Rising Zan: The Samurai Gunman
Once upon a time a blue eyed boy from the old west learned one of lifeís cruelest lessonsÖthat evil was bigger than his gun.
And so begins the theme song to Rising Zan: The Samurai Gunman, an often hilarious fusing of the Ancient East and Wild West. Itís no secret that samurais and cowboys have a lot in common despite being distanced thousands of miles away. Both are highly romanticized heroes and the movies based on these two groups are often similar. In fact, Akira Kursosawaís The Seven Samurai was remade into a western film. Rising Zan is a parody of these two genres, but does it actually hold up as a game?
As we learn in the theme song, Johnny was a cowboy that wanted to be the greatest hero ever. After being beaten by a gang of mysterious foes, he moves to Asia to train the ancient ways of the samurai from one of his fatherís old friends. Johnny changes his name to escape his past failure. No longer Johnny, he is now Zan, or as he likes to call himself, The Super Ultra Sexy Hero Zan. Quite a mouthful, isnít it? Armed with a katana and a trusty six-shooter with unlimited ammo, Zan heads out to his old town to become the greatest hero of all time.
When Zan returns to his old home he finds it overrun with Asian clichÈs! Ninjas have taken over the gold mine; a sumo wrestler has taken over the dojo and generally everywhere thereís chaos. Elsewhere in town the sheriff, a buxom blonde wearing nothing but hot pants and a bikini top, has been kidnapped. Most of the levels are clichÈs themselves, much like the enemies. Thereís a train level, a mine cart chase and a dojo, among others. I always wondered why there was a dojo in the middle of a western town. Perhaps Americans were more tolerant of immigrants than I read in my history book. While the levels and enemies are generally stereotypical, the game is so tongue in cheek that itís intentionally humorous. I couldnít wait to see what area was next.
Since Zan has not only a sword, but also a gun, there are a variety of ways to dispatch foes. He can execute combos with his sword, shoot enemies from afar and unleash devastating special moves. If Zan dispatches enough foes, he can get in ìHustle Timeî where he moves twice as fast and can dish out double the pain. The variety in combat is surprisingly excellent for an action game, but a couple things prevent it from being truly good.
A lot of the time the controls do not feel responsive. This is especially evident in the parts where you have to block enemy projectiles. This requires precision button timing and it becomes annoying when Zan doesnít raise his sword in time to block when you know you hit the button in time. Locking onto enemies can also be a nuisance. Sometimes when you hit the button it doesnít lock on at all, or it locks onto the least dangerous enemy. Another problem is that it sometimes takes too long to change the camera angle. To change the camera angle to be exactly behind Zan you have to hit a trigger button and hold it for a couple seconds. It should happen instantly, but for some reason it doesnít. This makes a few of the platform jumping parts more challenging than it should be.
There are nine different levels in Rising Zan and they are all on the short side. To spice up the killing and platform hopping, something called ìAction Button Eventsî are thrown into the mix. Despite the nifty name, the Action Button Events involve nothing but hammering all the buttons on the control pad as fast as you can. Itís simple, but for some reason itís enjoyable. The sexiest, most super part of the game is the finishing moves. At the end of boss battles youíre given some time to hammer all the buttons, then depending on how well you did you get a more gruesome kill on the boss. Itís good, unwholesome fun. The real joy is replaying the levels for a higher rank. If you get enough good rankings, something new becomes unlocked, such as a new character or difficulty level.
From a technical stand point, Rising Zan is not too impressive. The levels are abundant with pop-up, pixelization and bland textures. The character models fare better since they are well detailed and animated smoothly. The cutscenes are basically done using improved in-game graphics, so they arenít exactly a treat for the eyes. The one thing the game does have is style. All of Zanís moves, from his combos to his finishing kills, look great. The violence is delightfully over the top with decapitations and bodies being cut in two.
Rising Zan also features one of the greatest songs ever heard in a game. The song in the opening movie is so incredibly catchy and performed so well that I scoured the Internet for a copy of the song. The best part is that the chorus plays right after you kill a boss, which makes me feel incredibly badass and heroic. The voice acting during the cutscenes is equally great. Zan sounds like an actual Super Ultra Sexy Hero, and the supporting characters do an equally topnotch job. For some reason, all the enemies speak in Asian gibberish. You know the kind kindergarteners speak in when trying to imitate a Chinese / Japanese / Korean person. This may be potentially offensive, but itís hard to take a game like this to heart.
Rising Zan is definitely a flawed game, but by no means is it a bad one. Thereís some control issues and the graphics are pretty bad, but the setting and mood of the game is what makes it shine. Itís so silly and entertaining that I suggest checking this game out, or at least downloading the theme song. Either way, you won’t be disappointed.