Samurai Gunn brings out the violence in friendship, embraces the ballet of death
“Oh, we’re playing Samurai Gunn?” Max Temkin said, picking up a controller. “This meeting just got a lot better.”
As meetings go, this was an odd one, and it operates as evidence that the world of indie games is pleasantly incestuous. Max Temkin (Cards Against Humanity) is actually working as the publisher of Samurai Gunn. I was also sitting with Phil Tibitoski (Octodad), who is helping with the game’s marketing. Vlambeer’s Rami Ismail also joined us, and Ismail had played the game on the big screen at Fantastic Arcade in Austin, Texas.
These are some of the darlings of the indie world, and they all had either a business interest in the game, or just a desire to see it do well. Temkin is an angel investor in Samurai Gunn, providing the funds to allow creator Beau Blyth to focus on finishing the game.
It takes something very special to get this group of people invested, figuratively and literally, in a game. And Samurai Gunn is very special.
Samurai with guns, swords, and hate in their hearts
The game started as a lark. “I was at a party, I was bored, we were all watching The Room too many times, and that’s about one,” Blyth said. “So I turned to my friend, and said that I’m going to make a game, because I’m bored.”
His friend asked what the game will be about. “Samurai! And then I thought I’d thrown in an oxymoron,” Blyth recalled. “With guns!” He created a prototype based on another game he was working on that focused on superheroes, and had a working version in about an hour. They play tested it, changed a few things around, and bang. There was a game.
“And I just kept working on it,” Blyth said. He’s been working on it for the past year.
Samurai Gunn is a simple-looking 2D brawler where every character has a sword and a gun with three bullets. That’s it. Your goal is to kill everyone else. Swords clang against each other if you swing at the same time, and each samurai can slice the bullets in mid-air, sending them back towards whoever shot them. It’s a game that you can explain or understand in a matter of minutes, but the game play is endlessly fun.
Players jump around the screen, and you can of course jump off the walls to gain access to the higher portions of the level. One round saw us fighting on a stone structure that moved beneath us, revealing an ever-widening gap that led to a spiked pit. Another featured bamboo that grew as we played, changing the shape of the board and providing cover from bullets.
It’s hard to listen to the audio of the interview, as it mainly consists of the sound of four guys grunting and cursing at each other. This is the mark of a good multiplayer experience: The fact that you’re saying vile things to your friends through grins and laughter.
This is the sort of game you bring to a party and at first a few people play, and then a crowd gathers, and then more people are playing, and then suddenly the party has become about the game, with everyone yelling at the screen and reacting to the near-wins and tragic losses.
You pick a character, which is simply an aesthetic choice, and you can jump around a little box while the other players pick their own characters. This is an inspired bit of design, as you have a few moments to figure out which button swings your sword, which one fires, and how to wall jump. The game basically gives you a safe space in which to experiment, and teaches you its own rules in a few moments, no tutorial necessary. Anyone will be able to pick up a controller and learn the systems in a matter of moments before being dumped into a game.
The game will be released on the PC first, but will ultimately come to the Vita and PS4 in 2014, continuing Sony’s trend of snapping up every promising indie game it can find. The game features local multiplayer only, and it’s at its best while played with people who are within shouting range.
There will also be a single-player campaign that consists of short, brutal segments where you'll need to solve interesting puzzles using your gun, sword, or jumping skills. You may need to figure out the best way to cut through a bamboo forest to attack an enemy, or you may be ambushed by ninja on a bridge and you'll have to fight them both off. Another level may ask you to evade a boar that's chasing you through a forest. You have one life, and if you die, you must begin again. “Beating it wil be very difficult,” Blyth said.
The final version of the game will have four environments, including a cemetery that renders characters invisible. You have to watch for the dust they kick up when running or jumping off a wall. The game slows down with each kill, allowing everyone to take in where the action is taking place, and to admire a well-timed killing stroke.
It will be fun to try the single-player game, and to see how the other environments change the experience, but the game already works. We played for close to an hour, laughing, shouting, and cursing at each other, causing others in the hotel lobby to glance over, sometimes in annoyance. We took little notice, as the group was completely lost in the ballet of death.