Sunday, 27 November 2016

Musashi no Ken - Tadaima Shugyou Chuu (NES)

Based on an 80s anime of which I'd never heard prior to playing the game, Musashi no Ken has one of the most wholesome and innocent premises for a platform game I've ever seen. The protagonist has a big kendo tournament coming up, so he takes to the wilderness to go and train, by hitting inanimate objects with his shinai. Obviously, we can't expect too much deviation or innovation from an 80s licensed platformer, so there are still enemies to kill in the stages, though they're mostly either indistinct blobs, or random objects like maid dolls or walking bowls.

Your journey through the platform stage actually does act as a kind of training, as when you hit platforms, wooden posts, tires and other stuff strewn about the stages, little tiny shinai items pop out of them. These items come in three flavours: high, middle and low, and they're also floating around in the stages in the traditional platform game item fashion. These items don't actually do anything during the platform stages, but after three such stages, it's time for the big tournament!

But before I get onto that, I have more things to say about the platform stages. Firstly, there's an added complication in that as well as avoiding all the hazards, traps and enemies, you're also racing your dog to the end of the stage. This isn't really a big deal though, as he's so slow that he's usually only halfway through the stage by the time you reach the end. Secondly, the game uses a kind of rudimentary HP system: you start with fifty HP, and getting hit causes you to lose twenty-five of them, and should you happen across any riceballs along the way, they'll restore 10 each. At the end of the stage, you'll get 100 points for each HP you have left. What I find interesting about this system is that if you've been hit once, finding a riceball will allow you to survive one more hit before losing a life, but after that hit, you'll need to find two of them to get another hit. Obviously, this also means that the best scoring strategy is to avoid hits and find riceballs, so you have the maximum number of HP to turn into points at the end.

The platform stages are so absurdly difficult that, though I'm ashamed to admit it, I actually had to abuse save states to reach the tournament, because I really wanted to see it and screenshot it for my beloved readers. It was totally worth the effort, though, as it's good enough to have been a game on its own. What happenis is that you fight five sequential opponents in traditional first-to-two-points kendo matches. The items you collected during your training come into play here, as each 10 you have in each category allow you to use a powerful strike once. These strikes are almost guaranteed to win you a point when you use them, but you still need to be careful with tham, as the amount of items you have going into the tournament is what you're stuck with: they don't replenish between rounds, or when you lose a life (by losing a round).

Musashi no Ken is a pretty good game, with a lot of cool ideas. If they could flesh it out about, and come up wwith a replacement for the item-limited power strikes, the kendo tournament is good enough to be its own standalone game. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: kendo is a sport that should work well in videogame form, and it's totally bizarre that over almost forty years, there's less than ten kendo games in existence.

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