From the late 80s to mid 90s beat ’em ups virtually ruled the world. The local arcades were over run with them as well as the shelves at the video game stores. As all things do, the golden age of the side scrollers came to an end as players became obsessed with tournament style fighting games, such as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. The beat ’em up craze was finally put to pasture due to player fatigue caused by lack of innovation and because of the advancement of 3D gaming. There haven’t been many traditional beat ’em up titles to grace our screens since then. While I may not be starved of the genre – considering I’m in the middle of my massive beat ’em up retrospective. I am intrigued in any modern attempts to take part of that rich legacy that is now over flowing with nostalgia. Samurai Riot fits that bill and I jump kicked at the opportunity to check this game out.
Samurai Riot comes to us from Wako Factory. They are indie game developers from France and have been working on this game since 2014. It really does show because the production value is high. I may be used to 8 and 16 bit graphics and sound but I still know good art work when I see it. The characters and backdrops look amazing. It looks like something we would see in a story book. While everything looks clean and crisp the movement of the characters can seem a bit awkward at times. Some of the larger characters will appear to lumber around and stutter step. And one of our playable heroes will only lunge forward in his fighting stance instead of walking. But still, it’s very picturesque.
This is a beat ’em up after all. So how about the fighting?
It’s a hack n’ slash game with punching and kicking. I don’t know if I’ve encountered a game where both were available at the same time. In a side scroller at least. I’m not talking about finding a weapon and losing it after a bit. Picture yourself playing TMNT 2 on the NES and having a button that will deliver kicks when you get tired of using Leonardo’s sword. That applies for one of the 2 playable characters. The other plays like a traditional beat ’em up, with kicks and punches She does have a pet fox following her around adding some dynamics to the gameplay.
The controls can vary from simple to complex, depending on how we the players want to play. Mashing the attack buttons with some jump strikes mixed in is useful enough in defeating many of the enemies. But if that begins to feel too difficult or tedious there is much more available in our arsenal of moves. Just as in any classic beat ’em up, hitting the jump and strike buttons simultaneous will perform a special move. Since there are 2 different strike buttons there are also 2 different special attacks. There is no penalty dealt to us for using them as some older games will enforce, like the classic Konami brawlers do. However, they are not unlimited and will require us to collect items.
Tapping the D-pad twice will cause us to run and the forth button gives us a grab ability. Gone are the days where we can walk into the bad guys to grab them like in Streets of Rage because we must hit a button at the right time to initiate the contact. It works fine enough and is quite effective if we’re 1 on 1 with a common enemy. But using it in the middle of a crowd will only lead to us getting our asses kicked. The grapple attack moves available after we use the grab seem very limited and under stimulating. It’s unfortunate. Sprinkle in some projectiles and a block move and we got ourselves a nice variety of things to do to keep us all entertained.
The game is presented very well. Like I said earlier it looks fantastic. The music is amazing and only adds to the whole experience. I had no issues with collision detection. And the characters handled how I needed them to. Except there was one problem that drove me crazy. When I found myself in the middle of delivering an incredible flurry of strikes, my controllable character would continue to strike briefly after I wanted him to stop. It’s a problem because when I would see a counter punch coming I could not avoid it. No matter how hard I hit the block or jump buttons, I would be swinging away like an idiot taking unnecessary hits. Also it left me vulnerable to long range attacks. That issue actually affected the way I had to play the game.
I found there to be a slight learning curve to the combat. However, it’s not a frustrating climb and I noticed the more I played the game and the better I got at it, the more fun I was having. As obvious as that may be, it doesn’t happen in every game. Playing Samurai Riot isn’t just about button mashing, strategy does come into play for certain enemies and bosses. It never felt tedious, and the game didn’t drag on.
Through out the game we have to make important decisions that will affect the story and the world our characters live in. It’s really a great concept for a beat ’em up to have. An interactive story would have improved virtually every oldschool game from the genre. The options are always extreme in Samurai Riot, and if you are playing with a friend and the both of you disagree on which path to pursuit, the game has a solution. The both of you will fight and the winner makes the call. I’m basically a loner so I never had that problem while playing the 1 player mode. There was very little conflict over the choices I made. That’s right, I’ve learned to silence my conscience. That of course only happens at certain points in the game. And those points are far apart, sort of defeating the entire purpose. I was expecting more deciding Wako Factory.
There isn’t a wide variety of enemies in the game. I’m harsh on beat ’em ups from past decades about this very same thing, but in a contemporary title it’s unacceptable. I could understand if the developers were attempting to keep with tradition in that regard, actually maybe I don’t understand. I hope they wouldn’t want to recreate a flaw, one that induces boredom faster than a Seattle Seahawks football game. Retro games had an issue in space limitation so the amount of unique sprites were numbered. That shouldn’t be an issue for Samurai Riot so I’m left puzzled with that one. No matter what decisions we make at the forks in the road we still fight the same enemies, regardless of whose side we are on – at the time.
A solo play through took me a little over an hour. Some gamers will appreciate the replayablilty of Samurai Riot. There are character unlockables and a lot of story to explore. I was left wanting more, perhaps some RPG elements or weapon upgrades. I found the story to be under whelming. While the decision making is nice, the consequences just didn’t seem all that dire. No beat ’em up has ever been about the story though. And Samurai Riot does not disappoint when it comes to it’s bread and butter, the brawling. There is an incredible amount of fun in beating up the hordes of enemies we are up against, and that’s all a fan of old school hack n’ slash games could ask for. Although, when I match it up with a game like Golden Axe, Samurai Riot is missing a certain charm. That’s not to say it’s lacking because there is soul within this game. It has a personality and is a memorable experience. Samurai Riot could be the beginning of a brand new era of beat ’em ups, because Wako Factory is certainly on to something here.
Samurai Riot is available now on Steam