Gotta Get Back, Back To The Past

HIGH A wonderful recreation of one of television’s greatest shows.

LOW Subpar boss fights and odd difficulty spikes.

WTF I’m praying we get a game based on Primal next. 

I have lamented before about the lack of budget licensed games in the current era. Sure, massive cinematic titles are fine, but I often crave things more focused on arcadey gameplay and less on trying to bleed a studio’s budget. Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time fills that void.

Taking place during the fifth season of Genndy Tartakovsky’s animated series, players control the titular Jack as he gets himself stuck in yet another time loop thanks to the evil Aku. Instead of going further back into the past as he wished, he’s instead transported into alternate versions of his iconic adventures.

Mechanically, Samurai Jack: BTT is best described as a 3D hack-and-slash. Players control Jack as he fights waves of Aku’s minions in order to get back to the right time period.

The gameplay feels great — deceptively simple, but with a lot going on. Jack can attack, dodge and counter enemy attacks with a variety of weapons, up to four at once that can be swapped at any time. Of course, he’s equipped with his magical katana, but spears, clubs, hammers and even his own fists get their turn. Ranged weapons include bows and arrows, shurikens, revolvers and machine guns.

Throughout the campaign, Jack can upgrade his skills in three areas — physical, spiritual and combat. Each gives him different advantages, like new combos, increased strength for certain weapons or increased the odds gold dropped after downing enemies. That gold can be used at shops run by Da Samurai, a fellow, hip-hop themed warrior voiced by David Alan Grier.

The combat never got old for me, and I enjoyed every fight I got into. Jack looks beautiful in motion, and switching between weapons is fast and smooth thanks to the ability to hotkey weapons to the d-pad. The only issue with this system is that I wasn’t able to hotkey guns or bows the same way. The pace of fights would be broken whenever I had to pause and select a new firearm from the menu, as opposed to the seamless switching possible with melee.

Another annoyance is weapon durability. Most things can only be used a few times before breaking — even the guns. It’s not as extreme as the weapon breakage in Breath of the Wild and it forced me to experiment with different things, but still.

There’s not much in the way of exploration, though there are some hidden paths that let players find collectibles and skill points. Personally, the linearity was fine with me as it ensured the action was always on screen and kept me from getting lost.

My biggest complaint, however, is that the enemy difficulty feels wildly unbalanced. During my initial playthrough, the early sections were a cakewalk while the middle of the campaign felt like I was playing on another difficulty entirely. This wasn’t a normal, expected difficulty curve, things here just felt unbalanced and off.

Difficulty spikes aside, what Battle Through Time nails is the feel of Samurai Jack. The show wasn’t all about action — it also had strong looks and atmosphere. Gorgeous shots and beautiful landscapes from the series are perfectly replicated here, and some sections lock the player into a 2D side view with black bars at the top and bottom of the screen to give it a cinematic feel.

Sure, at its core, Battle Through Time is a retelling of the TV series with some deviations, but it absolutely nails what makes Samurai Jack a modern animated masterpiece, and it was a delightful surprise to play through.

Welcome back, Jack.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Disclosures: This game is published by Adult Swim Games and developed by Soleil. It is available on PS4, PC, Switch and XBO. This copy was obtained by the publisher for review and was reviewed on PS4. Approximately 10 hours were spent in single-player. There is no multiplayer.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T for Blood and Violence. This game is a weird one, as the original four seasons of the show were meant for kids and the fifth was meant for adults. It’s not too bad for older kids and teens as the violence is stylized and the blood is at a minimum. it’s also nowhere near as bloody as Samurai Jack’s last season.

Colorblind Modes: Colorblind modes are not present in the options menu.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game is perfectly accessible, thanks to subtitles and visual cues in gameplay. I played it on mute most of the time and found navigation and gameplay manageable. I’d say this is fully accessible.

,Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable, but there are control diagrams for different presets. The y-axis can be changed.

Cj Salcedo
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