Sinclair User11th July 1988
Published in Sinclair User #79
Saddled with a name like Usagi Yojimbo for a game, I think Firebird was very sensible to call it Samurai Warrior instead, although it's not quite the run-of-the-mill martial arts simulation the title might lead you to expect.
For a start, how many samurai rabbits have you seen? Usagi is a Ronin - a wandering warrior - who also happens to be a cuddly fluffy bunny-rabbit. In his version of 17th century Japan, the bandits are bears and alligators, and his lord is a panda. It's this bundle of fur who is the object of the quest; the kidnapped Lord Nyru must be rescued from a rogue warlord. But, rather than merely hacking his way through all opposition, Usagi must carefully observe the code of the Samurai, paying the appropriate respects where required, rather than reaching for his chopper automatically.
Indeed, if you whip it out in front of some other characters, the shame is so great that you are forced to commit hara-kiri - messy!
The sideways-scrolling backgrounds are nicely detailed. The trees, rocks and caverns conceal a variety of hostile and helpful characters, and some features such as rivers and chasms have to be jumped with great precision.
Usagi operates in two modes, peaceful and hostile. When his sword is sheathed, his expression (shown on the top left) is benign and all's well with the world. He can walk, bow, give and receive money and other objects, and jump short distances. Things start moving when Usagi draws his sword.
His expression changes to one of murderous intent (well, as murderous as a bunny rabbit can get). Now he can run, jump high in the air, and slash and chop at attacking bandits. An energy bar shows your progress as you fight it out, and whoever loses floats off as a disembodied spirit. If Usagi wins, he gains "karma" points, and in some cases picks up money. If he attacks peaceful characters such as the peasants and monks, he will lose karma, and eventually snuff it. Bow and give money to the right characters, and they will thank you by giving clues such as warnings about hidden bandits. There are two paths to success; the hard one and the easy one, chosen via a fork in the road. On the hard one you pass through a village of hostile ninjas, but have the opportunity to gain more karma points by fighting them off, and money by gambling in an inn. You must never refuse an invitation to a duel, though it need only be fought to the first blood.
Samurai Warrior has a lot of good points, but they don't quite come together into a great game. In peaceful mode, movement is too slow, and there are long periods when nothing happens. In the fights, there are too few fighting moves for it to be a satisfying fight simulation, and there is too little variation between the enemies. While the backgrounds and animation are fine, the sound effects are atrocious - just a little plip when you slash someone.
Too slow for a slash-and-hack game, too simple for an arcade adventure. Samurai Warrior is a tribute to Beam Software's programming ability, but says little for their game design.
Pretty, but slow-moving, arcade adventure.