Samurai Gunn Hands-On: The Return of Local Multiplayer

Samurai Gunn is the best multiplayer game you will never play online.

Developed by Beau Blyth — also known as Teknopants — Samurai Gunn is a hectic, tense, and thoroughly bloody fighting game that pits up to four players against each other in a hectic-yet-thoughtful arena-style deathmatch. Where Samurai Gunn breaks from the mold, however, is in how simple, yet deep, it is. Anybody can pick it up and learn to play in under a minute — as evidenced by the crowd of people perpetually surrounding the tiny corner of space Samurai Gunn took up at PAX — but it takes time and practice to master, as well as an appreciation of the mindgames that go on in fighting games.

The basics are incredibly simple: you can run around, jump, shoot your pistol(up to three times per life), and swing your sword (which slightly moves you in the direction of the swing). If an enemy is hit by a bullet or struck by a sword, they instantly die. The first player to ten kills wins. It’s thoroughly easy to understand, but once you’ve figured out the basics, Samurai Gunn begins to throw more complicated concepts at you.

The most important part of Samurai Gunn — and a legacy from fighting games — is timing. Whoever hits the enemy first will win, without question. If you miss your attack, you leave yourself open for a fraction of a second, but that fraction of a second is all that is needed to ensure your death. Conversely, if you have good timing, you can murder other players with impunity. In addition, you can deflect both sword strikes and bullets with proper timing. Deflecting a sword strike causes the attacker to fly back and slam into the terrain, often opening them up to an attack if you rush them afterward. Bullet deflection is a great way to avoid death, strike back at another player, or even curve the bullet around an object; where you attack determines where the bullet is deflected to, not where it came from. The reflex-driven nature of both basic combat and counterattacks adds an extra element to Samurai Gunn that elevates it beyond casual, party-based murder and into the realm of a genuinely competitive game.

Mindgames are a result of this focus on proper timing, and getting into the head of your opponent is crucial for victory. While this is less pronounced in four-player games, it’s definitely the highlight of a 1v1 match. Players will often stand around, gauging their opponent like a chess player, attempting to discern what path they might take. Then, once someone makes a move, the fight surges forward in a rush of adrenaline and aggression, until someone is finally brought down. This stop-start ideology stands in direct contrast to normal fighting games, as poking is definitely not something you want to do with any regularity. Due to the fast, brutal, uncompromising nature of fights in Samurai Gunn, you need to predict your opponent before he moves and take him out swiftly. Otherwise, you’ll be sliced into hamburger. Once a fight has been joined, it’s on until someone falls.

On top of the timing, Samurai Gunn introduces a number of environmental elements to keep players on their toes. Samurai can carve spikes into rock by attacking it, allowing them to set up traps around a specific area. Water jams guns, making them completely unusable for the duration of the player’s life. Some blocks move around the level (squishing any players that get caught against the terrain), and can be stopped or forced onto a different course by the attacks of a player. Bamboo shoots grow from the ground in some levels, allowing players to carve out little mazes to fight in. Some levels wrap around, allowing you to fall off the bottom of the screen in order to dive attack an enemy.All of these elements combine to make each level a unique affair, where one player who dominates can quickly find themselves totally ruined in the next round.

All of this is presented through a lo-fi aesthetic that adds a lot to Samurai Gunn’s charm. Characters are blocky and pixelated, as is the spray of gore whenever you manage to hit an enemy with your sword. Death cries are downsampled and filtered, sounding something akin to a Pokemon cry mixed with someone’s final breath. With each death, the screen chunks off parts of itself with black bars around the killer, emphasizing the murder in the style we all think of when we think of samurai movies. The overall effect is one of artistic disconnection, even as you become engrossed in the battles playing out on-screen. It’s a basement-made samurai movie, starring you and your friends as a bunch of killers, with no plot and plenty of action.

Saying that Samurai Gunn is the best local multiplayer game I’ve ever played is an understatement. It’s one of the most engaging multiplayer games of all time, online or otherwise. It brings people together through the joys of intense combat and brutal murder, and is the perfect game to make your friends play or to bring to your favorite bar. Samurai Gunn, despite not following the norms to the letter, captures that feeling of sitting down in an arcade at a fighting game machine and duking it out with the reigning champ. It strips all the complicated combos from fighting games, creates a game anyone can grab and understand instantly, and distills the genre to its core essence: kill, or be killed.

Samurai Gunn is planned for the upcoming holiday season on PC, and sometime in 2014 for PS4.

Don’t miss the rest of our PAX Prime 2013 coverage all this week!

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