Samurai Jack: The Amulet of Time
Cartoon Network-based licensed games haven't generally been known for their stunning quality. With such a bad reputation for cheap filler, most gamers shrug off any new Cartoon Network-centric release before even knowing what it's about; a mistake when it comes to Virtucraft's Samurai Jack: The Amulet of Time. Based on the animated series Samurai Jack, The Amulet of Time is a non-linear sidescrolling adventure which retains the overall feel of said program.
Though not entirely based on the TV show, the game follows the basic premise; additionally, it has an actual resolution which the show's original run never did. The nameless Samurai who has come to call himself "Jack" is truly a man out of time. While battling Aku, his arch-nemesis, he was sent forward to a period when the demon has established his rule over the world. After training for a time with monks, he feels ready to travel the world in search a way to return to his own era so he can negate this future created by Aku. Upon leaving, the monk gives him an ancient amulet which appears to be intended for Jack to use; his mission thus is to collect the four elemental jewels that were once apart of the amulet and somehow use it to go back in time. All the while, he must contend with robots, monsters, and a world completely and utterly foreign to him.
Jack doesn't control fluidly; in fact, he's quite slow and heavy. Adding to this, the game's default controls have the 'A' button as the attack button and assign the 'B' button to jumping, though this can be adjusted via the Options in the pause menu. Initially: he's able to Run by double tapping on the D-pad; he can Crawl by pressing 'Down' and then moving, and can then Roll from a crawl by clicking the jump button; and he can perform a Wall Flip in which he kicks off of walls by jumping into them, turning away, and immediately pressing jump. He does learn a number of abilities which make him more effective as the sidescrolling Samurai star he is: the Double Jump, which is activated whenever he clicks jump while already in the air; and the Super Jump, which gives Jack's starting jump extra height and can be activated by holding 'Up' and then jumping. Necessary for besting many of the game's obstacles are a number of combat abilities activated by pressing 'L' while equipped, including: the Bow and Arrow, which can shoot targets to move obstructions; the Viking Hammer, which knocks down breakable walls; and, though not necessary for exploration, there's also the Ice Shield, which blocks enemy attacks at Jack's frontside. He also adds four elemental gems to the titular amulet, resulting in four different offensive blade maneuvers: the Earth Attack, which destroys hallow floors below the brave blade-wielder; Fire Attack, which melts walls made of ice; Ice Attack, which freezes water and turns gushes of it into temporary bridges; and the Wind Attack, which , though it doesn't help at all in unlocking otherwise inaccessible parts of the map, creates a strong wind attack that deals a great amount of damage to enemies. Except for the standard double jump, these upgrades don't add anything that's really game-changing, as most of them do the same thing (get a wall out of the way) but simply have different names.
There's a rather involved RPG system, with a Health and Special bar (the latter powering extra weapons and amulet attacks), as well as Attack and Defense points for Mech, Earth, Wind, Fire, Ice, Shadow, and Light elemental attributes. While just about all of these can be accentuated by equipping items for Jack's Armor, left and right Gauntlets, left and right Rings, and 3 Sword Gems, and can be powered up to 999 by returning to the monk's temple and trading rejuvenation items for stat upgrade items, this is overkill; Jack is pretty capable of beating every enemy that stands in his way with minimal equipping of armor and improving of stats. Thus, a play through is ridiculously easy unless the player equips absolutely nothing and cares not a whiff for upping Jack's stats; though there's still some wandering in store. The game is indeed a Metroidvania sidescroller, with backtracking and an open world to explore. However, the nonlinearity exists within different stops on the road, and as such the map exists as several small open maps that are connected by a straight path. While the underground cave connects a few different areas and warp points can be unlocked later in the game's duration, the progression still feels largely linear and backtracking is somewhat strained due to this.
The world presented is appropriately representative of that of Samurai Jack. Though the graphics may be overly-simplified, this is because the visuals are successful in capturing the look of the series. Equally typifying of the series - yet much more appealing on its own merits - is the background music. There's a very fitting oriental sound to it all (the TV show/menu theme excluded), with an electronica basis to a lot of it. The score is cool and intense; in fact, it's probably the best aspect of the game. What's more, by collecting the Bagpipes item in the game, the player can listen to the 16 tracks used throughout the dystopian future world that Jack explores. The presentation fares better than the actual gameplay, though the musical themes steal the show.
Samurai Jack: The Amulet of Time is a pretty solid effort, even moreso when compared to other Cartoon Network franchise games. Still, Jack's controls are sluggish, it's not very challenging, the map is way too linear for the type of game it is, and the power-ups don't change anything fundamental about Jack's abilities for the most part. In short, the main reason to play this game is to re-experience the cartoon's atmosphere: with an incredible score and authentic visuals, this effort feels just like the television series. As it is, those who pass this one off as standard Cartoon Network video game fare just don't know jack.