Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
I have long been a fan of the brawling action genre, and Samurai Riot does a nice job of channeling some of the old school nostalgia with some pleasant enough art. However, this throwback to the buddy beat-’em-up genre really never does anything to distinguish itself from other games in the genre, making it a relatively fun if pretty average title in the end.
This is not a genre known for its robust storylines. In Double Dragon you’re trying to get your girlfriend back. In Streets of Rage you are basically an 80 actions movie where good people have to do bad things to take out the even worse bad guys. In Samurai Riot, we follow the exploits of two warriors sent to put down a rebellious group located in a small village during a time of civil war.
For some ninja-looking characters, our heroes certainly prefer the front door method. There’s no stealth, but plenty of fisticuffs. You are thrown right into the fire without any kind of proper tutorial, but the basic commands will be pretty familiar to anyone who has ever played this type of game. However, there are some combos in there that you can learn if you take a few minutes perusing the pause menu. Still, for all of the combo-y goodness at your fingertips, you are really looking at some throws and a handful of situation-aly (yup, made that word up) useful special techniques, the majority of your time will be spent relying on the tried and true method us hammering away at an attack button as you try to time it so your enemies walk into your fists and feet.
Admittedly, there are some unlockable skills you can pick up along the way but well – none of them really did much. You pledge yourself to a specific discipline and you can use money earned to unlock new abilities, but none of them ever really moved the needle for me. Even the two characters are pretty much identical outside of their special attacks. The lack of variety kills any early momentum gained by the game’s familiarity. Accessibility gives way to repetition far too quickly. This game is at its best when you play with a friend, which is certainly a common theme for this genre. So I am baffled by the lack of online play – it has to be local coop.
While our protagonists aren’t really all that varied in their techniques, the enemies show a bit more originality as you get further into the game. Brawling staples such as blocking or dashing allow enemies to make life a bit more difficult – and to that end Samurai Riot is appropriately challenging as it hearkens back to the old days when these games were notoriously difficult because they were designs to munch your quarters in rapid succession. Frankly though, the combat is pretty dull. It starts off well enough, ably assisted by a pretty slick visual presentation. If anything, I was a bit disappointed that the music wasn’t somewhat more memorable. Some of my favorite video game tunes throughout the years have been produced by the beat-’em-up genre, but frankly the soundtrack here is nothing special. Like the combat itself, the music is not offensive, it’s just there – average.
The one small thing that Samurai Riot does to differentiate itself slightly from a rather crowded genre is the replay value that comes from having to make choices at certain points of the game. This reminds me of the old Dungeons & Dragons games where you pick a path and it leads to different stages along the way – and also one of several different endings. Of course, the endings are not all that fantastic since – as I mentioned earlier – the story is just kind of there. I certainly appreciate some choice and ownership over how the narrative progresses, but you’re really just getting a series of text boxes with an illustration at the end for your efforts. Samurai Riot is also a pretty short game – you can plow through it in an hour or so, which makes the alternate endings seem like a way to pad overall time as well.
I would like to call out the visuals. I previously mentioned them, but it is worth noting that I really enjoyed the game’s style. Bright colors splashed against muted grays and browns along the way create an almost anime-inspired set of characters and environments that animate smoothly. Sure, enemies and their traits eventually boil down to color swaps, but I appreciate the smooth graphics when so many other brawlers seem to be using the pixelated retro look instead lately.
Samurai Riot is not a bad game, but unfortunately I can’t call it a good one either. Hence it lands a decidedly average score. I’ve certainly played worse titles in the genre, but there are better options with more combat depth and progression systems that serve as better reasons to come back than relatively bland alternate endings.Score: 5 / 10