'Samurai Warriors' mixes new with the old

Game play is solid, despite shaky sound and visuals.
An offshoot of the long-running "Dynasty Warriors" series, "Samurai Warriors" takes the same basic idea -- one warrior against the storm -- and drops it into a different setting.
"Samurai Warriors" plays the revisionist historian with feudal Japan, taking a few legendary personae and throwing them into battle with each other and legions of faceless soldiers in bloodless one-man-army action missions.
The action is fast, furious and repetitive, but unlike the recent "Drakengard," it isn't dull. That title had one character with a bunch of weapons, a dragon pal and not much else. This game is full of variety, from the 15 playable characters and the scads of weapons to the dozens of upgrades and items to purchase and unlock. This game may be simplistic, but it isn't shallow.
Combat is easy, whatever the character. Each warrior has a normal attack, a charge attack and a "Musou" attack, and can jump, dodge and block. Charge and normal attacks can be strung together to create special techniques and combos, and Musou attacks, activated once a special meter is filled, can quickly carve through the ranks of enemies.
The combat is a mix of pure reflexes and knowing which moves to use in what order. Enemies dish out quite a bit of punishment, but frequently drop health-restoring items and other power-ups, so the melees don't get too frustrating.
The characters are varied, from nimble and acrobatic ninjas to huge, lumbering bruisers. Some have reach, some have power, some have speed. Five fighters are available at the start, with more unlocked as the player finishes scenarios.
Each character has a scenario, consisting of a handful of huge stages. Many of these stages overlap with other characters' scenarios, so one will often end up fighting against a recent ally. Each stage has a win condition, a defeat condition and a set of other objectives. Characters earn bonus items and experience after each battle, and can use skill points to purchase new abilities.
New weapons are also found on the battlefield, and can be equipped after the fight. Some weapons are imbued with elemental properties, such as fire or lightning, for an added punch. Warriors can even attack from horseback if a steed is found.
Team play
Aside from the story mode, a player can team up or battle against a friend, fight in a never-ending survival mode against waves of foes, replay cleared stages and create and train a custom warrior.
While the game play is detailed and deep, the visuals are somewhat less so. The main characters are well-designed and distinctive, and all characters are well-animated and detailed, but the environments are drab. The battle effects are nice and fancy, as are the occasional movie sequences.
The sound is pretty shaky. The noise of battle is realistic and crisp, but the music is hardly noticeable and the voice acting is pretty bad -- due in part to an awkward script.
The action and variety of "Samurai Warriors" should appeal to fans of the "Dynasty Warriors" series and of beat-'em-up games in general.
X"Samurai Warriors," by Sony PlayStation 2, also for Microsoft Xbox, is rated T for teens.

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