Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword

Nintendo kicks off February with Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword, which debuts on the 2nd for $6.99. The publisher recently hooked me up with a code, and thus far, this 3D hack-and-slash adventure has yet to disappoint.

The paper thin story revolves around the kidnapping of one Princess Cherry Blossom, guardian of the land. Her abrupt exit has resulted in gangs of sword carrying bozos running amok. Your job, as the fearless Sakura Samurai, is to teach them a lesson via cold hard steel while racing to rescue her and restore order to the land. This involves navigating a world map (top screen) by going from point to point; you cannot walk freely around this map.

Each location involves a showdown against a set number of bad guys. The default camera sticks behind the Samurai while the game provides you with limited movements that help lock on to the attacking enemy; you can move freely by pressing and holding the X button, but it leaves the hero vulnerable.

With this in mind, it's best to just take on each bad guy, one after the other. Combat is all about timing, as you use both the circle pad and B button to anticipate a warrior's attack (including direction) and side step out of the way. Then, it's all about rushing in and mashing the A button to deliver the final blow. Conversely, you have the opportunity to kill your adversaries before they strike.

Slaughtering evildoers may or may not result in cherry blossom petals (replenishes health) or gold coins. The latter is of key importance while inside villages, since you can purchase valuable items at shops, the first of which, Frogs Plus, sells a handful of things. You have Sakura Rice Cakes for replenishing health (five gold each), Throwing Daggers (two gold each), Frogs to throw at and creep out enemies (three gold each) and a Kappa Amulet (50 gold) that automatically restores the Samurai's health once it's gone.

On top of that, you can buy Whetstones at ten gold a piece, and it's important you do, because the Samurai's blade grows dull from too much use and becomes less effective; all of these items get assigned a direction on the d-pad for easy access.

After picking up some goodies, I strongly suggest visiting Inns, with the Blossom Inn the first one you'll come across. Sleeping there automatically refills your health, while registering saves your progress, though you can also close your 3DS, thus putting it in sleep mode, and pick up from where you left off, as with all games.

While in town, you'll also meet a variety of characters, some of which will challenge you to complete mini-games to win gold or prizes (your choice). Thus far, I've experienced Smile Melons and Center Slice. The former tasked me with cutting four unhappy watermelons in 30 seconds while avoiding the happy ones, while the latter (the hardest of the two) forced me to slash watermelons perfectly in half. Again, timing is key.

All the while, what I'd describe as traditional Japanese game music plays in the background. It's quite soothing, actually.

As for the visuals, Sakura Samurai is by no means a stunning title. Backgrounds appear painted on, and the simplistic characters have few details, but the graphics get the job done, and the stereoscopic 3D provides a cool sense of depth between bamboo trees, enemies and the hero.

There's still a long way to go, but thus far, I like Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword. It has an old school, almost Super Nintendo like quality that sort of reminds me of Konami's Mystical Ninja games. Great stuff so far.