Review | Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time
Genndy Tartakovsky’s Samurai Jack series has remained a classic for animation fans the world over. The style, the action sequences, and the stellar voice work made it transcend the medium in ways we couldn’t anticipate. In 2017, the series got a final season to end Jack’s story, but Adult Swim Games decided that they weren’t done. Now, thanks to developer Soleil Ltd., we have a new story with Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time. Acting as a canon alternate event in the story, the game gives players a chance to live out some of Jacks infamous battles. If you haven’t watched the final season of the series, there will be spoilers.
The story takes place right at the end of the final episode, when Jack and his love interest Ashi transport themselves to the past. Things change quite drastically when Aku reaches into their time portal and knocks Jack into his own time prison. This forces Jack to revisit moments from his past, but with the twist that Aku amulets control past foes and even allies. Jack does everything he can to make his way back to Ashi, hoping to defeat Aku once and for all. It’s an unusual take, as it makes one wonder why we didn’t just play the actual series, but if we have to have a new story, we guess this works. At least the game matches the tone of the final season, making it less of a kids game.
While Jack revisits iconic places like Aku City and the Snowy Forest, he also comes across many friends. This includes the likes of The Scotsman and his daughters, Da Samurai, and even Sir Rothchild. Oddly enough, they follow him to all his destinations, which even confuses Jack in the game. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it being a game, we can likely just blame video game logic. What’s great is all the characters have their roles reprised by their original actors. It’s this fantastic voice work that lends to the presentation more than anything else.
Phil LaMarr returns as Samurai Jack himself, and his performance makes the game a convincing “episode”. Of course, the original actor for Aku, Mako, passed away in 2006, so Greg Baldwin, his replacement, carries on the legacy here. Of course, the original Mako performance still makes its way into the game. Tara Strong delivers a strong performance as Ashi, doing well to portray the character’s complexities. There’s even one moment in her performance that’s enough to give you haunting chills. John DiMaggio, Grey DeLisle, Rob Paulsen, and Kevin Michael Richardson and Tom Kenny all return to portray their roles as well. It really adds to the authenticity and makes it feel like less of a cash grab.
Of course, we go to a Samurai Jack game hoping to get some action-packed gameplay. Jack will have access to his magic sword, which will be his usual weapon. To mix things up, the game offers multiple weapon types for Jack to utilize. This includes, hammers, spears, clubs, bows, and multiple throwing weapons. Jack even gets a few guns to use, though it still feels a little weird to see Jack holding a revolver in official artwork. All the weapons have a durability that makes them break after a certain amount of use. You can choose to repair them, or you can stick to your indestructible sword, or even your bare hands. Even Jack starts to lost bits of his gi or armor in combat, representing his health.
Combat can have a lot of variety thanks to the weapons, but you can make it go deeper. Finding Da Samurai allows players to spend gold to train Jack in each weapon type. The higher his training, the more moves he’ll have access to. Some of these moves range from simple combos to more complex maneuvers that can deal some serious damage. Jack will even have a skill tree that he can upgrade using Skill Fire that he collects. Some skills will require other materials, but doing this will improve Jack’s capabilities quite a bit. Vital skills like double jump and dodge counters may be essential to survive Aku’s torment.
Battle Through Time will mostly have stylish stages that break combat into segments. Sometimes this will be in full 3D space, and some will even take a side-scrolling approach. Enemies will often spawn in waves while progress is halted by barriers, forcing Jack to take on his foes. In some areas, there are even puzzles that players can solve. This can reward players with new areas to explore, or even treasure chests containing rare items. While areas are expansive enough to explore, there are a few problems. One issue is that the frame rate will stutter in certain areas, but my biggest issue involves climbable walls. For some strange reason, Jack moves slow as molasses when climbing, and it breaks the game pacing tremendously. Other than those issues, the game feels like a pretty decent hack and slash.
The game does well to capture the style of the show, even using Unreal Engine 4 for the visuals. Colors and certain elements pop just like in the series, and Tartakovsky’s iconic style stays in tact despite the transition to 3D. The developers really did a good job making it feel like you’re moving through interactive sections of the show. The animation also feels pretty solid, and it makes the moments when time slows down a sight to admire. Despite this, there’s still some technical issues with the visuals. During the animated scenes from the series for example, the lip syncing seems to be off. There’s also occasional moments where an asset doesn’t load right away, making for things like invisible walls.
One thing that I found interesting with the game is the music. While the soundtrack isn’t bad, there seems to be the distinct lack of the main Samurai Jack theme. There are moments where you hear parts of it in Aku City, but otherwise, the game feels like it lacks a main theme. It makes it weirder when you get to the credits, and it’s just awkward silence. Regardless, the music tracks are still reminiscent of what fans of the show will usually hear. There’s also a few tracks right from the show, like Da Samurai’s theme or Scaramouche’s jazz flute. Still, it feels a bit incomplete. Thankfully, the voice acting helps to make up for this shortcoming.
The game offers three difficulty modes, with one extra one to unlock. Even playing it on Samurai mode, the “normal” difficulty, the game gets significantly harder on the final two stages. Some of the boss battles take everything you have, and considering there’s not a lot you can do to grind, you sort of have to just deal with it. Even if you could grind, the initial game is already pretty repetitive. I eventually persevered, but finishing the game didn’t feel all that rewarding. As a fan of Samurai Jack, there was a lot I enjoyed here, but I was really hoping for a better payoff.
Fans looking to experience a Samurai Jack game will likely enjoy Battle Through Time. It keeps the fantastic voice actors and tells a new story within the canon, giving us more samurai action to enjoy. Despite having a large difficulty spike and a rather anticlimactic ending, the game is still enjoyable for fans of the series. It might not do anything groundbreaking, but it would be difficult to argue against this being the best Samurai Jack game. If you’re not a fan of the series though, there might not be a lot for you to enjoy here.
Final Score: 7 out of 10