Not Sweating the Backlog and some thoughts on Muramasa

One of my goals for the new year was to ignore my video game backlog and play whatever I want to play. This probably doesn’t sound like a revolutionary thought to any sane person. It is pretty much how anyone with half a brain spends their free time. Unfortunately for me, though I have made changing my mentality about this a goal before, I continually fall back to trying to beat every game I have purchased and check them off a check list. If I want to replay Lunar or spend two weeks playing nothing but Mr. Driller, I damn well intend to do so.

There are several reasons I do this. The first is that if I spend money on a game, I want to get my money’s worth by playing it. It would be a waste of money to buy a game and not play it. Even if I have other games I would rather play and now I’m wasting my time as well as my money, I’ll keep going back to game to get them beat. The other reason is that beating a game and crossing it off my list gives me a sense of accomplishment. It feels like I did something rather than just waste my time playing games. I plan to break this pattern by first buying fewer games. Unless I intend to play it almost immediately, I will not buy games this year. Even if they are really cheap or part of a special deal, Steam sales be damned. The other way is that I will stop keeping a backlog list. I’ll still use the backloggery site, but I’ll stop manually making lists and stop organizing my games with the unbeaten ones in front.

How’s it going after two weeks? Pretty well. I’ve beaten Muramasa: The Demon Blade on Momohime’s path. It is a game that would have been near the top of my backlog list, but it was also a game I really wanted to play. Two things stand out about Muramasa: it is beautiful and it is shallow. It is a lot of fun and it ends before the glaring lack of depth really becomes a problem, though.

Vanillaware has done wonderful things with 2D sprites in this game. The graphics are crisp, clear and colorful. It makes me pine for a world where 3D graphics never took off and 2D games still ruled the land. I also never encountered any technical hiccups, slow-down and the like. While there are some oddities, like the ponderous breast on anything female, no one could ask for a better looking game.

It is too bad the gameplay is not as excellent. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad game. It just lacks any semblance of depth. Muramasa is a brawler. They try to dress it up by grafting some RPG mechanics on to it, but they do more to hinder the experience than help. Making the most of the fights essentially random battles just slows everything down, killing any fluidity it would have. And while your character levels up and supposedly gets stronger, enemies always take about the same number of hits. There are more than 100 blades to forge, but there are really only two different kinds, though there are plenty of different special attacks. Really, most of the things they add get in the way and they add less depth than River City Ransom had back on the NES.

Fortunately, the base mechanics are solid. Jumping, running and slashing are good fun. It is so smooth to plow through hordes of ninja. It lasts about six hours, and that is about how much game there is. Sure, you have to play it through multiple times to get the real ending, but I think taking a break in between each play through will help keep the game fresh. I don’t fault the game for being a beat-um-up. I like this sort of game. The RPG mechanics are superfluous , but they don’t get too much in the way of the rest of the game. This is a refreshing throwback. There need to be more games like Muramasa: the Demon Blade.

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