If you're not a fan of the Samurai Jack cartoon, there are plenty of similar action-platformers that are actually considerably better than this. Prince of Persia, for example, is a game that pulls off the whole runny-jumpy-hitty thing with considerably more style. That said, though, there's definitely a certain charm to Samurai Jack that makes it quite an endearing game.
Visually, it manages to capture the essence of Tartakovsky's creation while taking the whole thing into 3D. Some of the more unusual creatures in Aku's world have suffered in the transition, but Jack himself looks great, both in and out of armor. Aku's minions all look superb, thanks to the black and red livery that makes them so distinctive in the show, and due to the simplicity of their design, the animation is fantastic throughout.
Amaze has done a great job of capturing some of the subtler aspects of the show that fans get all frothy about. For a start, the game isn't cel-shaded because the show itself doesn't follow the cartoon tradition of outlining characters in black. Then there's the music. Fans of the show will gladly extol the virtues of the dialogue-free episodes of Jack, which get by simply on action and cool music. The orchestration throughout Shadow is absolutely superb and really helps establish the link between the stylish show and the game.
Gameplay is actually very simple. A series of hub-based areas have Jack helping out folks in distress while completing simple objectives and kicking ass. Early levels lack some of the feverish battles so often portrayed on television, but once you pass the 40-percent-complete mark, you soon find yourself banging out combos that wipe out three or four minions at once. Combat is mostly a single-buttonjabbing affair, but there are combos you learn as you progress, and they provide enough variety to keep you plugging through the levels.
Although some of the characters you meet are new (25 of them, in fact), you'll also go up against enough recognizable foes to produce the requisite enthusiasm in true fans. Obviously, the main bad guy is Aku, but you also lock swords with Mad Jack, as well as my personal favorite, the Scotsman.
As with any licensed property, the initial wave of interest is going to come from fans, and I'm sure they'll feel adequately satiated by what Sega provides here. If you don't follow the show and you're tempted to try the game anyway, I can tell you this: It'll make a convert out of you. I have pointed TiVo in Jack's direction a few times in the past but have never really been bitten by the bug. Since playing the game, though, I've become a true convert. That last sentence no doubt has marketing drones at both Sega and Cartoon Network apoplectic with joy, since it's no doubt the desired objective of the project. What can I say? It works. When you have something that's this cool to start with, even a fairly average gameplay experience is enough to hold the torch.