There's something about Samurai Gunn that brings the samurai film Yojimbo to mind. Back in 1961 Akira Kurosawa told the story of a wandering ronin who stumbles into a turf war between two rival gang lords attempting to claim a small village in feudal Japan, and it went on to inspire Sergio Leone's famous string of spaghetti westerns starring Clint Eastwood's nameless anti-hero. It's not the backdrop of Samurai Gunn, a fast, bloody 8-bit indie, that reminds me of Yojimbo, though. It's more the central theme of rivalry.
Samurai Gunn is primarily a multiplayer game. Designer Beau Blyth tells me there is a single player mode in the works, but after playing a few rounds against three other feudal warriors (one of them Blyth himself), I can't imagine how a single-player experience could be as much fun.
As history usually tells us, cross swords with power and there will be backstabbing. Samurai Gunn isn't particularly worried about the messy politics, though: quite simply, you're locked in a deathmatch with your other opponents until only one is left standing. What makes Samurai Gunn stand out is the sneaky elements of strategy that keep matches short and tense. In addition to a blade, each swordsman also has a gun capable of carrying three bullets per life.
Bullets and knives are deadly, but with quick reflexes and proper timing any blow can be deflected. A skilled player can keep a match up for a long time, and there's breadth to the fights: the vertically scrolling 2D maps are small and often destructible, so you can hide in bamboo thickets.
More importantly, every attack is a one-hit kill, so the instant you're crossing swords with an opponent, one of you is probably marked for death. This isn't a game for button mashers, and since you only have three bullets to save yourself in a pinch, making each shot count is important.
Despite its lo-fi aesthetic, Samurai Gunn's violence packs quite a punch. With up to four combatants running and leaping around a small enclosed area, things get messy fast. A quick, sharp thrust at close quarters and the victor is rewarded with some dazzlingly sanguineous screen splatter, as though someone knocked over a very large inkstone with great force.
It can be a little distracting when there's a lot of intense spattering happening around you, since death comes quickly. Luckily you have multiple lives per round. Samurai Gunn is a very simple game on the surface - I played it with a modded NES controller, in fact - but the rivalries it helps bring to the boil ensure that it's .
Probably the best part of the multiplayer experience, and one that echoes back to Yojimbo more than any other aspect of the game, is the end-round showdown. Here, two players (or sometimes three, depending on respective scores) meet face to face in showdown style. The battle is usually over within seconds, if only because you've panicked and lost (I did). It's a great homage to both samurai films and Westerns, and a cool stylistic touch to end a match.
It's a cool and stylistic game, actually, and one that's going to fit in well not only on PC but also on PlayStation 4 and Vita where it's also headed later this year. Rack this up alongside Hotline Miami, Luftrausers and Spelunky as another indie gem that's set to sparkle on Sony's hardware.