Ninja, pffffft. There's what we think of your ninja. Bunch of spotlight grabbin', pajama-wearin' show-offs who are about as good at the whole "we're a big secret thing" as Peter Parker. More importantly, they distract from the real heroes; the samurai. While the ninja are off flipping out and/or wakeboarding down at the beach for all the girls, the samurai are off doing important things. Like making sure someone is at home to meet the repairman, dropping little Billy off at school, and preparing for tax season. Oh, and starring in Forever Samurai, a new side-scrolling hack-and-slash game from Pixelante and fending off enormous dragons. That's important, too.
Control your brave little toaster, er, samurai, with the [wasd] keys, and click the mouse button to attack. You'll want to be careful actually moving the mouse, since doing so triggers special attacks, and can send you zinging around the screen like a marionette with a drunken puppeteer if you aren't prepared. Take your time to learn the ropes, since you're not on a schedule. After all, the hordes of ravenous mythical beasts about to descend on your succulent samurai flesh know how to fight, so you probably should, too.
Depending on what difficult you're playing, death can be the end or a temporary setback. Either way, you'll probably want to avoid it. As you take damage, things will take on a more and more intense red haze. You slowly regenerate health over time, so don't be afraid to run away if things get too hairy. Killing enemies nets you experience points, which you can use to purchase upgrades at checkpoints throughout the game. You can increase your attack, health, or purchase a new special ability for you to spend a few frantic moments trying to look like you know what you're doing with.
Analysis: Okay, so a big part of Forever Samurai's appeal is definitely it's aesthetic. It's two steps and a ridiculous hairstyle away from being the newest anime cult hit, or maybe a drastic reimagining starring Samuel L Jackson. The colours are vibrant, the designs are classic, and everything has a wonderfully minimalistic feel to it. The game probably won't take you very long to complete, even if you're a newcomer to the wonderful world of button mashing (or mouse clicking, in this case), but it's definitely a unique experience. Enemies, I was delighted to find, are lifted straight from Japanese folklore. I can't tell you how much more interesting it is to fight a Kappa or a Tengu rather than yet another random laser-eyed robot.
But the controls, the controls. NNNNGH. You know, I hate fiddling with ridiculous button combinations as much as the next person, but tying special attacks to the mouse movements was just such a big misstep and turns an otherwise lovely and fluid game into a potential clunker. Assigning abilities to specific keys would have been much more preferable to seeing your hero fling himself forward like a stupid, stupid dart because you accidentally twitched the mouse. And while the red screen is certainly atmospheric, it's too hard to tell just how wounded you are. That's right. I miss health meters, too. I'm a rebel.
Forever Samurai winds up being one of those games that trips itself up a little, but still races gamely along. Drink in its lovely visuals and clever design, but take the control scheme with a pinch of salt (or a shot of sake) and you'll be just fine. Or spend a little while balancing on a wooden post, backlit against the setting sun. Mr Miyagi would be proud either way.