BUSHIDO BLADE 2 / Squaresoft / Playstation
Bushido Blade 2 came out only a year after the first game did, and upon hearing that, I assumed that it was just going to be a quick recycle of the previous engine and thus nothing special. However, while the engine is in fact largely recycled, there's been quite a few tweaks and additions made, and the game really seems more complete and polished than the first game did. It also addresses some of the major weaknesses of the first game.
We get off to a good start with an impressive opening cinema with rockin' music. The playable roster of characters from the first game returns, along with quite a few newbies, but the majority need to be unlocked - only six are playable initially. The modes of play of the first game also return - story mode, wooden sword training, 2-player, and link battles. "Slash" mode, wherein you singlehandedly take on a huge army of ninjers, also returns, but must be unlocked by completing the game. One major addition is that the "POV" first-person mode is now selectable in any mode of play, rather than being restricted to one-off battles, and there's a Punch-Out!!-like wireframe of your character's head and upper body to give you a better idea of how to counter incoming attacks.
The fighting system has also been significantly refined. Instead of having different buttons for swings and stances, there's only two buttons for swings now, and another button cycles through your three types of stances. Parrying is simplified to basically either having your sword in front of you when attacked, or counter-swinging to contact the opponents blade. I can't say it's any more realistic, but it does feel more fluid and comfortable than the previous system. The gameplay retains the "one blow can end it" style of the previous game, but with the improved parrying, the inability to cripple legs (merely slows you down), and the ability to land non-lethal torso blows that also slow the player somewhat, fights seem to last a little longer on average.
A couple of major problems with the story mode have been fixed. One is the rather arbitrary and frustrating "code of bushido" is removed, at least in the sense that the game doesn't end abruptly halfway through without giving you a reason. Also, as each character progresses through their story, new characters will periodically show up and offer to help. If you win a match against a few ninjers and a major enemy with them, they are added to the playable roster, but if they die, you get a scene of the main character lamenting their death and then moving on with the story.
I would like to see a greater variety of enemies than the Wave O' Ninjers that mostly tend to just run into your sword, but everything else about the game elevates it to worthiness of checking out. A lot more characters, more depth to the story mode, slightly better and more fluid animation, more options and smoother fighting make it worth a go even if you didn't care much for the first game.
* Gameplay Video