I first witnessed Maxistentialism/Tekno Pants‘ Samurai Gunn during my inaugural trip to PAX Prime in 2013. As a (at the time) gaijin at the event, I was fascinated and maybe even a little stutter****ed by this offering. I watched in awe as tiny samurai drew blades, centered themselves, and charged their enemies, a look of focus (I assume) on their pixelated faces. Within minutes, a multitude tiny bodies littered the battlefield, and one bushi stood triumphant. I was floored, and vowed to investigate the title more completely when there were not so many ashigaru around.
Samurai Gunn evokes strange and wonderful feelings in me. The game mashes up some of my favorite things, and owns them completely. It’s the awesome lovechild of Mario Bros Arcade and Samurai Champloo, that went to Super Smash Bros High, and is currently attending indie art school and “getting to know itself.”
The premise of the game is easy enough to explain. Players choose an 8 bit samurai, and prepare themselves for battle. The character selection screen gives you a small area to try out controls in while other participants lock in their selections. The control scheme is simple, yet will take time and practice to master. Players can slash in cardinal directions with a sword, fire a gun (up to 3 times per life) and jump with good air control. Wall sliding and wall jumping are also present, as they should be in any good little personal melee combat title. You can even “feign death” if you lack honor, by crouching/lying on the ground.
Combat takes place in 1 of 4 selectable worlds, each with their own theme and unique obstacles. Forest levels, for instance, showcase bamboo that grows and changes as the match progresses, while the Mountain features hanging icicles that can be dropped to create level playing fields or slay foes. Each of the 4 settings features about 10 individual combat screens. A level is encompassed by the screen in its entirety, features pacman/mario bros arcade style level wrap, and have 4 entryways through which new players (or ninja) may enter the battlefield.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? And it is, truly, until you play it. There is so much to manage in such a short period once bullets are flying and katana are drawn. Death can, and will, come from anywhere. Skilled players can be seen as those who measure their sword strikes, as their is a minor cooldown (less than a second) between strikes, and striking too soon normally means the death of the impatient warrior. One would think that the guns would completely alter the balance, and they do, but not as much as you might think. While they can kill from a distance, your shots are limited to 3 per life, guns won’t function at all if they get wet (yes, there are water hazards), and, most importantly, you can deflect bullets with a well timed sword strike.
That’s not to say that you will never use your gun; it may just be in ways that you are not used to. Canny players often fire bullets in the short to medium range to avoid deflections. These shots are often after after a close strike, and will follow rule #2 – Doubletap. One more makes 100% sure. You might die from a deflection, but you will likely take the other warrior down. Those who have truly mastered guns often send bullets via screen wrap to take down unsuspecting opponents.
Deflecting bullets is possible with good timing..
The game is beautifully rendered in 8 bit, with characters sporting multiple color schemes and great animations. Charm positively oozes from these samurai sprites. I remember the first time I got my gun wet and tried to fire it in combat, just to see little sputters of water leave my firearm. Time has been spent, and it shows.
And the music! This is where the Samurai Champloo influence might show its roots. Composed by Doseone, the SG EP features tracks emulating traditional sounding bases mixed with hip hop elements. The audio accompaniment really completes the package. Nujabes (R.I.P.) would be proud, I think.
Samurai Gunn is one of those rare treats one has to savor. Specifically, in close quarters with friends. It sports 4 modes, 3 of which require other players…. on your couch. That’s right, there is no online. I know, I KNOW! Blaspheme! you say. But realistically, this game was designed to be played within arm-punching distance of your opponent. It’s tense, its fun, and most likely everyone will break out their warcry. Tables might get flipped. All in good fun, with smiles.
Next time you are looking for a fun party game, consider Samurai Gunn. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.