Usagi Yojimbo (full title: Samurai Warrior: The Battles of Usagi Yojimbo) is an 1988 adventure game for the Commodore 64 by a small group known as Firebird being designed and programmed by Doug Palmer, Paul Kidd and Russel Comte while the music was written by Neil Brennan. It was based on the comic book of the same name (likely translating to Rabbit Bodyguard) which followed the adventures of an anthropomorphic samurai rabbit known as Miyamoto Usagi (who in turn was based on the real life Myamoto Musashi).
Interestingly before you get into the game you are given what is essentially a huge written guide on how to play the game as well as the surprisingly complex controls which uses the fire button to change the controls (similar to Assassins Creed but a little stranger) since it also includes things like paying money and bowing. Honestly I was a bit worried that I’d do terrible considering I could barely remember them (I had to eventually take screenshots to sit beside the game while playing it).
The artwork on the title screen was surprisingly nice showing the titular Usagi Yojimbo in a field with many small details like flowers and bugs. Strangely though there wasn’t any music but there was a menu screen afterwards where the music started playing. It was possible that there might only be 1 track for the entire game but considering its a quite well put together tune its easily forgiven (plus they obviously focused on gameplay first).
Getting into the game the graphics were surprisingly decent for its aged and the tune didn’t get tiring despite seemingly being the only one. Controls took a little while to get used to with it being unknown whether you hold a direction or the fire button first sometimes although soon I actually managed to go for a little while. Probably worth mentioning that I couldn’t be bothered to do any gambling as it just seemed like it’d be annoying.
While obvious things like bowing and giving money were easy to do fighting seemed very difficult at first although thankfully the ‘hidden’ enemies were mostly easy to spot (e.g. the ones in trees). It also seemed very unlikely that you’d get a game over by losing all your karma unless you were an idiot (one amusing demo play has your character killed by one of the otherwise friendly buddhists). I did eventually get pretty decent at killing some enemies before they had a chance though with the charge (you can hit them while they’re still in the tree for example).
There were some annoying things though, despite the fact that there was multiple paths I found myself going the same way although I guess it was mostly my fault. Essentially I couldn’t work out how to do the really big jumps the enemies seem able to do (despite being a rabbit) and ended up falling down a hole to my immediate death although I later realised I had to take out my sword to do the bigger jumps (which was odd).
There were also bosses and ambushes so the game definitely knew how to be challenging although it honestly didn’t feel like false difficulty but how I’d imagine being a well known samurai would be like (or at least in fiction) with things like bandits. I definitely couldn’t get that far though, it was interesting to note that some Karma actually carried over into future attempts although all that did was make it harder to get an idiotic game over (where you kill yourself out of shame).
Overall while I didn’t get as far as I’d want to I can tell why it was as popular as it was. Considering the popular that the comic apparently still has and the huge scope that was originally planned for the games like multiple endings, more enemy types and a far more complex karma system perhaps one day we’ll see a remake of this but for now this is still worth giving a try.