Game: Samurai Jack: The Shadow of Aku
System: Nintendo GameCube
Release Date: 3/24/04
Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a Cartoon Network freak. I tune in on a regular basis to watch shows like Dexter’s Laboratory, Powerpuff Girls, and Cow & Chicken if its even still on. Sure I may be a little “old” for these toons, but let’s face it, if I can find enjoyment out of playing video games meant for the 6-12 crowd, I can find enjoyment in their animation as well.
Yet there is one show, however, that piques my interest more than any other on the network (outside of the Adult Swim block and the tons of anime): Samurai Jack. That show is perhaps one of the finest shows ever showcased on the Cartoon Network. The quality of the animation, as well as the stories told, appeal to many, including myself. So I was pleased when a game was made based upon the show. But does it live up to the show? Find out in…
Fans of the show will be familiar with TV show’s background. A lone samurai had been trained from boyhood to end the many years of oppression of his people brought about by the super natural demon “Aku”. He had trained all over the world in many styles of combat; learned from his many teachers. Upon reaching manhood, he received a magic sword, which had the power to vanquish the evil demon when used correctly. The samurai challenged Aku to an incredible battle. The samurai gained the upper hand in the battle, and even had the demon on the verge of death. However, a moment of hesitation had cost the samurai’s victory. As a last-ditch effort, Aku tore a portal in time, and flung the samurai into the future. Upon his arrival, the samurai found the future to be a grim one. Aku had taken over the entire world in his absence; even extending his evil to other worlds. So now, the samurai finds himself traveling the world once more, this time unfamiliar and dangerous. His goal: to find a way to return to his own time and to undo the horrible future Aku has made. And ever since then, the samurai has gone under the alias “Jack”. The story is incredibly deep for a Cartoon Network production, and its gradual unfolding over its 40 or so episodes has been nothing short of splendid.
The video game’s story does not mean to recreate the first chapter, nor does it mean to be the last chapter. You’ll start off in the middle of Jack’s travels as a separate adventure from the TV series. You begin on your way to a town under siege by Aku’s minions, which serves as a world hub of sorts. Once you get there, you’ll need to perform several series of tasks in neighboring areas, such as putting out fires, rescuing people, and other hero-like things Samurai Jack does. Eventually, you’ll be able to talk the head honcho of the town, fight off a couple of bosses, and head off to the next village. It’s pretty much “Jack-Light”, considering the overall plot is more implied from the TV series, rather than spelled out for you.
For what its worth, Adrenium serves the story right, as if its an adventure taken straight from Cartoon Network Studios’ drawing room. However, the one thing I can’t shake is the way Jack traverses the terrain. In the shows, he is constantly moving; rarely returning to places he’s been more than once. In the game, we see him return to the town hubs three or four times, seemingly “localized” in a given area for the majority of the game. Its as if he’s going against the dynamic of how the show is laid out. But considering this is a game and not a show, I’m sure certain sacrifices have to be made.
Samurai Jack makes a nice transition from the two-dimensional world to the three-dimensional world. The environments retain the simple, yet vibrantly detailed looks from the show. Jack will traverse through cities, forests, and machine worlds that fit incredibly in his world. The only problem here is the frame rate, as it does not run at a consistent 60 FPS, and will occasionally slow down.
As long as I’m here, I’ll talk about the camera for a bit. Now usually, when regarding 3D platformers, we here at 411 will probably have some excruciating horror stories when regarding camera. However, in this case, I’m afraid that I’m going to have to disappoint you. This game has one of the FINEST 3D cameras I’ve ever seen. It follows Jack from a respectable distance, and (get ready for this) STAYS THERE! It’ll stay behind Jack as he runs, as he hops behind enemies, as he attacks in slow motion…how NOVEL! It’s easy to adjust with the C-Stick! It’ll snap back to normal after certain attack cut scenes! It occasionally zooms in when you don’t want it to, but NEVER enough so you lose track of what you’re doing. I couldn’t believe it; a camera that FUNCTIONS! Whoever was in charge of the camera for this game, I want to shake your hand.
As for Jack himself, he also translates well. His character design is a unique one to be sure, but he looks natural in his environments. An interesting feature is that when he takes heavy damage, he will show battle damage, much like the show. The only downside is that the damage isn’t gradual. You’ll go straight from looking perfectly healthy to being cut and scarred. It really doesn’t flow that well. Other than that, however, Jack himself experiences VERY few problems.
Wow, Jack’s a real “cut-up”! Get it? GET IT?!?
