Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time Review — I Know Kung-Fu
Full disclosure: I’ve never watched an episode of Samurai Jack in my life. Yet, despite all the odds, Battle Through Time enticed me with its wonderful animated art style.
There’s always been an alluring nature to the licensed game genre. The majority of the time, most of the titles range from terrible to mediocre, but then there are gems that stick out from the rest, offering a glimmer of hope.
Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time is one of those games and while on the surface it appears to be a simple TV series tie-in, inside, it boasts a challenging and rewarding combat system that invokes feelings of classic games such as Devil May Cry.
Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time Review — I Know Kung-Fu
While I’ve never stepped into the lore of Samurai Jack, Battle Through Time begins at the show's conclusion, with Jack facing his arch-nemesis Aku. Events unfold that result in Jack and Aku being thrust into an alternate timeline, with Jack battling his way home.
Earlier this year, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot managed to introduce me to the series that had long slipped under my radar. It effectively conveyed the plot and tone of the show in a way that was welcoming to newcomers such as myself. While Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time doesn’t manage to go as in-depth as Kakarot, the characters, personalities, and world make that moot from the outset.
Whether you’re a fan of the show or looking for a tightly-made action game, Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time delivers on both fronts. Series veterans will no doubt relish in the Easter eggs peppered throughout the game, alongside the charming interactions it provides with various characters, while action fanatics will be absorbed by its combat.
Battle Through Time plays out similarly to games such as Devil May Cry and places a heavy emphasis on combat. Jack comes equipped with a sword and as the adventure unfolds, comes across various other weapons. Bamboo sticks, hammers, blades, shuriken, bows, guns, and more lay throughout the world.
Much like the games Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time is influenced by, it can also be extremely challenging. Depending on what difficulty level you’re on, enemies can be relentless in their attacks, and one wrong move can knock you down. Items that restore health or provide damage boosts in tricky situations can also be acquired.
The difficulty culminates in boss battles that await at the end of each level. These require a mixture of quick reflexes and constant pressure on the foe.
To overcome the game’s many challenges, Jack can equip four melee weapons and one ranged weapon at a time. These can easily be swapped on the fly with the D-pad, and they allow for experimentation throughout battles. The momentum flows easily and every hit lands with a satisfying punch.
There’s one huge drawback, however. Weapons have durability, meaning after a few fights, they’ll break. They can be repaired at shops found throughout each level, but sometimes, these are few and far between, forcing you to choose another weapon.
In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the mechanic works because it forces experimentation. In Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time, it often feels punishing to use weapons you’ve been awarded throughout your adventure. It’s a massive oversight and harms the overall combat experience in the long run.
To make Jack stronger in battle, he can upgrade his skills in three categories: physical, spiritual, and combat skills. Physical skills provide Jack with more health, ways to maneuver, and means by which to deal damage. Spiritual skills increase inventory size, experience gains, and item drops. Combat skills allow for further combos to be unlocked.
Each category boasts around 20 skills and each feels meaningful. However, across Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time’s nine levels, you’ll find that many of these skills will remain locked. Gaining experience feels too slow, and it’s clear that the game is intended for multiple playthroughs.
A single playthrough clocks in at around five to six hours, so it’s not particularly long, but those only looking for one run though will be locked out of many abilities.
Most of the time, experience is gained through battles, but it can also be obtained throughout the world as well. Outside of fighting, Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time offers a few platforming sections. While not particularly hard, they do break up the pace and offer new means by which you can interact with the world. Here, experience can be found floating about or obtained through chests, which usually hide in tucked-away places or at the end of platforming gauntlets.
There are challenges as well, which carry across each level. These can range from killing a certain number of enemies to performing a certain number of moves or talking to specific characters numerous times. Each provides a gameplay incentive that the player may not otherwise experience.
It also helps players exploring the world, which invokes the animated style of the show. Graphically, levels are impressive, but they lack character and soul. Despite their beauty, the sections between combat encounters often feel empty, with arenas and pathways offering very little to interact with. Additionally, characters stand lifelessly about, waiting to be interacted with.
It’s a shame as Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time boasts an impressive 60fps and flashy combat. Each kick, punch, and whack provides so much satisfying feedback that it’s disappointing the moments in between lack any imagination, especially for a show known for its visceral art style.
Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time — The Bottom Line
- Fantastic use of the source material
- Exhilarating and fluid combat
- Tons of replayability
- Weapon durability stalls momentum and feels punishing
- Worlds often feel lifeless
- Difficulty spikes
Fans of the show will undoubtedly fall in the love with Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time. They'll be swept up in a trip to the past and find a licensed title that riffs off the show’s strengths.
Combat comes with a surprising amount of depth and the difficulty will no doubt please fans of the genre. While it can often feel punishing when using new weapons due to a poorly thought out durability system, when it works, it’s a great take on the genre.
Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time has various flaws, but despite those blemishes, it’s a thoroughly engaging adventure through the show’s past, and an engaging action game for those looking to scratch that itch.
[Note: Adult Swim provided the copy of Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time used for this review.]