Review by Never3ndr

Reviewed: 11/30/15

Ancient Japan Was No Friendly Place

The Savior Samurai
Ever wanted to be a samurai? Ever want to save an entire nation? Well, Kenseiden has you play as a lone samurai, Hayato, who is set to save Japan from evil warlocks and their host of beasts and demons! Kenseiden is an action-platformer on the Sega Master System (SMS). It has been compared to both Shinobi and Castlevania, but is its own unique experience quite separate from those two games. You can expect a lot of sword-slashing and tough platforming when warring against the warlocks.

Ancient Japan Was No Friendly Place
The journey in Kenseiden will take you across old Japan, which includes 16 different areas. The interesting thing is that, unlike most games of its time, progression is not linear. After completing a level you will have the ability to choose between multiple paths, even being able to backtrack. This non-linear progression means that you can explore a little and also that you do have the choice to skip some areas. The issue is that most areas will contain key power-ups or new abilities that you may need in order to survive your ordeal...so you probably want to actually beat all the levels anyways. Another unique point about the game is its visuals and sound. Kenseiden chose to have a much more dreary, horror-inspired look to the game as opposed to the more common, cartoony look of many other platformers on the system. While this does enhance the feel of the game, it also brings a bit more attention to the fact that the game is not as visually appealing as those other, brighter, games that tend to better show off the wonderful color palette available on the Master System.

One key issue in any platformer is going to be the controls. Here, Kenseiden both delivers, and misses. Your sword-slashing ability with Hayato is remarkable, especially considering the two-button limitation. You can perform everything from your basic slash, to a powerful "Kawa Take Wari" (top-to-bottom slash), to a defensive guard. All the abilities are easy to perform, responsive, and add a lot to the gameplay with some being more powerful, having more length, or having large hit boxes (one ability can hit in-front and behind you). This is all great, and really fun, but, on the other hand, the basic movement of Hayato is lacking. Anything from running to jumping just feels a tad bit slow in the game. This is exasperated by the fact that you can face some very speedy (and small) enemies, including bats and bugs. The tar-like movement combined with the annoyingly quick enemies adds to the ridiculous difficulty already found in this game. 8-bit games are renowned for being frustratingly difficult, and Kenseiden undoubtedly ranks high in this respect. It operates with the backpedal-when-hit mechanic...which means that you can expect a lot of deaths from being hit into bottomless pits. Nothing is more frustrating than jumping over a pit...only to be hit in mid-air and knocked into doom (oftentimes by a darn boulder...which you cannot destroy). This game requires that you memorize a lot of the levels. Nothing really highlights this more then the training rounds. In these places of endless irritation if you get hit once, you have to restart the area. This really requires you to not only perform some really tough platforming feats, but also to memorize how to progress because you have arrows flying at you from every angle each step you take! If you are a controller-thrower...just go ahead and buy a lot of spares because your room is going to end up with a nice, big pile of broken controller pieces.

Kenseiden, Generating Gamer Rage Since 1988
I have actually heard a lot of good things about Kenseiden, and I generally enjoy 8-bit platformers, so I was really looking forward to playing it. However, the slow movement really threw me off at first. After I had gotten used to it though, I'd made it to one of the training rounds...I spent hours trying to navigate my way through those things. It was maddening! The rest of the game is pretty tough too, but the training rounds can truly drive you insane. You need to know what happens each step you take, while having really good timing and decent mechanics. Prepare to jump over a pit, onto a moving platform, while deflecting arrows flying at you. To be sure, the game is well-designed outside of the difficulty. I appreciated the fact that you can choose your own path through the game, and that you had some really nice power-ups and new abilities to find and earn. However, the difficulty offset a lot of the good things in the game. If you are a fan of difficult platformers then this is certainly worth a look. For everybody else, it isn't a bad game, but there are much better platformers available on the console.

Kenseiden is a 3 / 5 for offering really solid action-platforming gameplay, but suffering from tuning the difficulty up to an absolutely frustrating level.

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Product Release: Kenseiden (US, 12/31/88)

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