Never heard of Samurai Jack?
Well, it’s an engaging cartoon series from the early aughts that told the story of a lone Samurai who was sent spiraling into a dystopian future while battling an inky-black ultimate evil called Aku. From there the full five-season series (including one conclusive ending season produced in 2017) was all about Jack’s continued battle to find a way back to the past to mete out the demon Aku’s final defeat.
If you know that show and it’s stoic, good-guy hero, then the newest Samurai Jack game—fully voiced by the show’s original actors—will feel as comfortable as a pair of wooden sandals and a top knot. If not, well, this action title may leave you with a number of unanswered questions, such as: Why is that dog talking and wearing a monocle? Why does that tubby Scotsman have a machine gun for a leg? And what in the world is actually happening here?
In any case, Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time is packed with lots of callbacks and character inclusions for fans, and its full of pretty entertaining gameplay for them and just about everybody else.
The game starts out near the end of the series when Jack is close to making it back home thanks to Aku’s daughter, Ashi. But once again, that evil Aku foils Jack’s hopes by sending him into “a place between time.” In the series, that sidetrack was played out in a very short interval, but here in the game it’s stretched out to about 10 hours or so.
This limbo world is made up of a variety of disparate lands that don’t really connect together except for the fact that they’re all places where Jack has battled against Aku’s baddies and emerged victorious. So, Jack meets up with friends that he has helped before. And he has to once again find a way to jump, flip, smash and slash his way through scores and scores of robots, mummies, giants, zombies, evil ninjas and the like.
The gamemakers at Adult Swim Games have also crafted this title with an old-school style and feel which befits its source material. There’s an early Nintendo or PlayStation 2 sense about the hack-and-slash mechanics of the game. And it comes packed with lots of representative weapons from the series to fight off foes with: from Jack’s fabled katana, to bamboo poles and shuriken throwing stars, to a giant thumping hammer and machine guns.
The only major change from the show to the game is the fact that Jack and Co. are now presented in 3D form. That fleshes things out and gives the hero more depth of field to move around in. But fortunately, that doesn’t add any new layers of content that moms and dads might wince over.
There’s plenty of violence in the mix, to be sure. And a lot of the environment’s barrels and boxes and other objects are prime targets to be smashed up—releasing coins, power boosts, upgrades and the like.
But there is no goopy mess to be seen no matter what weapon Jack chooses. When he picks up a futuristic foe’s machine gun, for instance, the third-person blasts look more like energy zaps than hole-riddling bullets. And even the fiercest of foes have no more scariness to them than the artfully crafted cartoon they came from.
Oh, and language issues? Nothing much, other than a thick-brogue Scotsman calling you a “gill-hoot ninnie,” whatever that is.
With loads of secrets to find, different weapons and tools to play with, and some awesome boss fights that feel like they step right out of the TV show, Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time feels very much like a blast from the past. But better yet, it’s a blast that the kids in your family room won’t have to duck to avoid.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.