I wish I liked this more than I do. It's got all the ingredients for a distinctly awesome game, except for gameplay. Samurai Western has got plenty of style, the graphics are okay, and it would make a truly awesome anime, but it gets old fast.
As the title would appear to indicate, it throws a lone samurai into the Wild West. Gojiro Kiryu has come to the frontier in search of an outlaw by the name of Rando. Due to the traditional respect that cowboys show to those of different cultures, Gojiro soon finds himself forced to cut a whole lot of suckas in half.
Samurai Western's a beat-'em-up, and for the first few levels, it's a good one. Most cowboys are armed with guns--go figure--and all Gojiro has is a sword. The central dynamic of the gameplay is to try to figure out a way to dodge gunfire, get in close, and slice somebody's face clean off.
There's a definite theme developing here. Then again, what do you want? This is a samurai game. People falling dead, accompanied by rich jets of arterial spray, is kind of the point.
Gojiro can opt to use a special dodge move to completely avoid gunfire; with the proper timing, he'll spin and roll away from an entire spray of gunfire with one press of the Circle or R1 buttons. If you luck out, you can also bat bullets back at the guy who fired them by hitting them with your sword. It's hard to do the latter deliberately, since bullets are, as one might expect, quite fast. When you manage to pull it off, though, it's just about the best thing ever.
The tricky part comes as you get further into the game, and enemies start bringing better hardware to the table, including firearms that won't be invented for several decades. The shotguns and rifles are bad enough, but when ordinary cowboys have Tommy guns, it's a bit like cheating. When there're three of them, and some midgets tossing dynamite, and some big Neanderthal-lookin' guys throwing boomerangs, and there's a boss in the room, I begin to suspect treachery.
That's the first obvious problem with Samurai Western: it's mostly based on luck. Enemies will emit bizarre clouds of smoke when they're about to fire, which makes it easy to dodge or deflect their bullets... if there's one of them. More often, there'll be three to five gunmen in an area, firing at irregular intervals, with more appearing out of nowhere at an almost constant rate. It's a bit hard to keep up after a while, especially since the camera isn't quite as responsive as it needs to be for a game that moves this fast.
When it becomes an actual requirement to deflect bullets back at people, it's more effective to simply flog the Square button like mad and hope you strike paydirt. If you try to sit there and anticipate incoming gunfire, odds are good that you'll mess up the timing, and get backshot by the other goons in the area. If there was ever a game that needed "bullet time," Samurai Western is it.
You can change up the gameplay by leveling Gojiro up, and thus gaining access to a variety of new swords, with their associated techniques, and accessories. In turn, gathering silver and gold coins from fallen enemies will power the weapons and accessories up, granting larger stat bonuses. Each sword also comes with a special Master Mode, accessible by pressing the L1 button, which grant abilities like temporary invulnerability, amazing speed, or simply cutting people instantly in half.
Of course, all of those abilities all boil down to simply making it easier, in some way, to attack people with your basic sword combo. This is the other obvious problem with Samurai Western: it's repetitive. You attack with Square and dodge with Circle. That's the entirety of the gameplay right there, with very few changeups. There's no point to exploring levels, since there are no hidden secrets; there are no special combos; you can't switch weapons on the fly; and you have no ranged attacks.
Samurai Western could've been one of the great beat-'em-ups, if it had a little more variety to its gameplay. Special stages, like a train chase or a level spent on horseback, would've been great; so would the ability to pick up new weapons, Onimusha-style. (Even if Gojiro won't touch guns, that still leaves a wealth of options.) I can recommend Samurai Western to people who're looking for a halfway-decent rental or to the diehard Dynasty Warriors fans who're looking for a fix, but that's about it.