By: Jac Bakley, Video Game Critic
The Mysterious Murasame Castle was released for the Japan-only Famicom Disk System in April 1986, and was the second original game that was released for the system. It was mostly unknown by American audiences until 2008, when game’s main theme was included as a song in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. The game would also see rerelease on the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console in 2013.
The game is set in Edo Period Japan. The story is that a mysterious alien creature has brainwashed several castle lords throughout Japan, and villagers are now being attacked by evil ninjas and monsters. The shogun of Japan sends Takamaru, a samurai apprentice, on a mission to find out what the hell is going on.
The game is a top-down hack-n’-slash, in which you control Takamaru with his trusty samurai sword. There are a total of 5 levels, and the goal of each level is to enter the castle and defeat the possessed daimyo lord. The game has a linear layout and you have to reach the end of each level within a time limit, but doing so shouldn’t be a problem if you keep moving right along. However, like most video games, there are several enemies that will try to stop you from reaching your destination; you’ll have to face ninjas, samurai, demons and other enemies along the way, who will stop at nothing to kill you. The ninjas have different abilities depending on what color they are; some shoot fire, some shoot shurikens, some are invisible, some explode, and so on.
Make no mistake about it; this is a very difficult game. Your health bar only has three pieces, and since the screen is often filled with enemies, getting hit will be a very tough thing to avoid. Some ninjas and guards also have projectiles, and since they are always firing them in several directions, you’re guaranteed to get struck by them at some point. You can block projectiles by swinging your sword at the right time, but if there’s a projectile careening behind you, you likely won’t be able to turn around and block it before it hits you. There are also bombs placed throughout levels, and some demons even throw them. If you want to get past them safely, you will either need to run as fast as you can, or walk up to them until they activate and run away before they explode. Ninjas always respawn, so it’s best to just avoid them and continue forward through the levels.
However, if you do choose to attack the ninjas, you can obtain power-ups. Although you start with a sword and shurikens, you can also obtain upgrades for your shurikens; they include fireballs, larger stars, and the ability to shoot several shurikens in three or four different directions at once. These power-ups can be useful, but unfortunately, you lose them every time you get killed (which is guaranteed to happen at least once). You only have three lives, but if you’re playing on the 3DS, you get unlimited continues.
You can also obtain power-ups by destroying boxes that are placed throughout the levels. These boxes are sometimes in plain sight, but others are invisible, meaning you have to look for them. More power-ups other than weapons include extra lives, extra health, an invisibility cloak, a lightning bomb (which kills most on-screen enemies) and sandals that allow you to move quicker or walk on water without being slowed down.
At the end of each level, you’ll be given boxes to break to obtain power-ups. However, strangely, if you don’t break the boxes in a certain order, they’ll disappear and you won’t be able to obtain every power-up.
When you enter the castles, the game only gets harder. The castles are still linear, but since there is no map, you’ll be running into one dead end after another. The ninjas still keep coming, and there are also samurai, as well as castle guards that fire projectiles. The samurai can easily be killed, but the guards’ projectiles are even tougher to avoid, because they’re fired in almost every direction, and each room with guards has at least three of them. Each castle also has at least one damsel in distress, and if you find the room they are in, there’s a chance you’ll receive an extra life. That’s right; a chance. Other times, the “lady” could be a demon in disguise that will reveal itself and chase you around the castle until you kill it.
At the end of each castle, you’ll face the possessed daimyo lord. Each daimyo lord has a distinctive ability- one fires bombs, one fires fireballs, one turns invisible, and one splits into four, meaning you have to kill the real one. These bosses are not any easier than the levels, and it will be difficult to attack them before you’re dead. After you kill the boss, the sphere that was controlling them will appear, and the level ends after you destroy it.
After struggling through four castles, you will face the possessed Murasame statue, and then the evil alien itself. After that, the game is over, and peace returns to the village while Ode to Joy plays (no, really).
Nazo no Murasamejou is a decent hack n’ slash, but it’s a little too difficult for those looking for a decent challenge. However, if you do want to try it out for yourself, it’s available on 3DS Virtual Console for about $5. Just be warned, you’re gonna be playing it for a long time.
Fun fact: if Takamaru picks up 99 lives, he will become invincible. However, achieving this is harder than the game itself. You will need to completely master the game, and you will need to play through it for at least half a day.