Samurai Jack was a staple of early 2000s Cartoon Network's broadcast line-up. Telling the story of a samurai sent to the future by an evil wizard, the show received quite the acclaim during its initial four-season run. So much so, that the property saw a revival with the 2017 continuation of Samurai Jack on Cartoon Network’s alternate programming block for more mature content, Adult Swim. The renewed interest in the IP has led to a new video game adaptation. Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time is the latest adaptation of the warrior trapped in time.
A timeless adventure
Developed by Soleil and published by Adult Swim Games, Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time opens with a cinematic done in the style of the latest season. I was immediately impressed with the quality of the animation, as it felt like I was watching an episode of the show. Series creator Genndy Tartakovsky and writer Darrick Bachman were brought back to work on the game, explaining how the adaptation was able to stay so faithful to the source material.
Battle Through Time also scores original voice actors from the Samurai Jack cartoon. Having Greg Baldwin’s Aku and Phil LaMarr’s Jack made this in-canon game feel like an authentic part of the Samurai Jack universe. The game’s story ties in directly to the final season of the series, with Jack having to quite literally battle his way through time and space to confront the evil Aku once and for all.
All five seasons of the Samurai Jack cartoon were animated in 2D. Battle Through Time opens with a 2D cinematic, but quickly swaps to a 3D style once Jack is sent through time. Soleil should be commended for adapting the world and characters of Samurai Jack into a new style of animation while still maintaining all of the personality and character of the 2D series.
The combat in Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time is done in an action style, with RPG elements sprinkled in for abilities. Fighting in the game feels amazing, as Jack’s iconic sword feels like a tangible object. It’s satisfying slashing through enemies. In several cases, killing blows will slice or dismember enemies, which is a great touch. Players will also need to block and dodge incoming attacks, waiting for the perfect moment to retaliate.
Jack’s Magic Sword isn’t the end of the weapon offerings in Battle Through Time either. Players can also find and equip spears, warhammers, and clubs. These weapons all consistently have that tangible feeling, with their own unique animations against enemies. There’s also throwables, such as Kaiken, which can deal damage to foes at a distance. The combat really captures the essence of the character, making Jack truly feel like a samurai.
Stuck in time
The various worlds are filled with destructible objects. From barrels to towering crystals, there are plenty of objects to break, yielding different rewards. This includes bushido, coins, and Skill Fire. While coins are used as a currency, Bushido and Skill Fire are used to unlock new abilities. Skill Fire can also be acquired through completing mission tasks. These are objectives that aren’t required to progress the story, but yield some useful extras. For example, I had a mission to defeat 60 robot alligators, which rewarded me with 1,500 Skill Fire. Missions were a good way to quickly stack up Skill Fire and progress through what felt like a lackadaisical upgrade system.
The skills menu in Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time is quite expansive. With three different sections (spiritual, combat, and physical) totalling out to over 50 unlockable abilities. These range from allowing players to carry more weapons, to new unique combo attacks. This is where I was a bit unimpressed. The layout of abilities in the three branches is really uninspired, with dozens of identical icons arranged in a wheel.
The route of progression is also incredibly linear. If you find a skill you like, there’s another skill required as a prerequisite, with that skill having its own prerequisite, and so on. In most cases, you can quite literally draw a line from every skill back to the beginning. This makes the upgrade process feel like a chore at times, as you’ll find yourself spending Bushido and Skill Fire to unlock several abilities that you don’t care for, just to get one that you do. This could’ve been executed better by adding a handful of different starting points to each skill branch, allowing players to prioritize where they want to spend their upgrades.
The legend lives on
Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time is a faithful adaptation of the beloved series. Much more than a simple tie-in game, Battle Through Time provides great gameplay with a variety of weapons and abilities, even though the skill tree leaves a bit to be desired. With characters and a story so true to the source material, Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time is an excellently executed adaptation that Samurai Jack fans will adore.
This review is based on a digital Steam download code provided by the publisher. Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time is available now for PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Switch for $39.99.
Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time
- Great combat
- Faithful adaptation of the animated series
- Well-executed transition to 3D animation
- Skill branches feel lazily laid out
- Could use more customization options