Samurai Maiden Review - Screenshot 1 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Samurai Maiden’s characters look great. Really great. While perhaps not leaps and bounds ahead of the competition, nevertheless, they’re a striking cast of multicoloured, glassy-eyed femme fatales that glow from every angle. As is much the case with most output that falls into anime ecchi categories, they’re not particularly deep or interesting characters, with surface-level personalities ripped, well, straight from a cartoon. But that’s not why you’re here, is it? Hell no, you’re in it for the pantsu, and that’s one area Samurai Maiden delivers in aplomb.

Before we get assaulted in the comments section for ragging on people who enjoy this kind of media, let it be known we actually like Samurai Maiden quite a lot. It may have all the staple hallmarks of the ecchi genre, including a plot that’s been written on the back of a train ticket, but as a game, it does very well.

The story follows high school girl Tsugumi, appropriately attired with choker and lingerie stockings, who is suddenly contacted by an ‘angelic voice’ which says she’s going to meet a demon lord. She’s mostly nonplussed by this and is promptly whisked to the Sengoku Period, where she's set about escaping a burning building only to be assailed by hordes of undead samurai. The game is all voiced in Japanese with English subtitles, which is preferable, and everything looks absolutely fantastic. The textures and environments aren’t pushing boundaries, but they are stylistically balanced for form over graphical excess. The presentation is top-notch and it’s smooth as hell, with an unflinching frame rate in both docked and handheld modes, even with tons of enemies on screen and blazing effects going off everywhere.

Samurai Maiden Review - Screenshot 2 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Samurai Maiden is a basic 3D hack-and-slash affair cut from the Dynasty Warriors cloth, but with some neat angles (and we’re not just talking about the upskirts). Tsurugi, the player character, is aided by three other maidens with varying skills. After the initial training stage, you unlock the other maidens sequentially by working through missions. These aides follow you on-screen and can unleash special attacks once a gauge is filled with a tap of the 'A' button — these aren’t precision perfect and tend to follow your line of sight, but are powerful enough to stun bosses, buying you a few seconds to lay into them.

The stages are bland early-on and quite brief, but soon begin to expand. There are some platform sections to utilise your double jumping skills, but it’s mostly rinse-and-repeat combat in a fashion far less varied than something like Bayonetta. By stage five, things start to diversify and evolve, and by the sixth you will have acquired three maiden helpers, offering a lot more variables in combat and strategy. When you unlock Hagane, her anchor firing skill allows you to swing across chasms and drag treasure chests from various precipices.

Soon, on-the-fly switching between your onside trio of assistants becomes essential for certain junctures and battles, as only some have healing powers and abilities to get you to out-of-reach spots. Its uncluttered structure is simple but effective, and it takes ten minutes to get to grips with, but a good while longer to master. Boss encounters toughen up quite quickly and give you fewer windows of opportunity to get out of the blast zone as you progress through the game, meaning you need to optimise your teamwork to survive.

Samurai Maiden Review - Screenshot 3 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Combat is nicely implemented because it’s enjoyable without being overwrought. The controls are where you would expect them to be for the genre, with light and hard slashes, dodge rolls, double jumps, automatic combos, and easily initiated specials performed by your aides. It’s fast, furious, and visually enticing, featuring booming pyrotechnic swathes of flame, lightning and explosions. There’s just enough mechanical and strategic scope to keep it interesting, too, requiring you to find scarce moments amidst the fracas to deploy timed mines, healing urns and all-important special attacks.

Overall, it flows well, looks dazzling, and sounds really good, with excellent music to accompany the action. The soundtrack is a fusion of traditional Japanese elements with catchy, ambient dance beats. If there’s any real issue with the game’s composition, it’s that your trailing helper occasionally obscures Tsurugi in the camera’s foreground, requiring a quick adjustment with the analog stick.

Between missions you sit at your camp, where you can switch between unlocked equipment, and enhance both weaponry and the skills of your three allies, increasing your HP and strength of attacks. You can also switch between any attire that you’ve unlocked, some of which is expectedly risqué. And, if the available clothing options aren’t doing it for you, and you absolutely have to have the Victory Swimsuit, you can cough up some spare change for the DLC.

Samurai Maiden Review - Screenshot 4 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

With the evolution of your acquired weaponry and its different properties, as well as leveling up of your accompanying girlfriends, Samurai Maiden has a progressive nature to it. While the game itself isn’t overly challenging, you can unlock increased mission difficulties — and there are plenty of them to work through. Earning good end-of-stage ranks isn’t so easy, making this a goal in and of itself for those who want to discover everything on offer. Replaying missions is an optional part of the process, and, once you’re more powerful, you can go back with newfound abilities to shoot for higher ranks and unlockables.

It plays well, is aesthetically enticing, and is pretty good fun in a base, action-oriented, arcade-like way. But, it wouldn’t be ecchi without a good dose of fan service. As well as buoyant breasts and panty flashes galore, Tsurugi’s clothing gets dirtied and torn up during each stage’s battles, which is a neat effect. The press release states “forge everlasting bonds with your ninja friends!”, which translates as “partake in a spot of highly fetishised lesbianism amongst girls of questionable ages”. This works by increasing the overall ‘affection’ of your band of cohorts, earning more points at the end-of-stage wrap-up based on performance and usage factors. Eventually, the ‘affection’ manifests itself in ways that will have heterosexual males as saucer-eyed as the gals themselves.

Samurai Maiden Review - Screenshot 5 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Usually, we’d spend time poking fun at this, but since it’s not our first rodeo with Japanese anime erotica we will instead declare that, on this particular occasion, the quality of the game overshadows its cruder excesses. Samurai Maiden isn’t a title of great depth, and for hack-and-slash diehards, it’s worth noting that much of its appeal is hedged in the obvious sexualisation of its cast. A good test is whether or not one would play the game regardless of these themes, and while this isn’t the case for many in the genre, Samurai Maiden stands as a rare exception to the rule.

Conclusion

Samurai Maiden is mostly hack, slash, dodge, and hack some more. But, while naturally repetitive, it’s not much different in that respect from many traditional arcade games. What it does well with is in expanding its combat options in enjoyable but never confusing ways; by giving your aides different skill functions in attack and healing, and in navigating stages. It’s a simple but nicely layered adventure that will encourage grinders to unlock its galleries, weaponry and digital trinkets, while appreciating what is an attractive-looking and well-optimised game. Increased challenge is there if you need it, and, discounting the trite elements of its dialogue and story, the character models are exceptionally good, mildly bewitching, and do a great job of selling the product.