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Kenseiden

Genre: Platformer Developer: Sega Ent. Publisher: Sega Ent. Players: Released: 1988

I never got to experience the Sega Master System in its whole back when I was a kid, as I was only able to play the small handful of games that a friend of mine owned.  It’s a shame because Sega definitely had some good ideas. Kenseiden, in this case, seems to take most of its inspiration from Ninja Gaiden and Shinobi, and it comes off as a pretty solid game despite some flaws that really stand out. As a whole, it’s a game with a lot of depth that’s fun to play.

You take the role of a Samurai in this outing and have to dispose of a group of warlocks and obtain seven seals in ancient Japan across 16 stages named after Japanese provinces. The game, again, has a lot of depth and a good variety of stages. You start out with a few basic katana slashes and as you defeat the warlocks you gain new moves that will greatly aid you in defense and offense. Most of the stages are short and have many standard enemies ranging from ghosts, skeletons, knights and eyeballs. As you go on, certain stages will have training rounds where your master will reward you with extra defense or increased health. These stages usually consist of dodging flying arrows and spikes. I recommended that you complete them, but they’re quite tough (they can be skipped). Each boss is completely different, has a variety of attacks, and offers a new challenge.

Thankfully, the game offers some pretty nice graphics that offer a dark and gritty look fitting for a game set in a dark time. Unlike most Master System games, they did away with the extremely bright and glossy look that’s far too prevalent on the console. Kenseiden’s game characters are nicely drawn and show a lot of detail. The only complaints I have are with the low frames of animation and backgrounds that repeat too often, but otherwise the graphics show attention to detail in almost every area.

The game’s sound holds its own but needs some improvement. The sound effects are nice and varied, and each one is unique. When you attack skeletons or larger enemies, you can hear the sound of your sword clanging on metal or bone and it is very fitting. The music is mellow but lacks any variety, is repetitive, and was never very catchy. Sega needed to add more depth to the sound, as it would have greatly improved the overall feel of the game.

Well, you may be saying that this still seems like the perfect game to pick up and play, but it’s got some major flaws that may turn those players who are afraid of a real (and sometimes unfair) challenge. To start, your character moves too slowly, and though responsive, he is quite stiff. Enemies re-spawn too often and many times right on top of you, leaving you no time to react and causing you to get juggled until you’ve lost a vital amount of health. You are granted only three lives at the start, and there are several areas that require pinpoint jumping, but just one hit from an enemy will knock you into a pit resulting in a lost life. This is not a very fun way to lose a game that you’ve spent so much time on. If these cheap deaths were not present, then I think this would’ve been an outstanding game. There is a continue code that can be used at the “game over” screen by pressing up, up, down, down and button 2. Unfortunately, it works when it wants to due to the controller’s poor directional pad. Many times, the game just started over on me, causing me no end of frustration. On top of that, the collision detection is off. Sometimes your sword will kill an enemy when it’s way out of range, and the next time you can swing away and never connect. This problem is all too evident on the second boss, making me feel that if I beat him it was just pure luck. Kenseiden is full of great ideas and has some good gameplay but the flaws give it an absurd level of difficulty and frustration. Because of that, the game is far harder than it should  be.

Despite these flaws, Kenseiden is still a game that’s well worth playing if you have the patience for difficult and sometimes frustrating platformers or just want a unique experience. It reminds me of games like The Revenge of Shinobi, Spellcaster, and Mystic Defender; so if you like those types of games then don’t let my lower score scare you away. I would’ve given this game’s score several more points if the programmers had just polished out some of the aforementioned flaws.

SCORE: 6 out of 10

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