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Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked (PlayStation 2) artwork

Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked (PlayStation 2) review

"Despite all the silliness surrounding it, the core gameplay is both intuitive and smooth. At its heart, Sidetracked is a single-player hack-and-slash, most similar to a fully-3D Golden Axe. Like the classic old-school brawlers, levels are straightforward, there's a lot of button-mashing, and the enemies are repetitive. Fortunately, the game's always free-flowing and fast-paced. There's never any dead space... wherever you walk, enemies will follow, and those enemies must be ELIMINATED!"

Friends and enemies tell me that Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked, the latest title from the Killer 7 crew, is faithful to the anime's spirit... but I wouldn't know. I've never seen a single episode.

Since I've never seen the TV show, it would be a bit ridiculous for me to provide a second-hand synopsis. Likewise, there's no need for me to describe the game's beginning; you can watch that for yourself. So, to avoid spoiling the ending, I'll only discuss the middle.

~ Five Hundred Years Ago ~

Two beautiful goddesses were in a hopeless situation! Imprisoned by the diabolical power of Darm, they turned to a lone swordsman for salvation: a red-haired, blue-eyed lad named Adol. Driven by anachronistic rock melodies, this medieval swordsman put an end to the forces of evil.

Adol is not in Samurai Champloo.

~ Two Hundred Years Later ~

Red-haired, blue-eyed foreigners have settled into Edo-era Hokkaido. These degenerate aristocrats, dressed in polo shirts and Hawaiian floral print, quickly established their secret restaurant of operations (yes, restaurant) inside the sprawling Izumo Palace. Hokkaido, a land of eternal winter where the indigenous people once worshipped mighty spirits of nature, has become a land of greed, oppression, and buttered potatoes.

After negotiating a long, linear path populated by an army of yakuza clones, the bespectacled samurai Jin arrived at the foreigners' secret base. For several days, he and his comrades street swordsman Mugen, and snowcone-slurping city girl Fuu (who looks a bit like a kimono-clad Jessica Alba) had been hunted by policemen, ogres, and monkeys. Driven by anachronistic hip-hop beats, this feudal Japanese trio put an end to the forces of whoever got in their way.


This time was different. This time, Jin knew he would be facing the fourth level boss the assassins' leader. Like most symbols of evil in Sidetracked, the assassins' leader turned out to be an effeminate man with ridiculously ostentatious fashion sense. This particular man wore a hat decorated with rams' horns.

Jin did not approve.


Whenever a boss is defeated, their portrait appears onscreen and a booming voice declares that they've been ELIMINATED. The boss's image is then wiped from the screen by a flurry of pink sakura petals, providing the fertile earth with yet another corpse to feed the bloodthirsty cherry blossom tree.

If I had to stress one thing about Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked, I would stress that it has a seriously warped sense of style. From game creative staff Grasshopper's logo being sliced in half, to pre-mission loading scenes reminiscent of Cheng Sin Zan's 120% Ramen-eating Fest, this game is sometimes so weird that it doesn't even make sense!

Despite all the silliness surrounding it, the core gameplay is both intuitive and smooth. At its heart, Sidetracked is a single-player hack-and-slash, most similar to a fully-3D Golden Axe. Like the classic old-school brawlers, levels are straightforward, there's a lot of button-mashing, and the enemies are repetitive. Fortunately, the game's always free-flowing and fast-paced. There's never any dead space... wherever you walk, enemies will follow, and those enemies must be ELIMINATED!

A combination tree (reminiscent of Nanobreaker) hovers at the top of the screen, showing the available assortment of Light and Heavy attacks. In an odd mix of elements, the available combinations are dependent on the music. Before each stage, you get to pick the background melody (I've unlocked about 20), and each comes with a unique set of attack patterns intended to correspond to the hip-hop beat. This neat gimmick mixes up both the gameplay and the soundtrack, which alleviates the genre's innately repetitive nature.

Samurai Champloo's unpredictable and over-the-top visuals also alleviate the potentially repetitive gameplay. Viewed from a traditional sense, these graphics suck. The models are simplistic, the backgrounds are sparse, and the camera can't be adjusted. Viewed from a cinematic sense, the graphics ROCK. When your fluidly-animated fighter gets a sudden rush of adrenaline, the screen explodes in a blend of blue sword slashes, red blood splatters, and manga-style speed lines!

As Jin or Mugen cuts foes apart, additional techniques are unlocked and the little Rez man mysteriously tucked in the lower left corner begins to dance. His official name is "Danceman". When Danceman starts spazzing out like Tiger Woods, that's when you know you're about to enter Tate Mode, which basically means "tap the buttons as fast as possible".

You'll need to cut your nails for this one, girls.

String together a 100-hit tate (eat your heart out, Hibana!) and you'll dive into the psychedelic King of Champloo: Trance Match Never Ends mode and kick some samurai butt. It's kind of like the survival mode from Bushido Blade, except that it's got crazy multicolored silhouettes, awesome techno music, and 120% more excitement.

REVIEW RECAP: Kill lots of enemies. Do so without dying and you'll enter Tate Mode. ANNIHILATE your opponent and enter Trance Mode. Slaughter 100 enemies to the trance techno beat and earn new artwork or weapons!


The great thing about these Tate and Trance scenes is that they're entirely off-the-cuff, never scripted. This lends an otherwise repetitive (but fun) game a sense of unpredictable and memorable charm. I still remember the rain of fire that descended as I cut my way through legions of bird-masked ninjas in the burning manor of the oppressed clan Tsurumaki. "Sen pyuu kyaku!" I cried as hip-hop samurai Mugen's feet of fury flew with hardcore Brazilian fervor.

Intelligently-written (but occasionally lengthy) story scenes also lend the game an unmistakable charm. These CG scenes explain how the demonic Oni introduced mutton to Japan, demonstrate the dangers of snake-swallowing, and toy with the absurd possibility of the narrator being killed off. The AWESOME aspect of Sidetracked is that even though the three playable characters share the same main storyline, they each have a different viewpoint, complete with unique scenes, unique levels, and unique bosses.

Play Jin's path and face an enormous creature straight out of the Taito NES classic Wrath of the Black Mugen. Other characters grapple with masked wrestler transvestites or engage in exciting, intricate battles against spell-flinging witches. Couple this variety with the ability to replay previous missions for better ranks, and you've got a game with some serious legs.

If you've already played through plenty of "serious" action slashers like Chaos Legion, then the twisted machinations of Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked will keep you entertained for hours. It's not often that a game coherently incorporates levels from Super Mario Bros. and epic battles against giant mechanical bears. On the other hand, if you're the stuffy kind of gamer who buttons his or her shirt all the way up to the neck, you probably ought to pass.



zigfried's avatar
Staff review by Zigfried (April 23, 2006)

Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.

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