Even if you have no interest in Genji: Days of the Blade, Sony's PS3 launch tile, you'll have probably heard of it. If legendary phrases like "Attack the weak spot for massive damage," and "Giant enemy crab" don't ring any bells, you either have a life outside of the internet or have been living under a rock for the best part of a year. To say Genji has been ridiculed is an understatement, but is such abuse really warranted?
Picking up shortly after Genji: Dawn of the Samurai, the key figure is once again Yoshitsune, a young warrior who is tasked with defending the Genji clan against rivals - the main rival being the Heishi clan which has somehow managed to return after suffering a defeat in the previous game. Anyway, the Heishi clan now has some special powers at its disposal, the most notable of which being the ability to turn its soldiers into demonic warriors. Don't worry if you missed the last game, as Days of the Blade gives you some insight into what went on and the story is really only used as a tool to move from fight to fight.
Despite offering numerous puzzles and some storytelling moments, Days of the Blade is essentially a simple hack 'n' slash, pitting you against large numbers of enemies and letting you perform various standard and special attacks to defeat them. A party of allies join you along the way and you can usually switch between them the fly. These four characters vary significantly in their effectiveness, but each has abilities that come in handy over the course of the adventure.
Your main character, Yoshitsune, proves to be the most versatile all-round character, being fast and deadly in combat, while heavy hitter Benkei is slow, princess Shizuka can grapple and Lord Buson specialises in defensive moves. As well as offering different core skills, each character has his or her own health meter, so you can utilise the character change to get yourself out of tricky situations. As you progress you'll gain new weapons and enhance each character's main attributes, but you'll still essentially be hammering attack buttons.
Things are spiced up a little when you initiate your "kamui" power, but this slow-motion 'press buttons as they appear on screen' slaughter-fest soon grows old. That's not to say this move isn't an essential part of the game - you'll use it as often as possible when surrounded by a room full of enemies - but it rarely differs and would have benefited from numerous versions in order to keep it feeling fresh and exciting through to the game's climax - although later enemies do have a few tricks up their sleeves.
While the combat is simple and nowhere near as entertaining as that seen in the likes of God of War, Days of the Blade would have been a solid game if it weren't for a number of big flaws. Firstly, the camera is out of your control, meaning you need to rely on the map to navigate. It doesn't help that this map does nothing to highlight key areas or items, so you'll find yourself wandering empty areas for ages until you stumble over the item or location you needed to find.
Certain 'puzzles' also require you to utilise a team member's special ability, but these puzzles are so contrived that they serve to ruin the believability of the game world. Early on there's a gate that can't be crossed, so you need to push a cart in front of it and then leap over. The problem being that Yoshitsune had to jump as high as the gate to get on the cart, so he could have just jumped over the gate in the first place. Other sections require Benkei to bash stuff up, but only certain parts of the environment can be smashed up - when it's part of a puzzle. This area of the game's design just seems lazy and results in constant frustration.
If there's one area in which Genji shines, it's visually. From the moment the game kicks off outside a burning building, Genji delivers ample amounts of next-gen loveliness. It's not quite as technically brilliant as the likes of Formula One and MotorStorm - with numerous moments of slowdown - but there's a richness to the graphics and plenty of detail in the many environments that you'll travel to. That awkward camera doesn't help as it prevents you from getting a good look at things, but as a PS3 launch title Genji does its job - at least visually.
Audio work is also impressive, as long as you avoid the English voice overs. The acting isn't of the best quality and the characters' voices seem completely out of place. A perfectly fitting musical score can't really be faulted and surround sound setups will be put to good use. Switch to the original Japanese voice overs with English subtitles and there's little to complain about. Sixaxis motion control is also supported, letting you move the controller to roll and dodge instead of using the right analogue stick, but it's simply not as easy to play using this method.
Genji: Days of the Blade is a solid hack 'n' slash adventure let down by poor level design and a bad camera system. Fans of the previous game will no doubt find some enjoyment in the often stunning presentation, but action game fans on the whole will find the whole experience far too frustrating. There are far better PlayStation 3 games to spend your money on.