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It’s been a bit over three years since the final season of Samurai Jack aired on Adult Swim’s late night action block Toonami. It was a long journey getting to that final season after the show went on a thirteen year hiatus after the creator Genndy Tartakovsky and his team moved on to other projects. Yet, it finally aired and despite the mixed reception over the second half of the series it was an overall great final season that gave the show much needed closure. However, it’s incredibly rare for a television show to receive a video game adaptation after the series finished it’s run but come to my surprise last year when Adult Swim Games announced a new Samurai Jack game (Samurai Jack Battle Through Time) coming to all platforms next year. The last Samurai Jack game was for the Gameboy Advance and outside of a playable fighter in Cartoon Network Punchtime Explosion for the 3DS, PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii he hasn’t been in a game in quite a while. So the burning question I have to answer is if the game is any good? For reference, sake I will mainly be reviewing the Switch version of Battle Through Time. So any issues I have might only apply to the Switch and not the PS4 or PC version.
The story of Samurai Jack Battle Through Time is an alternative version of the final episode of the show where Ashi almost kills the Samurai but ends up turning on Aku and takes Jack back to the past. However, where as in the show Jack gets back and defeats Aku in the game Aku sends our hero to a realm that is neither the past or present but an area between time. It’s up to Jack to figure out how to get out of this place and defeat Aku once and for all. The story isn’t super complex and it mainly serves as a reason as to why the player is taken to familiar locations throughout the show. It works and is fine but nothing mind blowing but it serves its purpose well enough.
The graphics of the game look great. There’s a good attention to detail to the world that each level feels faithful to the episode they are based on, they also use a cel shaded look which makes the graphics pop. It’s a very beautiful game that captures the wonderful artistry of the show and translates it into video game form and while of course this isn’t the first time Samurai Jack has been adapted to the interactive medium of video games it’s certainly the best looking out of all the Samurai Jack games or really any licensed game in recent times, with a close second to Spongebob Squarepants Battle For Bikini Bottom Rehydrated. The resolution of the game seems to be an adaptive resolution. The Switch when docked seems to be out putting at a 1080p or 900p resolution and when things get hectic the resolution seems to drop to 720p. In handheld mode, Battle Through Time seems to run at 720p but drops resolution the same as in docked mode, when there’s a lot of action on screen. It looks like the game can drop to either 540p or 480p since I noticed how blurry the game can look when it does drop resolution. As for framerate it seems to be locked at thirty frames per second. However, during large encounters with enemies the game can dip into the mid twenties, but it doesn’t last through the fight and only impacts the framerate for a few seconds.
The gameplay of Battle Through Time is a hack and slash action game that it’s combat reminds me a bit of Sekiro Shadows Die Twice. Don’t worry the game isn’t brutally hard but it does offer a good challenge. I got my ass handed to me by the second boss, but that was mainly because I didn’t take my time. The approach that the game wants you to do is a slow back and forth. Learn and master blocking and parrying since those will save you a ton of headaches. Sekiro was also like that going in guns (or swords) blazing you’re asking to be killed. Take your time and learn enemy patterns. It’s a surprising in depth combat system that you can upgrade and learn new techniques through collecting skill points. One thing that should be commended is that each level in Samurai Jack Battle Through Time is pretty much a remix best of Samurai Jack. Basically meaning that they are taking some of the best episodes from each season of the show and have sort of remade it through these levels. However, the levels themselves can feel baron and devoid of life and it just doesn’t have a lot to explore. You can go off the beaten path to pick up medallions or find items, but I’d rather it be that when I go out of my way off the main quest in favor of exploring I want to be rewarded with extended health or skills to improve me on my journey. You do have the options of upgrading skills and weapon moves through either Da Samurai’s shop, or with the skill points mentioned earlier but I feel like these should be rewarded to the player through great amounts of exploration of the level. Continuing with negatives for the game one of the biggest problems to me is not having a dedicated run button. Jack does run automatically after a few seconds of moving. Now, it’s not a deal breaker and I do think the game overall is well designed with this limitation in mind, except when you do some 2D platforming. The 2D platforming in this game is bad. The controls feel stiff and the overall platforming is too basic and also feels really restrictive. There’s not a lot of free movement during these parts and it feels like the 2D sections were not properly tested with Jack’s automated run in mind which is why I think there should be a dedicated run button to mitigate that issue. Also the camera and lock ons are also an issue. Locking onto an enemy does work although whenever an enemy is defeated the lock on doesn’t carry over to the next foe over so during fights where hordes of enemies are beating on you it would’ve been nice for the lock on to move to the next foe. As for the camera while it is good overall there were points where it got caught either in an enemy or a platform and it disrupted my view for a few good seconds. It didn’t cause any major deaths or anything like that but the camera could’ve used more work. Overall, the controls for Samurai Jack controls well enough in 3D and despite the game’s 30fps limit there was almost never an issue with inputs although on the rare occasion I did feel like the game ate an input without it registering in the game, which either caused me to get hit by an enemy or fail a basic jump. Yet, the game is well polished. I didn’t run into any game breaking bugs or crashes through my run. It worked well and was fun to play.
The biggest problems with reviewing a licensed game is that licensed video games are a gamble to the everyday consumer. While, yes there are a handful of great licensed video games far too many are mediocre cash grabs meant to capitalize on the established IP’s popularity. Of course, that’s been true ever since E.T. on the Atari 2600. More often than not licensed games are crap but every so often you find a gem that’s hidden beneath the layer of shovelware trash and find a really good video game. There was clearly a lot of love poured into Samurai Jack Battle Through Time, all the references to the show, the memorable set pieces taken directly from fan favorite episodes of the series, to even getting the cast back to reprise their roles. It’s really clear a lot of love went into this project yet that brings me to the other problem with reviewing a licensed video game. Can it appeal to those who aren’t fans of the property? That’s the big issue that may stop many from buying it out right, but maybe that isn’t so much a problem if the game can stand on its own from the source material it’s taking from and creates its own world within the game. The Batman Arkham games are a great example of this, those games are love letters to the character and IP in question with all the villains and cameo appearances alongside easter eggs foreshadowing potential baddies in future games. Rocksteady, clearly loved the character of Batman and put all those references in out of love, yet you don’t need to have an extensive knowledge about Batman or really the DC Universe to fully enjoy those games. Each entry stands alone and is great because of it. However, with Samurai Jack this is a problem since the game literally opens up with one of the final moments of the series. Unless you watched Samurai Jack season five either back when it first premiered or recently the game doesn’t really explain much to the player other than the events after you timewarp. This game was clearly aimed at fans of the property in question and while that’s great to those who are fans of Samurai Jack such as myself that leaves those who aren’t in a tricky position since I think many need to check out the show in order to get the most out of the game and that’s a big problem when a game like this is being sold for $39.99 on digital storefronts and people might be interested in playing it but aren’t able to understand who Ashi is or the Scottsman or any of the other characters from the show if they don’t have that context. It’s really hard for me to recommend Samurai Jack Battle Through Time to those who aren’t already fans of the property, especially at the price it’s currently being sold at.The little problems specifically with the gameplay are an issue that makes it a tough sell at full MSRP to the casual audience eying it on the PSN, Eshop, or Steam storefront. However, if you are looking for a decent action game that offers a challenge you should buy it. To fans of Samurai Jack this game is certainly worth adding to your library. There was a lot of care put into this game and wasn’t a simple cash grab but the issues it has is still something to be weary about.
Final Score: 7/10