The Mysterious Murasame Castle Review (3DS eShop)

Nazo no Murasame Jō languished as Japan-only Famicom game for years, teasing westerners with its Edo-period-meets-Zelda looks and general unavailability. Sure, Nintendo’s winked at the title in the past with little references in Pikmin 2, collectibles in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and Takamaru’s mini-game appearance in Nintendo Land, but the original game never managed to escape its country’s shores. Now it’s 2014 and about time for blue-haired samurai to dust off his baby book. Under a spiffy new guise, The Mysterious Murasame Castle is finally ready to be downloaded from the 3DS eShop of all places.

Murasame Castle Exterior

Feudal Japan, now featuring bowling balls.

At its heart, The Mysterious Murasame Castle is a high-stakes action/adventure that’s a bit like a linear Legend of Zelda with more emphasis on combat. There’s also no puzzles of which to speak, just wave after wave of enemies hoping to cut your journey short, so perhaps that Zelda comparison is somewhat superficial despite the games’ visual similarities. Gone is the sprawling overworld of Hyrule and in its place are five maze-like castle levels each containing an exterior and interior segment. Though you’ll probably lose your bearings from time to time, you’ll never feel lost in Murasame since you can typically discern the right path just by assessing where the most enemies are located.

With a 300-second time limit, most of your energy will be spent not wandering around but swatting away evil demon lord forces. There’s virtually an exploding ninja or oni mask or stern-faced swordsman around every corner and if not for Takamaru’s big bag of samurai tricks, Murasame would be a bumpy ride. Alas, Takamaru begins with nothing more than his trusty katana and plodding throwing knives, but players can discover a number of power-ups to supplement the hero’s meager abilities. Chopping down a waddling bug-eyed statue will net you a plethora of projectile enhancements like fireballs or spinning knife rooks. Some shoot diagonally, others shoot in a cross formation, but nevertheless, Takamaru needs any and every upgrade he comes across. Without them there’s really no good way to keep oncoming enemy hordes at bay, so savor their utility…while you have them.

Murasame Castle Interior

You don’t see them all, but there’s actually 47 ninjas in this picture.

Murasame is definitely a product of its era. It’s tough as nails and demands perfection on the player’s part. Enemies always spawn in the same place and thus the game expects you to memorize their location and slay them as economically as possible before they trounce you. Word to the wise: with only three precious life points and a couple of lives to spare, exercise extreme tact while controlling Takamaru. In other words, dying happens all the time and you’re going to get sick of the game over screen. The worst part is that losing a life means forking over any upgrades you’ve procured, and standard throwing knives just won’t cut it with Murasame‘s agile adversaries and bulky bosses. Thankfully, this Virtual Console release boasts the handy Save State feature and believe me when I say it’s your best friend. This function mellows the game out to palatable challenge, making it far more accessible than its original Famicom form.

Enough with the criticisms though because Murasame met the one requirement that I demand of all games: it made me smile. You have to appreciate a title whose most formidable foes are dozens of plump technicolor ninjas and whirling spear-toters. Early Nintendo sprite work has always been something to behold, but Murasame‘s does a particularly great job of rendering staples of Japanese history and culture in a vibrant and playful style. Takamaru in particular has a lion’s share of expressive animations, my favorite being his twitching foot when he’s been wiped out. It’s pure comedy, just trust me.

Murasame Castle Statues

Could it be? A swarm of Mr. Peanuts?

Composer Koji Kondo flaunts his talent with Murasame‘s soundtrack, all of which is obviously inspired by traditional Japanese music. I’m quite fond of how the blistering shamisen-laced Stage track instills a sense of tension while Castle Theme is a much gentler, sweeping melody which conversely emboldens the player to remain calm and focused despite all the surrounding ninja chaos. I’m probably in the minority here, but I think the novelty of listening to Kondo’s early non-Mario material is worth the price of admission alone. It’s definitely not every day we get to hear Nintendo celebrate its homeland’s heritage in such an antiquated, yet charming format.

Takamaru’s first and only starring role isn’t going to be for everyone, but the title’s frantic gameplay and Japanese aesthetics are certainly worth experiencing for those who dig either sort of thing. Die-hard Nintendo fans worth their salt should be downloading it regardless of my opinion, but, heck, if you’re a fan of hack-and-slash games like Dynasty Warriors or Devil May Cry, there’s something here for you too. Yeah, it’s not as complex or as flashy as those modern series, but they both owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Murasame for essentially pioneering the genre as we all know it today. That being said, The Mysterious Murasame Castle is fun game worthy of anyone’s time and effort, it’s just that some people–myself included–might be spending a lot of time and exerting a lot of effort before finally realizing, “oh hey, this is fun.”

(Sources: 1, 2)

The Mysterious Murasame Castle Review (3DS eShop)
Replay Value6.1
Finally Available10
  • Takamaru's day in the sun
  • Colorful sprite work
  • Proto-hack-and-slash
  • Brutal at times
  • Pretty repetitive after a while
8Overall Score
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About The Author

Former Co-Editor

Trace Wysaske lives somewhere in Washington, and when he isn't compulsively hunting Green Stars or felling the Lagiacrus, he's writing about everything from forlorn Japanese teachers to well-mannered crows. He still needs to play Ghost Trick.