A samurai swiping down monsters in time to a beat – why, it sounds just like a mini-game in Nintendo's Rhythm Heaven series. Samurai Beatdown's endless runner-style approach differs, however, as your noble warrior dashes through brightly coloured, detailed environments that benefit immensely from the PlayStation Vita's screen. Both aerial and ground enemies approach from the left and right as you dart along, begging to be dispatched with timely sword slashes by tapping on the appropriate side of the touch screen.
This simple mechanic is paired with a heavy emphasis on rhythm. Enemies move towards you along with the music, and batting them on just the right beat gives you a perfect hit and occasionally delivers a fuzzy warm feeling to your insides. The aim is to survive to the end of the level – not difficult, given that we didn't die once even on the hardest setting – and chain together as many consecutive strikes as possible to build up plentiful points through combos.
You can also set off a frenzy mode, complete with animé-style speed line background, after a number of successful kills which bumps the multiplier up further for a limited time – crucial to earning three medals on each stage. Beatnik Games has promised a stream of new content in the future to expand the mechanics and power-ups; we'll have to wait to see how that turns out.
It's a sound concept that works well on the hardest difficulty setting, but it does fall a little flat on the lower options. Where Master has you knocking down foes to all major notes, Novice misses out too much to remain interesting, teaching you the concept ably but at the expense of a balance between music fullness and difficulty. Unfortunately, if you're new to rhythm games, you've got no choice but to go through the lower challenge levels if you're going to stand any chance of surviving at the top, where many enemies tip at you without pause for breath.
Push through the first two difficulties – thankfully it doesn't take too long to cruise through the five levels a couple of times, each four minutes or so in length – and at the end you'll find the heart of Samurai Beatdown; a relentless rhythmic onslaught that requires all the quick reflexes and head-nodding skills you can muster. It's a completely different game between difficulties; where Novice and, to a lesser extent, Adept feel dull, Master mode gives you the chance to appreciate its full potential.
The music, put together by Deus Ex and Overlord composer Michiel van den Bos, isn't quite what you'd expect from a samurai action game. Rather than the sounds of traditional Japanese instruments, Samurai Beatdown instead pumps out several energetic tracks that range from electronica to techno. It's good quality, however, and is especially appealing once you're swiping along to the majority of its beats. It gets better as the levels pass too, growing more ambitious and pulling in new sounds such as trumpets in later stages. The final trial's piano-led tune is the clear chart topper here.
Samurai Beatdown is a simple to pick up slice of rhythm action on PlayStation Mobile, though it only truly comes to life on the hardest difficulty setting. It can be technically completed in a single hour-long session, but there's more than a chance that you'll be fine-tuning those final difficulty runs for a little while; it's unlikely you'll perfect it immediately unless you actually have the skills of a samurai.