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‘Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time’ Review: A New Dimension of a Classic Story

Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time is a welcome opportunity to revisit fan-favorite scenes in a fun, if unremarkable, action-packed romp.



Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time Review

Developer: Soleil | Publisher: Adult Swim Games | Genre: Action | Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC | Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch

Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time adapts Genndy Tartakovsky’s masterful Samurai Jack series in a new, three-dimensional light. It reimagines this beloved 2D cartoon as a 3D action game, introducing a fresh perspective of this legendary revenge story. It is neither a retelling of the original show nor is it a full-on sequel; instead, it can be best described as an alternate universe version of the series that reimagines classic moments from all five original seasons. Perhaps it does not add much in terms of all-new story content, but it does offer a welcome opportunity to revisit fan-favorite scenes and characters in the form of a fun, if unremarkable, action-packed romp.

Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time opens during the climactic final battle of the show, as the eponymous Samurai Jack and his lover Ashi face off against their archrival, Aku. During the battle, Aku tears open a portal in time and hurls Jack into it, sending him into alternate versions of his past adventures. The game then reveals what happened after Jack was tossed into this alternate timeline, where he must now fight his way back through time to escape the past, reunite with Ashi, and undo the future that is Aku.

What ensues is essentially a playable “greatest hits” compilation of moments from all five seasons of Samurai Jack. Each level is a new area from the series, such as the mines from the show’s very first episodes or the crimson, dystopian Aku City. You’ll face familiar foes throughout, including Aku’s beetle drones, the warlike Imakandi, the nefarious Demongo, and the fan-favorite, jazz-skating robot Scaramouche. Whenever you defeat the boss of each level, another portal will open that transports you to another region- rinse and repeat for the game’s nine levels. It’s a simple formula that gets the job done, providing an easy excuse for the game to zip between several fan-favorite segments of the critically acclaimed series.

Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time is a faithful adaptation of its legendary source material, sometimes to a fault.

Even if the plot achieves what it set out to do, it can feel like a missed opportunity. The narrative could have done so much more: with the premise of opening an alternate timeline, it could have filled in plotholes, expanded on relationships, or even altered aspects of the original show. Instead, it is generally content with sticking to the groundwork of its source material by leaving it largely the same, except with the necessary transitions to get from one scene to the next. At times, it does deviate from the original story for some truly shocking twists, but even these fail to mean much since the game forces itself back on track with the original show’s plot.

In terms of gameplay, Battle Through Time plays it simple. It is a relatively straightforward action game, complete with combos to learn, abilities to gain, and techniques to master. You can equip multiple weapons at once to switch between on the fly, so combat can be a dynamic game of using the right tools for each scenario. It emphasizes speed, so many fights boil down to zipping between opponents, dashing behind their defenses, dodging their attacks, and swiftly exploiting their weaknesses when possible. It’s a basic and fast-paced system that might not be revolutionary, but it is indeed pretty polished, fair, and fun.

While the combat system itself may be standard, Battle Through Time introduces a few subtle twists that go a long way to capture the feeling of its source material. Like Tartakovsky’s best work, some of the most memorable moments of the original Samurai Jack were its epic battles in which the protagonist could slice effortlessly through hundreds of opponents. The game smartly recreates this by punctuating its intense, one-on-one fights with huge brawls against dozens of low-leveled foes. This creates an adrenaline rush of taking down a whole army, but without any of the frustration that would come with facing so many enemies at a higher level. At other times, Battle Through Time captures the show’s beautiful minimalism by pausing the action altogether, zooming the camera out, and letting you simply run through ethereal environments and take in the scenery.  Little touches such as these go a long way to make Battle Through Time feel like less of a generic action game and more like a true Samurai Jack experience.

Not all battles reach this cinematic level, however. Instead, you’ll often be faced with a massive lineup of powerful enemies and be forced to trudge through them with quick thinking and swift combos. Unfortunately, these fights can feel unfair—there’s little preventing enemies from ganging upon you, which is made even worse because of the game’s stagger mechanic, which can leave you immobilized for seconds after a significant blow. Enemy variety is decent throughout the game, but Battle Through Time chooses to challenge players by pitting them against increasingly larger and more difficult clusters of enemies, rather than tasking you with reacting to new foes. This can be frustrating because it feels impossible to adequately respond to so many enemies at once. This tendency is especially prevalent in the last two levels, which can make the run-up to the final fight feel tedious and annoying. Overall, the gameplay flow is enjoyable, but characteristics like these really drag the game down.

Battle Through Time always had an uphill fight when it came to visuals. Nothing can compare to the original show’s beautiful 2D animation, set apart with its stark colors and angular designs. While the game’s 3D style certainly isn’t as unique as its source material, it manages to effectively capture the artistic vibe the show initially captured for the most part. In screenshots or videos, it might look unnatural to those who grew up watching the series to see their favorite characters in three dimensions. In practice, however, it looks smooth, fluid, and natural. The 3D visuals were effectively inevitable for the kind of gameplay that the developers wanted to accomplish here, so considering what they had to work with here, it is a solid effort after all.

Some moments of Battle Through Time are truly beautiful in their own right. Environments like desolate deserts, wintry forests, and futuristic cities shine with its cel-shaded art direction. The presentation is crisp and fluid, with universally solid performance and sharp visuals even in the Switch version. Although there can be a handful of framerate stutters during particularly intense fights, such performance issues were rarely a problem because they occurred so infrequently and only for a short time.

Battle Through Time is a satisfying compilation for some of the Samurai’s greatest moments.

Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time is a faithful adaptation of its legendary source material, sometimes to a fault. While it is certainly no action game revolution to go wild over, it is a solid title with a fun and fast-paced combat system fans will enjoy utilizing. It offers a welcome excuse to revisit the unforgettable world of Samurai Jack and its memorable cast of characters. It might not go as far as it could to meaningfully when it comes to contributing content to its series, but it still is a welcome opportunity to go back to the past to one of television’s greatest animated shows.

Campbell divides his time between editing Goomba Stomp’s indie games coverage and obsessing over dusty old English literature. Drawn to storytelling from a young age, there are few things he loves as much as interviewing indie developers and sharing their stories.

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