The advent of online console gaming for a time led to something of a dearth of decent arena combat games, but thankfully the PlayStation 4 has gone through something of a renaissance on this front in recent times. With a slew of great local multiplayer games such as Sportsfriends, Stikbold!, and Towerfall Ascension, Chambara joins a roster of accessible, smart, and genuinely fun indie arcade titles to play locally with friends and family.
Chambara's setup is simple: it's a first-person, stealth-based deathmatch title in which matches take place entirely through the use of just two colours. This also extends to your avatars, meaning that you merge into the environment, making it simultaneously the perfect camouflage – hiding within plain view – but also leaving you completely exposed, depending on your positioning within the 3D space.
It's this clever use of angles that makes the game such a pleasure to play; you may be invisible from one angle, but entirely vulnerable from another. Playing locally also means that you must always be aware of your opponent's capacity to see your point of view on the screen which makes the ability to close your eyes – thereby making your share of the screen entirely monotone – all the more welcome, and facilitating tactical play.
The game is incredibly simple, offering no more than a local arcade mode (which can be played with 2-4 players) and a tutorial in which you're introduced to the game's similarly basic roster of moves. These include the ability to dash, throw a ranged shuriken, attack, and move. But it's these basic controls that likewise make the game such a thrill; there's no need to worry about complex manoeuvres or controls, it's all tactics and a simple battle of the wits to the very end.
It can be a tense match at times, which isn't helped entirely by the somewhat sluggish camera – something which can't be adjusted in the options, unfortunately. You might dash at your opponent and miss by a whisker, try and turn to get the final blow, only to be hit by your frantic enemy instead – wildly slashing at just about anything in a moment of panic – since the camera is unable to turn quickly enough to expedite your finishing blow.
It's a small gripe that can frustrate at times, but which doesn't ruin the experience so much as rank up the tension – not necessarily a bad thing with competitive local multiplayer titles such as this. Given a spare moment with friends or family, Chambara can be an excellent and engaging time-sink, but it's a game that relies entirely on this aspect. There's no single-player or online modes here, but what it aims to do well – tactical stealth-oriented, local multiplayer action – it truly excels at.
Chambara is a smart, stylish, and truly entertaining game to play locally with friends and family. There's a timeless class to games of this ilk which offer experiences that you simply cannot get elsewhere. As long as you can provide a steady stream of willing players to engage with, Chambara returns the favour with a limited but excellent selection of arenas to engage with them in.