Release Date: August 7, 2014Platform: Nintendo 3DSDeveloper: NintendoPublisher: NintendoGenre: Action adventure
When a gaming company has been around for as long as Nintendo has, they will have undoubtedly produced a number of titles that we could easily classify as “legacy” games. You know the type: your Mario, Zelda, and Metroid games. But back in the 80s, Nintendo also released a little game called The Mysterious Murasame Castle that never quite made it outside of Japan. The game followed the adventures of a young samurai named Takamaru, who was tasked with infiltrating several castles and defeating their reigning lords, who had all been possessed by some evil alien creature.
The Mysterious Murasame Castle certainly isn’t the first game that comes to mind in a conversation about Nintendo’s shining moments, but the Mario originators continue to have a soft spot for that distant world of 8-bit samurai warriors. Even though the game somehow never made it stateside, that still hasn’t stopped Nintendo from incorporating references to The Mysterious Murasame Castle in some of their biggest titles over the years: from unlockable game music and character stickers in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, to most notably the thrilling Takamaru’s Ninja Castle mini-game in 2012’s Nintendoland.
But now in 2014, some odd 28 years after its original debut on the Famicon Disk System, The Mysterious Murasame Castle has been given an official North American release on the Nintendo 3DS eShop, allowing many fans outside of Japan to see what all of the fuss is about. Admittedly, it’s a bit strange to review a game that came out in the mid-80s, given today’s elevated standards, but finally getting a chance to play the fabled Murasame Castle shows a whole new side of the Nintendo that we know and love. I can’t help but wonder if things had turned out a bit differently, would the mighty samurai Takamaru have been a household name alongside the likes of Link and Samus Aran?
The Mysterious Murasame Castle has most often drawn comparisons to the original Legend of Zelda game, released mere months from one another, and after booting up the elusive title it’s difficult not to see why. The outdoor environments in Murasame Castle bear a striking visual similarity to the original top-down Zelda at first, as well as the way our hero Takamaru moves through each level. The goal of the game is to clear out four different castles before moving on to the titular Murasame Castle, with each level consisting of an outdoor and indoor area, as well as a boss fight.
But that is really where the similarities end, because The Mysterious Murasame Castle is an entirely different beast of a game. A linear, level-based action experience, Murasame Castle tests your quick reflexes and pure fighting ability, rather than confronting you with different kinds of puzzles like its sister game, Zelda. What’s more, you’ll never acquire any new permanent abilities in addition to your katana and shurikens throughout the adventure, reinforcing the fact that Murasame Castle is a game about pure skill more than anything else.
Of course, that’s not to say that the game is completely barren of things to see or do. You’ll still be able to pick up special power-ups that grant a temporary boost to your weapons, like fire-coated shurikens, and there are even a few princesses who can be rescued for a slew of bonus points. As with most older Nintendo titles, the difficulty ramps up significantly before long, with each new screen crawling with quick and dodgy foes, including ones who chuck bombs your way with frightening precision, and others who use the wind to their advantage.
While most enemies can be taken out with your ranged shuriken attack, the genius of The Mysterious Murasame Castle is in its melee combat strategies using Takamaru’s katana, a concept that seems way ahead of its time here. While defeating a foe from afar might require a number of shuriken hits, you’ll often be able to slay your enemies with a single swipe of your katana. However, this demands for you to carefully maneuver Takamaru right next to them in order to deliver the killing blow: not such an easy feat when you have a handful of other warriors onscreen who’ve set their sights on you.
While it may not hold the same kind of charm you felt the first time you played a Zelda or Metroid game, there’s still a lot to be said here for The Mysterious Murasame Castle and the exhilarating ideas that it brought to the action genre all those years ago. The game looks and plays just like the 1986 release that it is, and the 3DS hardware doesn’t try to enhance anything about it, but for legacy gamers or die-hard retro fans, there’s really no reason not to give this one a try and see a little bit of forgotten history in action.