Publisher: Adult Swim Games
Release Date: Summer 2020
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
"Review Copy Provided by Adult Swim Games"
You’d never think of hearing that a Samurai Jack game would be one of the best games to release in 2020 now would you? Given the nature of previous Samurai Jack games from the browser only entries that started in 2001 of wildly different qualities to the Game Boy Advanced entry to the the original console Samurai Jack: Shadow of Aku; Samurai Jack has not had the best of luck not only trying to get back to the past to defeat Aku but moreso in his attempts to have a decent video game. Safe to say that Adult Swim Games and Soleil decided they wanted to make not only the best Samurai Jack game but one of the best games out there in 2020 with Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time which melds together the best aspects of Legend of Zelda Breath of The Wild, Ghost of Tsushima, and more in a very original and engaging title set during the events of the final 5th season of the show as an alternate retelling of it’s events. Will Jack’s first console outing in nearly 16 years be his best one? Well I already answered that as YES, it is and then some. Let’s dig into it!
The story of Samurai Jack: A Battle Through Time takes place during the final 5th season acting as a canonical alternative telling of its events with Jack losing his battle with Ashi only to have her spare him right before the final blow and turn on Aku who questions his daughter on why she does not kill the Samurai. Following a battle between Ashi and Aku, Ashi opens a portal through time in order for her and Jack to escape only for Aku to pursue them and cause Jack to fall through a time rift into the past where he seeks clues in order to find Ashi and to continue his pursuit of Aku to fell the demon.
Describing the gameplay of Samurai Jack is difficult as the game is an amalgamation of several different titles from the recent Ghost of Tsushima to Devil May Cry 3 and 4 to Ninja Gaiden to even God of War (Pre 2018 entry) and to top it all off The Legend of Zelda Breath of The Wild. That’s a lot of games that heavily influenced this title and you may be wondering in what regards and here is where I’ll dive into that.
The games controls have a layout for quick attacks, heavy attacks, jumping, dodging, lock on, blocking, and a rage style mode. The way Jack attacks and the flow of combat feels very much like a Ninja Gaiden game where you have to constantly move and attack and zone in and out of enemy range and yet on top of that you also have the ability to switch weapons on the fly mid combo the same way you can in Devil May Cry 3, 4, and 5 for example say you star a combo off with Jack’s mystical katana then you can switch mid combo to using his fists for striking attacks and then switch again to a bamboo staff and then again to a scythe to end the combo string. Basically, you can do long string combos and wreck devastation on your enemies based on how creative you can get with the combat.
There’s a skill tree system that allows you to gain new stat buffs such as stronger defense and increased item and essence drop rates as well as gain new abilities such as the ability to throw enemies and disarm them, double jump, parry, counter attack, dodge roll, and so much more. The skill tree system here is as deep and robust as Ghost of Tsushima’s with 3 tiers being Physical Skills, Spiritual Skills, and Combat Skills which will require both skill points and Bushido Spirit Points in order to open up more abilities, attacks and combos, and stat bonuses.
The way the counter and parry ability works is similar to Ghost of Tsushima’s in that you need to hit block at the last moment which will open up your enemies to be punished with an unblockable attack. This will also work on bosses as well so make sure you time your blocks.
Jack has access to a rage mode desperation attack called the Kiai Attack which is similar to the one found in God of War which is activated by clicking in both analogue sticks which will deal severe damaging to an enemy and based on the weapon you have it’ll either be a long string heavy hitting combo if it’s a sword, or a AOE or area of effect attack with the scythe and so on. This meter is built up by both how you fight in battle and in if you take damage and is best used to get yourself out of sticky situations.
One aspect of the game that is the fact that weapons can break after repeated usages similar to how they do in Breath of the Wild and this ranges from everything from bows, guns (yes Jack gets to use pistols and machine guns), spears, hammers, swords, and more. You are notified when an item will break and if you run across Da Samurai then you can spend the gold you get from battle and exploring to repair any of your items.
Speaking of Da Samurai, not only do you have the ability to repair your weapons at his shop but also buy new weapons, train to level up your current weapons, buy healing items, ammo for your ranged weaponry, and buy equipable stat boosting accessories.
There are moments when the game will switch from it’s 3rd person perspective to being a 2.5D side scrolling platformer with occasional fights in this perspective which is awesome as the game never gets old with how it constantly changes up the play style.
One thing I love about the game is how it encourages exploration as the game is broken up into stages that have a mid-boss fight along with a level boss. In stages you can press the – Button (Nintendo Switch) to Focus which allows you to always know which direction is the way to progress forward which reminds me of a similar function being in Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge. Each level has 1 main pathway to move forward but several alternate paths (many of which are hidden) that allow you to find the various characters from the series such as The Scotsman, his many daughters, and even Rothschild that will give you various items from hot water to Haggis and more. You will find various hidden chests along the way as well that will net you more Skill Embers, gold and more so make sure you explore!
When it comes to the graphics it’s a very simplistic style game and that is due to it’s source material as the show has a simplistic yet uniquely stylized art style that stands out and thus the game follows in it’s footsteps. If you’re expecting this to be on the level of The Last of Us Part II or Ghosts of Tsushima then you’ll be disappointed and moreso you must not be familiar with the franchise. The game looks similar to Samurai Jak: Shadow of Aku in aesthetics, however, it is graphically superior to that entry and looks near identical to the show.
Depending on what you are playing on; the Steam, PS4, and Xbox One versions all look the same and have a higher end quality to the 3d models along with running at a frame rate of 60FPS and at 1080p with the option of higher graphical output showcasing various things from particle effects and more. The Nintendo Switch version looks to run at a variable graphical fidelity of 900p to 720p with occasional dips down to 540p during some cutscenes all the while running at 30FPS with dips down to 20FPS during the occasional slowdowns it has both portably and docked. While this game isn’t a graphical beast, it is disappointing to know the performance has some issues on the Switch yet it doesn’t make it a bad version to play in any sense.
There’s not a lot that needs to be said about the audio other than Phill LaMar is back as Jack and that’s all that matters. Ok, well the series voice cast all returns with the exception of the new Aku from Season 5 and they all do an incredible job as their characters once again.
The game doesn’t really focus on environmental music much and focuses more on ambience just as the show does although during battles you will hear a battle theme which starts and stops when you begin and end any fight. In the futuristic city level you will even hear Aku giving the opening monologue that he normally does in the show at the beginning of every episode as well as the series theme.
All in all, the audio is rock solid and befitting of Samurai Jack
The only downside I have with this game is the performance issues on the Switch version but keep in mind I am reviewing a pre-launch version of the game which more than likely will have a patch to fix any issues I or others may mention.
The second downside I have with this game is that it will have an uphill battle with the fact that it’s a game based off a TV show which have almost always historically been terrible and thus it’ll be a challenge convincing people to give it a chance.
At this point, if you’re not sold on the game then I am not sure what will sell you on it because with its immersive and ever evolving free flow combat, robust skill trees, excellent story based on Season 5 of the show, superb voice cast, and lengthy adventure; Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time is a game that you most definitely NEED in your collection as it is simply one of the best games of 2020 and a shining example of what happens when you get a passionate development team that want to make a superb title from a superb IP and execute on that tremendously. DO NOT SLEEP on this amazing title, it’s a MUST OWN!