Samurai Riot is a new beat-‘em-up style arcade game developed for PC by Wako Factory. Arcade style games have a special place in my heart, as it’s one of the earliest forms of gaming, and I may hold standards too high for arcade style games. It isn’t easy to find a genuinely good beat-‘em-up arcade game these days, and Samurai Riot attempts to combine this style with a unique storyline that is flexible with player choice.
In Samurai Riot you play as either Sukane or Tsurumaru, two samurai warriors from The Clan of True Honour. They have been sent by their master to fight against the rebel order in a war-torn country. I was initially cynical that the male character was given swords and grenades while the female character must make do with her fists and a cute fox friend, especially as the game begins with Sukane admitting that she has failed regardless of whether you choose to play as her or Tsurumaru. After playing as both, I found the game much more suited to Tsurumaru, despite Sukane being a lot more agile and slightly faster. Sukane is also portrayed as less knowledgeable and experienced as Tsurumaru, and wears noticeably less clothing.
I often remind people that the idea that men play video games more than women is completely fabricated, and I can never ignore it when female characters don’t get the same attention as the male characters. Sukane's character disappoints me.
Moving on to the actual gameplay, my first impression was simply me getting angry at the controls. I’ll say in the game's defense that system requirements include “Xbox 360 Controller recommended," but the game is only available for PC. Designing the game for an Xbox controller inconveniences the PC gamers who don’t have the appropriate controller.
I played the game with keyboard controls and spent my first hour of gameplay getting destroyed while yelling, “I’m pressing one!” passionately at my laptop. In order to get the game to work, I had to edit all the controls, reassigning them to make them work properly, and I had to pause the game to review the controls when enemies started attacking me at all angles (resulting in painful stabbings at the moment of unpause. A tutorial certainly wouldn’t have been ignored, Wako!)
If you lack Xbox controllers, the two-player option will be either awkward or impossible. As a general rule, I hate other people and would like them all to stay as far away from me as possible. However, despite connecting a second keyboard to my computer that the game refused to recognise, the only way to play two-player was to have someone right up close in my personal bubble yelling in my ear and nudging my controls as they smash for their own. Perhaps the two-player aspect would have been better online, but that may be asking too much from an indie game.
When you start the game you'll be asked to choose between a selection of fighting styles. I didn’t see a lot of difference between the first few fighting styles, so usually I worked with Dragonfly, described as a “good all-round school,” or Phoenix, by which you get an extra life at the beginning of each level.
I’d recommend playing the first level with each of them and just follow whichever feels easiest to you as they all have their own advantages, with the exception of Frog, a class that gives you the ability to double jump. I found no advantage from this.
Later I unlocked Cobra, which gives you the ability to poison enemies. This made the fighting much easier as it stopped the swarms of enemies from crowding me as much. I didn’t unlock all of the fighting styles, but out of the ones I did, Cobra was the best.
As I’ve already whined about over and over again, I get frustrated when enemies surround me. It isn’t too bad at first, but eventually when enemies who charge and shoot are introduced it becomes incredibly annoying. You get up after being knocked down by one, continue to be stabbed by others, and, only half a second later, get knocked down again by another charger or shooter, and the cycle continues.
This is where the grenades come in handy. I found the best way to counter crowds of enemies was to jump to the left until they are lined up, then charge to the right, button-mashing the attack controls. There are some special moves but their affect is only useful one-on-one, which doesn’t help you during the majority of the game. I’ve heard that there are special moves in co-op that help deal with lots of enemies at once, but, as I’ve already shared my issues in co-op, I can’t really comment on that.
Samurai Riot has no difficulty curve. I found some of the boss fights in the game easier than parts of the first level. Difficulty goes up and down constantly throughout the gameplay, which is a shame because the game's story involves decisions that affect your journey and the game's ending, and fighting schools give the game a strong replay value. But when some levels at the beginning are repetitive and difficult, it doesn’t give the player much motivation to replay. It’s also questionable that you can unlock styles to make the game easier so you can replay the game all over again, as money isn’t that hard to accumulate, making the styles fairly easy to unlock.
If you could select difficulty before the start of each level, or if you could replay the game from specific points rather than from the beginning of the game by having multiple game saves, the game would be improved.
One element that I cannot fault the game for is its visuals. The artwork is hand drawn and cute enough to be retro and detailed enough to make the game interesting. Enemies and background art were clearly given much attention, and each level offers a fresh and original location.
You could do a lot worse than buying Samurai Riot. Despite its flaws, after I got past my initial control issues I did have fun playing it, which is ultimately the goal of a game. It was visually pleasing, filled with interesting characters, and I suppose I’d rather be stuck in a war between clans with a cute fox friend than not.