The in-game voices are (you guessed it) taken straight from the TV show. Not only will you recognize Jack’s voice, but you’ll also recognize several other voices that seem to pop up in every Cartoon Network made production. It gives the game an air of authenticity that makes it better to play through.
The music, however, really didn’t grab me. The majority of it was very low key, and didn’t fit in with the action very well. And it seemed that it consisted ENTIRELY of sitars. Even the show had a greater variety than sitars.
The game’s controls are rather easy to learn and execute. The analogue stick moves you around, A is your jump, B is swings your sword horizontally, and Y swings it vertically. X will throw ninja stars, while Z will activate your bow weapon, which you manually aim and shoot. If these controls remind you of Ninja Gaiden, you’re not the only one. The game controls a LOT like Ninja Gaiden, but simplified a bit to make it easier for the younger crowd to pick up and play.
A difference is that the L button will let you enter a cinematic mode of sorts, allowing you to slow down time and execute high-powered attacks. You can only do this for a limited time, however, as there is a “power bar” underneath your health bar to regulate such things.
You also have the option of performing special combo attacks by holding down L and pressing several buttons in quick succession. If done right, the game will cut to a “cinematic attack” where the camera will zoom around Jack as he performs incredible moves on his opponents. These are nice to look at, but they are a bit hard to pull off. Besides, they are completely optional anyways.
When a game has a high replay value, it usually falls into one of two categories:
1) The game contains plenty of addicting elements, as well as many endearing qualities, to keep players coming back many times over.
2) The game scatters many items over expansive worlds of many types that force players to come back and find them in order to finish the game at 100%
Samurai Jack falls into the latter category.
In order to fully complete the game, you’ll need to scour every level to find EVERY artifact and rescue EVERY captured person. All is not without reward, however. Rescuing villagers will grant you additional swords to use, and you’ll be able to increase your power, health, and spirit gauges by trading your artifacts for upgrades. Additional bonuses come in the Options menu where you can unlock character art and other sketches.
Outside of the bonuses, I really didn’t feel like going back into the game. I was just glad it was finished.
Replay Value: 6/10
Here is a game where you control the difficulty for the most part. When you begin your adventure, you have your choice of Easy, Normal, and Hard modes. Easy Mode is for the kiddies, as you can blow through it without a problem. Normal possesses somewhat of a challenge for the older crowd, and Hard mode presses the challenge even further. The game doesn’t come close to the difficulty benchmarked by Ninja Gaiden, but that’s a good thing. I doubt many would even go near this game if it did.
The game does a good job balancing out the difficulties, but after a bit of practice with the controls, and learning all of Jack’s moves, you’ll be able to conquer each one without too many problems.
Scattering evil technology to the winds.
Here is a tough one to call. The game shipped out a week after Ninja Gaiden did, so we can assume that they were developed around the same time. Considering I played Ninja Gaiden first, I found many similarities with the missions and the control scheme between the two games. However, callingSamurai Jack a Ninja Gaiden rip-off would be a cruel and mean thing to do. So I’m not going to do that, and instead, I’ll say that the control scheme coupled with the “cinematic attacks” are pretty nice and original.
As you go through the game itself, however, the adventures kinda do get a little repetitive. You get into town, meet the natives, perform missions, rescue their leader, and fight bosses. Lather, rinse repeat. The game could have benefited from a little more variety in this area, rather than relying on the same plot with different people three different times.
As nice as the game’s put together, I just couldn’t find myself picking up the controller for purposes other than finishing the game. There was nothing else to do other than complete each mission and collect every little thing in order to accomplish the game at 100%. And even then, the task of finding things became more annoying than addicting. Not a lot here to keep me interested after the credits role, unfortunately.
Things aren’t lookin’ good for our hero…
Considering the game is based on a TV show of the same name, its obvious that there is already a built-in fan base to appreciate the game. And after going through it once, I can definitely see that fans of the show will enjoy taking control of Jack and hack evil spider robots to dust despite the low replay value. So if you’re a fan of the series, this GameCube does of Jack is highly recommended.
Appeal Factor: 9/10
There’s really not much more that needs to be said that I haven’t covered already. There’s great graphics, nice voices, bland music, excellent camera angles, better-than-average controls, a true to the original, yet slightly repetitive story, and not much else to do after you beat the game. All in all, it’s a complete package for fan in us, while the gamer in us will want to crave something more.
You only WISH you could kick ass in a straw hat like this guy.
Replay Value: 6/10
Appeal Factor: 9/10