REVIEW: ‘Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time’ is Nostalgic and Dynamic (Switch)

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Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time 

Head empty, no thoughts, just Samurai Jack. That’s pretty much been my mode for the past week. The iconic Cartoon Network series has gotten the adaptation treatment before with numerous comic books and video games that continued after the series’ completion. A beloved animation from Genndy Tartakovsky with the critical reception to boot, the series blended elements of retrofuturism, westerns, and, of course, Japanese samurai narratives into a series that became a defining staple for the Toonami generation. Now, Jack is getting another video game treatment with Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time, a 3D hack-and-slash adventure through time that directly ties into the series’ finale from Adult Swim Games.

If you’re unfamiliar with Samurai Jack as a series, “Jack”, the eponymous character is a Japanese samurai who, after nearly defeating the ultimate evil being known as Aku using a magic katana capable of cutting through virtually anything, is sent forward in time by Aku to a dystopian future ruled by the tyrannical evil. Over the course of the series,  Jack attempts to travel back to his own time and defeat Aku before he can take over the world. While this is the summary of the series as a whole, this is also a quick and simple description of Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time.

More specifically, this game serves as an untold Samurai Jack adventure that ties into the epic series finale. Playing as Jack, you team up with trusted allies from the show to face off against familiar enemies. Keeping the characters you run into vague so you can experience the joy I did, Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time is for the fans. Each introduction to a character as you progress through nine classic worlds serves as a wink to long-time fans. This goes one step farther when you realize that you’re playing through some of the series’ most pivotal moments. But while the game serves up a hefty bit of nostalgia, especially in the opening scene, in the aspect ratio of the original series, which plays every time you boot up the game, it also brings level progression and combat that will push you to replay each world. Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time

There are dozens of weapons to choose from and each melee weapon type—sword, hammer, club, spear, and fist—all have different advantages and disadvantages in a fight. For my playthrough, I relied on the default weapon, Jack’s magic sword, for the bulk of the levels but used a spear for crowd control. Additionally, the variety in weapons also helps you mold the game’s combat to your own style. But regardless of how you like to play, each weapon also generates kiai at different paces as indicated in the weapon stats. While this isn’t too critical early on, the amount of damage dealt with moves after your kiai meter is filled is enough to make a difference in a boss battle.

Additionally, you can also equip ranged weapons including throwable weapons, such as shuriken, guns, and a bow and arrow. All of these have multiple variations to them and different mechanics that go into using them effectively. More specifically, a bow is the most useful ranged weapon in the game because its the only one that can be aimed. While the others are just thrown and lock onto targets, the bow can be aimed and thus can help defeat enemies above you or far away. It can also be used to gather collectibles which need to be hit but are not always within melee striking distance.

On top of all of that, while Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time doesn’t have a robust weapons system in terms of choice, different enemy types respond better to certain weapons and the mechanics of their combat will make it sometimes nearly impossible to use certain moves or weapons. Some enemies can’t be grabbed, others can’t be blocked, and still others will take advantage of an opening when you aim your ranged attacks. This causes you to think out your plan as you move through mobs, especially as the enemies increase in both difficulty and number. Additionally, Jack’s skill tree, which is broken into three parts spiritual, physical, and combat allows you to learn new combos and increase health, kiai generation, item drops, and so much more. Additionally, the skill tree, while using two basic items Fire Skill Points and Bushido Spirit Points to upgrade, isn’t too easy to unlock. Instead, you also have to acquire different gems as well which are in short supply throughout the world, making you think out what you unlock.

While the combat is the highlight of Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time given the gametype, there are also simple platforming elements that are used both as necessary parts of the level and as optional paths for you to traverse to find loot chests that can have anything from health items and gold to weapons and rare gems. Making sure to explore all open paths is a great way to make the most out of the levels and utilizing the feature that shows you where to go next isn’t just a way to get back on track when you’re lost, but also a way to travel down the extra pathways and find loot along the way. In addition to platforming elements, some levels also have traps set that will make you stop and think about your progression.

All of this comes together to create gameplay that is not only fun on the initial playthrough but pushes you to come back. Since you keep all of the skills you’ve unlocked when you press play on a level again, you can explore other options like increasing the difficulty or undertaking Missions. Missions, dictate which weapons you can use throughout the level and other guidelines to finish each stage. Additionally, each stage is given a star rating comparable to the difficulty and, upon completion, each one gives you a tier system grading with S being the best. The breakdown of your stage completion factors in time to clear, items used, deaths, and the like. For those looking to improve your speed or challenge yourself a bit more, this alone will bring players back. Personally, I’ve already played through a couple of stages to get the S ranking that I didn’t get on my first run.

With a relatively short playtime—about five hours on “Jack” mode (easy) and eight to 10 on “Samurai” mode (normal)—the replayability of the game is key. With four difficulties there is a lot to test your merit on and with copious amounts of tutorials (that you can choose to turn off) you can learn the game’s mechanics relatively easy. In truth Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time is a game that is fulfilling the first go-around but gets even better as you replay it.

That said, it isn’t perfect, at least on the Nintendo Switch. My largest issue was with the game’s camera angles which would switch from controllable to static and morph the game from a 3D hack and slash into a side-scroller. While this wasn’t a deal-breaker for me, it did make it hard for my eyes to focus as the transitions happened and made it difficult to stay in a groove while playing. Sadly because my eyes had a hard time adjusting, I did have to play the game in segments, one stage at a time, with breaks in between instead of sitting through it one or two goes. That said, while this is an issue, the level design allows for you to play the game piece by piece and you don’t lose narrative quality by doing so.

The heart of the game however is how much it caters to Samurai Jack fans. Whether it’s by the world that the developers chose for the stages, the story elements you get to play through, or the fact that as Jack takes damage his outfit does too—for those of who like to look at Jack, deciding to heal or let him remain shirtless is a tough choice—it’s clear that the developers poured an infinite amount of love, care, and respect into this title. While I’m always skeptical of licensed games, Adult Swim Games knocked this one out of the park. From the thirst trap to the combat and replayability, this is a game I can’t recommend enough. Not to mention, the way the team worked in classic animation segments into the story made me immediately start watching the series over again.

When all is said and done, Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time is a wonderful game. It’s humorous, nostalgic, and something I would recommend to both existing fans and new ones alike. While there is a lot to be gained when you already know the story, prior knowledge isn’t necessary and I can easily see this title making new Jack fans out of many players. By nailing nearly every element, Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time is just the game I was looking for.

Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time is available now on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC via Steam.


Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time 
  • 8.5/10
    Rating - 8.5/10
8.5/10

TL;DR

When all is said and done, Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time is a wonderful game. It’s humorous, nostalgic, and something I would recommend to both existing fans and new ones alike. While there is a lot to be gained when you already know the story, prior knowledge isn’t necessary and I can easily see this title making new Jack fans out of many players. By nailing nearly every element, Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time is just the game I was looking for.