The Essentials of Samurai Gunn (which are Samurai and Guns, Mostly)

Tired of hearing about the importance of minimalism in games yet? Fair enough, fair enough. But stick with me for a second, because Samurai Gunn came out yesterday, semi-unexpectedly, and it combines the purposeful hyper-minimalism of Divekick with simple, evocative pixel art and the frenetic four-way combat of Super Smash Bros.

Despite their kitchen sink excesses, the Smash Bros. games are themselves minimal at heart. The games’ standardized controls mean that every player has instant access to every character’s full moveset. Smash Bros. isn’t about memorizing button combinations or executing specific moves. It’s about deciding when are where to use each move. It’s about positioning and timing, without the extra step of remembering how the hell to pull off a Tatsumaki Zankukyaku.

SGScreen4

Samurai Gunn strips that formula down even further. Every character has the same three moves. They can jump (and wall-jump), they have swords, and they have guns. Every hit that connects is fatal, à la Divekick, but a blade-on-blade hit will send both combatants flying backward: chaos at first, but soon enough a tool for escaping dangerous entanglements.

Your gun is your only ranged option, and sneaky shots can pay dividends. But gunshots are imminently blockable—these are videogame samurai, remember?—and you only get three bullets per life, so shooting is always a risky proposition.

You’ve got to be strategic about choosing from among your already very limited options, lest you leave yourself wide open to one-hit kills. It’s a game of making complicated decisions quickly as much as it’s a game about delivering dextrous twitch beheadings.

And yet, despite that depth, it’s so intuitive and so straightforward that I had the hang of the controls before I’d even left the Character Select Screen. That, in a nutshell, is why minimalism is important in games.

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