[Review] Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time – Nintendo Switch

Written by Kevin Orme
  • Developer: Soliel LTD
  • Publisher: Adult Swim Games
  • Price: £35.99 / $39.99
  • Release Date: 21/08/2020
  • Review copy provided by Adult Swim Games

Introducing: Samurai Jack Switch Review

Let’s get one thing clear: Genndy Tartakovsky is a genius. As the man behind the incredible tale of Samurai Jack he has been one of the foremost innovators in the animation world. I can guarantee that you have probably seen something that he has made. This is the mind behind Dexter’s Lab, Samurai Jack, Hotel Transylvania, The Clone Wars animated shorts from the early 2000s and more. The shows this man is responsible for are powerful in a lot of ways, but Samurai Jack is probably the most spectacular. (Caveat: I haven’t watched Primal yet, but it’s on my list)

Some of you kids out there might not remember when Cartoon Network had Samurai Jack on its main prime-time lineup. It was so different from anything else on the channel. Instead of being zany and hilarious, like everything else on the channel, Samurai Jack was serious, action packed. and surprisingly artful. This show was gorgeous. I remember watching it during some important years in high school and it really drove my desire to eventually learn how to animate. So, forgive me if I gush a bit about how great Samurai Jack is.

So let’s get back to the past and check out what Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time has to offer, shall we?

Long Ago in a Distant Land…

The game starts with a very familiar story read by the Lord of Evil himself: Aku. It goes a little something like this

“Long ago in a distant land, I, Aku the shape shifting master of darkness unleashed an unspeakable evil, but a foolish Samurai warrior wielding a magic sword stepped forth to oppose me!
Before the final blow was struck, I throw open a portal in time and flung him into the future where my evil is strong!
Now the fool seeks to return to the past and undo the future that is AKU!!!”

If you’ve ever watched an episode of this great show, this is the story Aku tells at the beginning of a new installment. That’s the story! A nameless samurai takes a magic sword and fights Aku, the embodiment of evil and destruction. Before he can kill the demon, he is sent thousands of years into the future and takes the name “Jack” as he seeks a way to the past to defeat Aku for good.

The game is picks up at the end of season 5 (BIG SPOILERS if you haven’t seen any of it yet) as Jack and Ashi are heading back to the past to defeat Aku. In a last ditch effort to win, Aku attacks Jack in the time stream and knocks him into a place “beside time”. This dimension acts as kind of a “greatest hits” of the entirety of the Samurai Jack saga. Jack must use everything in his entire arsenal from weapons to his own fists to defeat the endless waves of foes in his path. Will Jack get back to the past and finally defeat Aku? (I mean, the show ended in 2017, so I mean… yeah)

Fighting to Save The Past

All five seasons of Samurai Jack share something amazing: Incredibly choreographed fight scenes. While the combat in the show is nearly second to none, but the game isn’t quite as perfect. Don’t get me wrong, the combat isn’t like it’s terrible, but it doesn’t quite feel like it has the same finesse and striking feel as the material it is based on would have you wanting. I mean, maybe I didn’t quite get the hang of it, but after about ten hours of playing I never really got my fighting to be the fluid swordplay that I wanted it to be.

As you beat up enemies and destroy boxes and jars around the world, Jack collects Spirit Fire, essentially the game’s experience points, which you can use to unlock new attacks for Jack’s combos. Of course, the bigger and better the attack, the more Spirit Fire you need to spend. However, you can also spend your Spirit Fire on two other categories: Spiritual abilities (which focus on health and boosts) and Physical abilities (which focus on bare-handed melee attacks and grabs), so sometimes you’re gonna have to make the hard choices on where to allocate those precious flames. Each new ability you unlock helps you to better destroy all those who lay before you, but I never found the experience of fully unlocked combat to be what it could have been. It was fun, sure, but it lacked the fluidity I think they were going for. Like I said, the show was so fluid and powerful it’s a bit of a shame that it didn’t translate like I had hoped it would.

Now, that’s not to say that it isn’t cool. There are some really neat things that Jack can do as he’s beating the crap out of undead viking zombies. Jack can prepare to parry an oncoming attack and, if you time it right, you can not only block the oncoming attack but also steal an opponent’s weapon. There is a TON of really great potential and combo string stuff, but I never really felt it all click together like it was trying to do.

Painting a Picture of the Future

There is no mincing words here, folks: This is easily one of the most accurate recreations of a TV show’s atmosphere and art design I have ever seen. If you were to watch the episode of the show that a stage is referencing the artwork in the stage matches it nearly perfectly, and it’s pretty cool. Watching a childhood show be so seamlessly transferred into the 3D space is pretty neat and it fueled a lot of my desire to be the person to review this game. The characters all look like they did in the show and the worlds all translated perfectly. I will say that that sometimes it’s a little sparse sometimes when it comes to filling in these worlds. I understand that a lot of the show was Jack wandering strange barren lands to fight the evils that inhabited them, but I wish there was more than just the four enemies you would fight in a stage, the boss and the Scotsman. Variety could do a lot for this game.

Music is fine. It certainly fits the theme of the game and adds to the atmosphere. Personally, my only real gripe with the sound design of the game is that when you start the game you don’t get the “WHA-CHA” that the show was known for. Instead you get some very atmospheric smoothness AND THAT FITS, but I’m still missing what could have been a great throw back. grumble grumble…

Smooth Samurai

I can honestly say that the only real problem I had with Samurai Jack was dealing with the camera in 3-D arenas (there are occasional 2-D sections sprinkled throughout). Things can get a bit too hectic and the camera betrays you as things get out of hand quickly. It’s kind of a common issue for 3-D arena brawlers, but it’s not the worst here. Just kind of a nuisance when things get crazy.

The game runs well however you play it and I really enjoyed playing it in handheld mode just to have the game wherever I wanted to play it. I never found glitches or errors that screwed with anything. The game is built very well, in all honesty. It’s just that it didn’t hook me in as I had wanted it to. Maybe I just didn’t get far enough into the story to have everything click like it should have. Anyways, it plays well and you should have a pretty good time.

Closing It All Up

All in all, Samurai Jack is fine. Some of the bosses fights feel like they weren’t entirely play tested for difficulty and can be easily spammed while some of the enemy mob fights are so brutal you want to scream. It just feels like it all needed a few more months in the oven. It’s a cool concept that just doesn’t quite hit where it needed to to be great. At least for me, that is.

Pros

  • Insanely dedicated to the source material
  • Sound design is killer and matches what you want it to do.
  • It’s kind of like having a few new episodes of the show

Cons

  • The combat never really comes together for a fully satisfying experience
  • Some boss fights aren’t as challenging as enemy encounters
  • Worlds, while beautiful, seem empty.

Verdict

Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time is beautiful and striking, but the combat and unbalanced difficulty leave you feeling like this could have been more than it was.

Leave a Reply