Samurai Jack: The Amulet of Time - Gotta Get Back, Back To The Basics


When I was a child, between preschool and high school, I watched a lot of Cartoon Network. Ed, Edd, and Eddy, Dexter’s Lab, Courage the Cowardly Dog… these were all my jam. But if any had a notable formative effect on me, it was Samurai Jack, one of the outright coolest shows to grace children’s television two decades ago. In my teenage years, I discovered Metroid, leading to my longtime love affair with Metroidvanias. Metroid, Castlevania, Hollow Knight… these are all games and series that I mark amongst my favorites. Now, what do these two statements have in common? Well, the fact that somehow, the Game Boy Advance graced us with a goddamn Samurai Jack Metroidvania. How the hell did I never hear about this!? This week on the Game Boy Abyss, we’ll be taking a look at Samurai Jack: The Amulet of Time, a title that sadly rarely escapes mediocrity, whilst still being enough of a treat to justify its existence. Plus, it’s a goddamn Samurai Jack Metrodivania on the GBA.

I can’t believe this game exists. Recently I’ve been looking at rewatching some of those classic Cartoon Network shows, and that inevitably leads to me scrolling through the light of Cartoon Network video games. I see a Samurai Jack title - Samurai Jack already being one of my favorite animated series *ever* - and I immediately click through, and I am just flabbergasted that this game is a metroidvania. Seriously! Sure, Super Metroid and Symphony of the Night had been out at this point, but the genre wasn’t the darling that it is these days. Did the devs decide this? Did Cartoon Network specifically commission a game like Metroid? I have no idea, but it’s the concept that almost makes this game worth playing alone.

Samurai Jack: The Amulet of Time follows the general status quo of an average Samurai Jack episode. Learning of the Amulet of Time, Jack potentially learns of a way back home from the demon Aku’s broken future, embarking on a journey across the surrounding countryside to locate the four gems that make up the amulet. In typical metroidvania fashion, Jack’s sphere of access will grow as he locates new tools, such as a bow to open gates, a hammer to destroy brittle walls, or elemental sword strikes to inflict certain effects onto the surrounding landscape. He’ll face bosses, help innocents, and kill a lot of Aku’s goddamn robots. Really, it has more in common with action-adventure-platformers that were so popular on the GBA, but the small foibles of the metroidvania help save this game from being just another forgettable title altogether.

Amongst metroidvanias, Samurai Jack’s gameplay loop is pretty simple. Jack himself doesn’t have the largest selection of abilities, chiefly his sword and his well-honed physical attributes (What? Jack’s a good looking guy. You see him with that beard in season 5?) at his side. You’ll be moving from place to place in search of the Amulet of Time gems, locating new weapons and abilities to open up new avenues for exploration. I’ll be blunt; this game does nothing new - or even anything particularly interesting - with the subgenre. It’s the barest execution of the genre I’ve ever seen, not that that is the worst thing that could ever happen, to be clear. All that means it needs to excel in the nitty gritty details of the game. Easy, right? Ehehe… right? As you wander the world of Amulet of Time, you’ll also occasionally find characters in need, sometimes as a part of the main quest, or as a side job. These side jobs usually simply result in a certain piece of equipment or stat boost, but nothing really that interesting. Honestly, they feel like a weird, if not exactly unwelcome addition to the game. For the most part, pretty much all of them would make sense as just being part of the main progression of the game - the fact that some of them are optional just feels like a really strange decision. Either way, they don’t make up a huge part of the game, but I just thought they were an interesting thing to note.

Of course, with this game being a goddamn Samurai Jack game (seriously, *why* is there a metroidvania of this game), you’ll be doing the one thing Jack does best - slicing and dicing hordes of Aku’s robots (unless you’re season 5 Jack.) Honestly, despite the inherently cool fact that you’re playing as Jack, the combat is pretty middling. Visually, it’s pretty cool; Jack has unique moves for swinging his blade in any of the four major directions, and they easily combo into each other if you find yourself suddenly under attack from a different direction, utilizing a pretty fluid animation style for it too. Honestly, though, the rest of his moveset isn't super useful. His charged elemental attacks, obtained after each gem is located, take far too long to charge, any extra damage being outbalanced by the hits you’ll be taking mid-charge. Of the extra weapons you obtain, the hammer was the only I felt had an impact in combat, and that’s mostly because it doesn’t leave you as open as the charged blade attacks.

