Even today, on the 20th anniversary of its Japanese launch, Bushido Blade feels surprising, revolutionary. Its grand invention was hiding in plain sight all along, of course. Shun the comic book fracases that littered the bountiful arcades of the day. Forget about screen-filling flaming uppercuts, magical fireballs and those screen-straddling health bars. Instead, slow the fighting game to reality’s pace, where violence is typically preceded by a lengthy coiling of springs, its sudden release then followed by the brittle silence of the aftermath.
Here, in feudal Japan, with the shaft of a cold blade pressed in your palm, a single swipe is enough to bring everything to an end. Bushido Blade is the ultimate one-hit kill combat simulator, where the stakes are stretched so high, that a round (there’s only ever one round; you fight to death) offers the medium’s most intense and memorable competitive face-offs. Snow falls. A cricket chirrups. A shamisen twangs. Then, at last, nothing but the high-pressure hissing of lifeblood, spilled from a wound, misting the air.
What a dazzling debut. Others followed, from its somewhat lacklustre sequel (also developed by Lightweight, a developer part owned by RPG-creator Squaresoft) to the Kengo series of fighters to, most recently, Divekick, a 2D fighting game, which borrowed Bushido Blade’s stakes, but framed them with comedy, rather than tragedy. Still, nothing quite matched the magnificence of Bushido Blade, a game that sold almost half a million copies in Japan, and not just because it was the first. There is surprising depth and nuance to a game in which a match can be ended in less than five seconds, by players able to take their opponent by surprise, with a deep forward step followed by an overhead downward blow to the head, with a 10lb sledgehammer.
An interesting read via Eurogamer.net