When I was handed Seven Samurai 20XX I was genuinely quite excited as it has, apparently, been launched to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Akira Kurosawa's classic film. Sadly, instead, it turned out that what I had been handed was, in fact, one of the more tedious titles of recent memory.
By switching the location from feudal Japan to a futuristic sci-fi setting the game allows the main character Natoe, and to a certain extent his friends (more on this later), to go up against killer robots. These robots, dubbed mechanical 'humanoids', stand in for the plundering bandits of the film but the main premise is the same with Natoe saving a band of oppressed villagers from said robot's sadistic attacks. The opening sequence is fantastic and sets up the reworked concept well, the only downer to this is that it is by far and away the most engaging part of the entire game. It's also a slightly lazy way of getting the PEGI rating down for the Western market considering Kurosawa's movie was hardly U certificate source material.
One thing I found interesting in this game was the fact that Natoe fights alone rather than with a brave gang of heroes fighting for truth and honour. It seems that all of his fellow samurai brothers run away at the first sign of danger! I suppose this is so that you can control all the action on the screen but it also means that the game is highly repetitive and unvaried.
This is a typical hack-and-slasher and after a while you will hurt your finger by hitting the square button so much..…this is a fact. Essentially you control your targeting with the left analogue stick, but as you are continually being approached from all angles by your foes you simply need to hit that square button and occasionally wiggle the control stick if you have cut through that particular area of humanoids. The arenas in which you fight off the hordes consist of areas in which the exits are blocked off with green barriers once you enter the designated kill-zone and you are usually treated to a cut scene to let you know that your thumb will soon be hurting again. Once you have killed all your enemies you are allowed to move on with the boss fights and the RPG-style scenarios allowing a little respite from the 'action' but I felt that the set-up was far too linear and limited as a result. Oh yes and in case you have managed to forget which door you walked in, you are provided with less than subtle green arrows to remind you that you want to leave through the other door.
There is also the initially amusing nitoh-ryu mode which allows you to pull another sword from your belt and to double your slashing fun for a limited period. In the default difficulty setting this nitoh-ryu mode recharges so rapidly that you really need go without it only for short periods and this strikes me as a major issue as you can destroy not only the standard baddies but also the end-of-level guardians in far too short order for them to pose any real challenge. By beating the level bosses you gain access to various new and powerful weapons. This seemed like a great way to mix up the gameplay a little but frustratingly you can only use these weapons once you have completed the game and are playing it for the second time.
Fans of anime may well appreciate the lovingly stylised characters, great cut scenes and well created backdrops of forests, factories and futuristic villages. All in the graphics are a good reason to take a look at this game and the soundtrack from Ryuichi Sakamoto fits the action well. On the other hand the voice-overs are fairly painful and the rest of the sword slashes and general sound effects are pretty standard fare.
I think that if you are a fan of this genre and wish to vent the occasional urge to slash and smash then Seven Samurai 20XX is worth a look. For the rest of you out there a short rental might be worth considering for the initially entertaining gameplay but the threat of RSI and deep boredom will have you reaching for your katana to commit hara-kiri before too long.