Samurai are cool, and so are cowboys and the Wild West. I'm a big fan of both elements. But, with such great material to work with, why is it so impossible to combine the two successfully? Granted, there haven't been very many games to attempt the fusion, but it occurs to me that mixing dusty sunsets with wandering ronin should automatically come preloaded with a certain amount of fun and style. By all rights, Samurai Western by Spike should have been the sort of low-budget-yet-surprisingly-good game that I love to discover, made even better with big hats and sharp swords. But in this case, I'd have to say that this attempt to appreciate an alternative title was a flat-out waste of $40.
The game's story is a thin tale explaining how and why lone samurai Gojiro Kiryu came to the cactus-filled badlands and dust towns the game is set in. Nothing heavy here, and it's all forgotten within a matter of moments (not to mention the fact that the cutscenes have no bearing on play progression). Also missing in action: Zen koans, hands-on lessons in Bushido, and characterization.
With nothing interesting story-wise, I expected the game to be all about the action. In this respect, Samurai Western is even more disappointing.
Each stage in the game is essentially the exact same thing, little more than an exercise in smashing the square button to attack hordes of cloned cowboys that appear out of thin air. Pressing R1 makes it possible to magically avoid bullets, knives, and any other projectiles that come Gojiro's way. While the first few minutes seemed somewhat entertaining, I was surprised to find that there was nothing else to the game besides what I've already described. The environments changed a little bit from level to level, but regardless of whether I was on Main Street or inside a mansion, stage one was exactly the same as stage three, and stage three was exactly the same as stage five. Run and dodge, dodge and run, hack, slash, repeat. It's uninspired, uninteresting, and shows less sophistication than a Baby Einstein video.
The graphics are laughably basic, and could easily pass for a first-generation effort—and an ugly one at that. The character models are rough, stage design is one notch above colored cubes on a flat plane (all highly non-interactive, by the way) and there's absolutely nothing here technically that hasn't been done a million times before, a million times better. The camera's terrible to boot, being completely incapable of keeping up with the action. I often found myself blindly hitting the dodge button until I could swing things around to see who was shooting at me.
The disc boasts a wealth of unlockables and even a rudimentary two player mode, but it's all irrelevant since the core game is a raw, unfinished concept that does not deserve to be called a finished product. No one wanted this game to be great more than I did, and quite frankly I think it's terrible. My impression after spending a few days with Samurai Western is that the experience was analogous to watching epileptics having sex—it's a shaky, jittery mess leaving everyone involved unsatisfied. There is no art in this violence.