There's been a lot of ballyhoo about the death of the dedicated handheld at the hands of smartphones and tablets, and given the amount of doom-and-gloom headlines penned about portables in the past year it can be easy to think that the chair has been kicked so forcefully out from under them that it's shattered against the wall.
Samurai Sword Destiny has sprung from this new school of gaming, using buttons in a game that feels designed for touch, and if this level of quality will kill portables then really all Destiny does is prove that the handhelds we all know and love will do just fine for the time being.
Destiny is a fairly basic side-scrolling beat-'em-up that has more in common with mobile game Zombieville USA than, say, Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Stages are little more than arenas where you spam the attack button against hordes of the same three enemy types, moving to the right when commanded. Defeating enemies earns you currency that can be used to level up your sword with new attacks and higher damage, or level up lead character Akane with health boosts and regenerations. You do have a charge attack that can fling you across the arena and damage enemies caught in between, but the grand majority of your time in battle will be spent mashing the main attack button over and over. And over.
There is the occasional forced running stage where you dodge falling boulders (indoors?) and slice arrows out of the air, as well as the rare boss battle, but it doesn't help stymie the overall feeling of flimsy, cheap gameplay. If you really love smashing attack then you can take on the Challenge and Survival modes, which are essentially the same kill-'em-all modes but with ever-so-slightly different win conditions. On the plus side, your character progression carries over across all modes, so if you find yourself stuck in the story and in need of more health or attack power then you can grind out some levels and then head back in.
Visually, Samurai Sword Destiny falls along a similar line as its gameplay: from a distance it looks artistically intriguing with a style that echoes Vanillaware's gorgeous Muramasa: The Demon Blade, but the lack of diversity cheapens the overall presentation. The stereoscopic effect is also a bit of a bugger on the eyes, opting to pop out of the screen in a funky way instead of provide depth like a diorama — it's worth noting that your mileage may vary on the 3D, but we found it to be of no particular novelty or benefit.
Samurai Sword Destiny twiddles between the line of mind-numbing and oddly enjoyable combat, in a compulsive kind of way. In the end, though, it's tough to shake the hollow feeling present in both the gameplay and presentation.