As the sun blazes high in the noonday sky, Gojiro Kiryuu prepares for battle. A few hundred paces away, a group of cowboys have their guns pointed at him. All of the residents have either fled the town or been shot to Hell in a hail of bullets. Such terror and murder is bittersweet; at least Gojiro won’t have to worry about any innocent bystanders getting hurt in the upcoming showdown. Aside from this lone hero, the only things left alive in this godforsaken town are the gunmen arming their weapons and aiming to kill. There’s a slight breeze blowing through this tiny midwestern village, though the dry air makes for little relief from the unending heat. Overhead, a few vultures have begun circling around. They must be able to smell the inevitable bloodshed already. A single tumbleweed drifts across the main road, kicking up dust as it passes by into the heat. Taking his katana out of its sheath, Gojiro charges into the gunfight that will likely take his life.
Wait a second. What the Hell is a katana doing in the middle of a cliched Western film scene?
It’ll take just one glimpse at the game to realize that something very strange has happened to the spaghetti Westerns that we all know and love. Samurai Western is the epic tale of not an honorable sheriff or badass desperados, but of Gojiro, a lone samurai that has suddenly showed up in the middle of town. Despite sticking out like a sore thumb in the middle of all these weathered cowboys and saloon girls, Gojiro is focused on only one thing: his brother Rando. Apparently his sibling has ditched the traditional samurai way of life in favor of becoming a hired gunman for some local megalomaniac named Goldberg. There are underlying themes of the clash between Eastern and Western philosophies, heroism, and a few other serious aspects. Don’t bother to look too deeply, though; the main point of this game is to slice up as many cowboys as you possibly can.
Gojiro may be a foreigner in this little Western town, but he can still kill people as well as any other desperado. He’ll start his adventure with a single katana, but he’ll be able to find more weapons and accessories as cuts his way through Goldberg’s baddies. Before each level, you’ll be allowed to change the samurai’s equipment based on how it affects his stats and your gaming preferences. Is that puny little katana not good enough for you? Switch it up with something with a better range and attack power, or even give dual wielding a try. You’ll also be able to find different accessories for Gojiro that can boost his attack, defense, and health stats. These can range from anything like a wooden lute to a pair of sunglasses to a small afro. Once you’ve gotten Gojiro’s abilities maxed out, it’s time to show these American cowpokes how things get done in Japan.
That’s right, boys and girls. Our hero is bringing a katana to a gunfight. Under normal circumstances, a samurai would be riddled with bullets in mere seconds. Gojiro, however, has a couple of things going for him. He possesses an incredible level of agility, which allows him to sidestep and even dodge oncoming projectiles. It’ll look pretty goofy at first; his “dodging” involves spinning on one foot while stepping forward with the other. The choppy animation makes it look like some kind of badly choreographed country line dance routine. But if enough bullets are whizzing toward him, Gojiro will start doing all sorts of crazy dashes and rolls to keep him from getting blasted. Should he swing his weapon at just the right time, the samurai can block bullets and deflect them back into the cowboy who shot them. If you charge up enough magical energy, Gojiro can use his samurai skills to briefly become invincible and chop his foes in half with a single swing. Once he’s managed to get up close and personal with his adversary, Gojiro can take out his sword and dish out a few quick combos to send the poor cowboy reeling. As the blood stars gushing out of the victim’s bodies, the samurai will simply run toward the next closest foe to begin the gory process anew.
You’ll need such a combination of swordplay and dodging to make it through alive. Samurai Western pits you against several enemies at once, most of which are armed with knives, revolvers, shotguns, machine guns, boomerangs, and dynamite…and an incredibly idiotic AI. You’ll find that most enemies just stand around for a few seconds before firing, or even shoot at their fellow villains on accident. The problem doesn’t just lie with the sheer numbers, either; Gojiro can easily dodge most attacks once you’ve gotten the hang of the controls. The biggest challenge is the horrible camera. The level usually begins with the camera following the samurai. But once the battle starts heating up, you’ll find that the camera erratically shifts from one foe to another. Should you get pressed up against a wall or building at a bad angle, you’ll lose sight of Gojiro and his foes completely, forcing you to move to another position and awkwardly struggle to gain a better vantage point. The camera’s limited perspective is also a major hindrance when you’re surrounded by baddies; you can be blown to bits without even realizing that an enemy is behind you or too far off to be seen. Since you’ll have to kill all the enemies to complete a level, you’ll have to spend time running around the fairly large areas to root all the baddies out.
You’ll get familiar with those areas, too. Though Samurai Western features sixteen missions, they are all limited to a handful of levels. You’ll have to trudge through a dusty main street, often ducking behind stagecoaches, jumping roofs or cutting through corrals. There will be epic showdowns in the middle of a prairie, a mineshaft, and inside Goldberg’s fortress. The only remotely interesting place is the saloon, where you’ll get to smash cowboys through wooden tables, over the bar, and around the stage. None of these places are particularly detailed or nice to look at; many of the buildings are blocky and unrefined, ultimately killing off any potential atmosphere. Since the game features so few levels, you’ll be forced to revisit them again and again, just with different enemies and a supposedly higher difficulty. Such repetition gets old, fast. The pathetic enemies don’t do the game justice either; despite their numbers, many of the baddies operate in the same way. They’ll often taunt you with a poor imitations of Western accents. Once you dispatch them, the cowboys will moan in agony and make the same kinds of death animations as their friends. They even look all the same, decked out in chaps, shirts, hats (sombreros for the Spanish guys), and other cliched cowboy outfits. Not even the cheesy bosses make the game more entertaining.
But hey, at least you get to viciously slaughter little old ladies. According to the game, killing grannies is okay when they’re throwing sticks of dynamite at you.
Poor Gojiro. He’s the star of what could have been one of the most awesome action titles of the PS2. He’s got an ungodly level of swordsmanship, allowing him to dodge and reflect bullets like some kind of 19th century Neo. His abilities with the sword will leave the levels of Samurai Western awash in the blood of his fallen adversaries. The amount of item collecting and stat boosting ought to satisfy most completionists. However, the game suffers from a few flaws that ultimately doom it to failure. The awkward camera, the incredibly repetitive levels, and lackluster enemies make the game seem far more tedious than it should have been The concept of having a traditional samurai stuck in the middle of a spaghetti Western is hilarious in itself, but it can’t save the game from its own mediocrity.
Five out of ten