The foes you face are pretty homogenous, too, mostly requiring the same tactics (i.e, slashing in a certain direction, maybe throwing in a hammer strike for the memes) to bring them down. Occasionally there’ll be a bigger foe, or one that likes to jump around, but these only require a bit more finesse to bring down. The boss fights are thankfully a bit more interesting, with much larger movesets to navigate. At the same time, it did feel like actually bringing some of these bosses down was a bit of a slog - sometimes I’d be hitting them as many times as possible, but only the first few hits would actually cause damage, despite the foe still flashing and reacting to Jack’s hits. I’m just working under the assumption that this is to just not encourage spamming the same attacks, but why not make them not react at all? Plus, some of these guys will hit hard. Nothing that’s impossible to deal with, especially since the game gives you a pretty healthy supply of healing items to work with, but I was surprised by a couple of these bosses being capable of burning through my health bar in seconds, seemingly bypassing any kind of super armour Jack has whilst taking damage.

Additionally, throughout your time with Amulet of Time, you’ll be picking up a variety of equipment that can boost both Jack’s offensive and defensive stats. Fuck if I know what these stats boosts actually equate to; the general armour makes senses, rising all your defensive stats in concert, but it was extremely rare - if at all - that I noticed any kind of damage reduction from a specific element, making much of the more secondary equipment fairly useless in a sense. There are also permanent upgrades to your HP and special meters, but bizarrely enough they only seemed to come from random enemy drops? I don’t know if there were meant to drop there and then, or I just got really, really unlucky (lucky me only get three HP max boosts across the game)

The game world for Amulet of Time is pretty constrained, being made up of five or six relatively linear levels you’ll be exploring in turn; outside of a few scant extra items you can hunt down to make your time with this game ever so slightly easier. The levels themselves are generally pretty well designed, though one or two had the kind of platforming that will drop you almost all the way back to the beginning of the area if you fall in such a way. There aren’t too many puzzles, sadly, with the majority of your time in these zones spent carving your way through foes, though every now and then you’ll be required to use your obtained abilities, and thankfully it does the bare minimum this subgenre requires - linking between various levels. It’s fine, really. It’s nothing exciting, that’s for sure, but it serves its purposes for an ostensibly low-budget, licensed title. With a completion ranking of 93%, it took me just over three hours to wrap Amulet of Time, though I can imagine getting way more lost and struggling if I was a much more unskilled (a near impossible task) player. With the generalized problems this game has, it’s probably for the best that it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and there’s enough corners to poke your nose around to keep you satisfied in this admittedly small-scale game.

Visually, there isn’t much to say. It’s not bad per say, but it has a level of jankiness that’s more amusing than disappointing, *especially* when Jack engages in combat with a boss. His face just looks wrong in a genuinely hysterical way. But yeah, considering I’d say this game had a pretty low budget if I was a betting man, it’s fine, if uninspiring. The audio tracks aren’t anything that special either, but each of the areas has their own kid of fitting vibe that made some of this game’s more annoying platforming sections - *cough* *cough* Neo-Tokyo. But yeah - not bad, just fine. It does have a pretty sick, albeit low-quality rendition of the Samurai Jack theme on the main menu which made me snort, for what that’s worth.

As cool as this game as a concept is, sadly, Samurai Jack: The Amulet of Time is a fairly middling experience through and through. It was very rare I found the game actively bad - just generally pretty uninspired and *flat* for lack of a better term. I’m glad I played through it, though; not only as a Samurai Jack fan, but as a connoisseur of metroidvania games, too. Ugh, that feels so douchey to say - they are my favorite genre though. Probably. Anyway, if you’re looking for a transient, middling experience with some all right vibes, Samurai Jack is probably worth poking your nose into; otherwise, if you’re looking for the best the genre has to offer on the GBA, you’ve got the cornerstones of the genre already waiting for you - sorry Samurai Jack. You just had to be born on the same console as two fantastic Metroid games.