Capcom have been successful with Sengoku Basara for a while now in Japan - an action game that more or less shamelessly copies the concept of Koei's Dynasty Warriors titles, but adds more action and a breath of Onimusha. Given its focus on Japanese gamer tastes the series hasn't really been given a chance in the West, and when Capcom translated the title into Devil Kings and butchered the story fans weren't particularly happy.
Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes is an attempt to put things right and it's released here with the story and characters as they were intended. Oddly enough it's a multiplatform title that comes to Wii and Playstation 3, and it shows in the Playstation 3 version. Apart from higher resolution and better draw distance the game looks identical to the Wii version. On the other hand it's a graphically impressive Wii game.
Like the title implies (if you are familiar with Japanese), the game takes place during the civil war of the 16th century, just as Koei's Samurai Warriors games do. This means that all of the 16 heroes, and their stories are loosely based on historical people and one or two character traits have been kept. But forget about historical accuracy as 15 feet tall robot samurais fly around shooting rockets, and there is a priestess in a shirt skirt who guns down enemies with her automatic bow, one tough guy uses dual chainsaws and Nobunaga himself has a gigantic demon at his side.
The character have also been the key to Sengoku Basara's success, a they are a sturdy bunch. Compared to the low key heroes of Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors, these guys comes across as something out of Naruto. Standard hero Yukimura fights with two hildebards and is one of the more normal ones. I was drawn to Masamune Date, who puts six swords between the knuckles and does a Wolverine impression, the warrior lady Magoichi Saica who uses all kinds of guns is another favourite. Kanbe Kuroda, who has his hands chain linked with giant iron balls is also an entertaining character.
The game is very similar to Dynasty Warriors, as you run freely over larger maps and defeat specific enemies in order to turn the tide of the battle, but it feels more intense and action packed. Each character has a set of special attacks and can make their way through the enemies with long combinations. Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes is at its best when you're surrounded by dozens of enemies and you unleash a double special attack that fills the screen with explosions and falling bodies.
In between battles you can switch between different weapons and equip your heroes with items that grants bonuses. Most of the time you can choose which enemy to tackle next, and thus make your own path through the story. I takes a couple of hours to play through the story mode for one of the sixteen characters, but to experience it all will take you quite a while.
This category of games have a tendency to grow very repetitive, but Capcom have made an effort to create variation. Very few levels are simply a matter of running to the end and beating the boss. An example of this was when I was chased through the lair of the Xavi cult by the chainsaw wielding Tachibana. You can choose to risk stopping and opening a short cut, or make your way through a set of traps. If you manage to lure Tachibana through the traps he will be exhausted when he reaches the end and will be easier to defeat. After that a battle with a giant wooden head that sings inspirational songs and shoots missiles ensues...
It must however be said that most of the game comes down to keeping an eye out for platforms with generals on them, and defeating these in order to activate or stop traps or tactics. Most of the enemy soldiers are just there to keep your combo meter up as your aim is set for the next general, and despite the simple graphics these pop up out of nowhere all of the time. You cannot listen to the Japanese voice, but the voice actors are generally component. A bit of the original spark is lost however, as we cannot hear Masamune's broken Japanese English.
Most of the time you have a bodyguard at your side who offers aid with special attacks and certain bonuses, but you can also play the game co-operatively on a split screen. A nice bonus, but the silky smooth animations stutters even though my Playstation 3 should be able to handle this level of graphics with ease. There is also no online mode which is a bit of a disappointment.
Fans of anime in general and Naruto in particular should definitely check this out. The brilliant character design and the varied action the different weapons bring makes Sengoku Basara the better choice compared to the stagnating Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors, when you're looking for a pseudo historical beat 'em up. On top of that it is released at a reduced price. So if you have an opening in your schedule between all the major titles due this fall, then I fully recommend Sengoku Basara.