It's been three years now, and the idea that Samurai Jack's fifth season even exists is still incredible. Here you have a cult classic cartoon from the early 2000s — one that was light on story but slathered in visuals, setting, action and tone — revived years later with its original creator to give fans a resolution they never thought they'd see. And when the credits rolled as Jack sat under that tree in May 2017, many thought that was the last they'd see of Genndy Tartakovsky's cult classic creation. But developers Soleil prove there's still a lot of fun to be had in the world of Samurai Jack thanks to the new hack and slash game, Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time.
The story picks up right in the middle of the final episode — Ashi takes back control of her body while fighting Jack, realizes she had Aku's powers, opens up her own time portal and she and Jack jump through to finally get him back to the past ("Gotta get back..."). But then things deviate as Aku blasts the two while in the portal, causing Jack to fall into a pocket dimension "between time." From there you battle your way through classic setting and episodes from the series, naturally culminating in an epic final confrontation with Aku. It's not so much a new story so much as it's a celebration of the show itself by taking a "What if?" detour.
In many ways, the game feels like the best possible version of a PlayStation 2 era game adaptation of a cartoon (I kept thinking of the remaster of SpongeBob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom from earlier this year simply for the choice in a 3-D art design). Each level is fairly straightforward and asks you to smash and break everything in sight to gather up the six different types of collectibles you can use to either upgrade, replenish or repair your arsenal. You'll fight waves of enemies (most of which spawn out of thin air) in the more open areas, then make your way to a boss fight. You'll catch on to the rhythm of the levels fairly quickly, but the combat is so much fun and has a shocking amount of depth that you'll never get bored — even when you're surrounded by enemies that go down with a single slash.
As for the combat, Jack naturally has his magic sword at his disposal. But you'll also have staffs, clubs, throwing weapons, bows and arrows, pistols and machine guns (yes really) to change up your fighting style. I personally thought I'd only stick with the sword and upgraded it as quickly as possible. But once the game handed me Jack's Lightning Spear from the start of Season 5 and I saw how easily I could mow down multiple enemies at once I never looked back. By the time you get to the final level, you'll have a massive arsenal at your disposal to mow down a literal army of robots. It's thankfully never too complicated, and the challenge of unlocking and mastering different combos and techniques is as addicting as it is rewarding.
There are a few issues, but they rarely detract from the gameplay loop. Weapon degradation makes an unwelcome appearance and it makes all of the bows and guns way too fragile, but thankfully your main weapon is often sturdy enough to survive in-between finding Da Samurai (he's your merchant in the game) in each level. The camera and controls will also shift into a 2-D style at least once per level and, with the exception of a particular boss fight on a moving train, it often feels out of place. Speaking of boss fights, the second half loves to copy and paste mini-boss encounters with Demongo and it gets old pretty quickly.
But there are just so many little things to like about the game — from all of the voice cast returning (Lord how I've missed John DiMaggio as The Scotsman) to the little references to other episodes spread throughout Aku City, to the way Jack's gi gets ripped when he takes damage and to the recreation of quieter moments where you slowly enter an area filled with ambient noise before enemies attack. While the game will only take 10 hours at most to beat, for a $40 price this is a huge bang for your buck.
Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time captures so much of what made the original series resonate with people, and the gameplay gives you the feeling of being an unstoppable force like Jack. Whether you caught the show back in its original run or only hopped on when it arrived on Adult Swim a few years ago, this is a must.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time is set to launch for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC on Aug. 21. A review code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review, and it was played on a PlayStation 4 Pro.