isn’t too tough, especially if you exploit your dash, evade, and long distance attacks (as Sukane). I beat the game without much issue on the first playthrough (2-3 hours, interrupted) with several lives left over. The game grades and saves your performance on each stage at each difficulty level, so the OCD of you out there can always keep pecking away until your stage map is a glorious, uniform platinum.

Fans of arcade brawlers who are looking for a slightly more in-depth fighting mechanic and lots of replay value will probably be pleased with Samurai Riot (especially if you stick with Sukane over Tsurumaru). However, if you are a graphics hound or prefer some killer tunes to accompany your slicing and dicing, you may be disappointed. And let’s face it, there’s really not much excuse for having so few enemy types a full 35 years after the original Double Dragon hit arcades. As for me, I enjoyed my playthroughs of Samurai Riot and may pick it up again sometime, though if that sound effect error comes back, I’ll probably just boot up Castle Crashers instead.

*Disclosure: A copy of Samurai Riot for Nintendo Switch was provided to The Splintering by Ratalaika Games for the purposes of this review.

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