Samurai and video games have always meshed together like peanut butter and marshmallow. Perhaps one of the earliest (if not the earliest) of samurai games is... Samurai. Simply Samurai, without anything else in front of or behind it. It is one of Sega's early games from even before they made the SG-1000, when they were trying out new and innovative ideas aside from standard clones of Pong or Space Invaders. Without any fancy visuals or sound tech, all Sega could do was reach the core of the samurai's mettle by making it an all-out melee.
Samurai is a game simple as its name - you are a samurai and you must fight against other samurai. Within a dark courtyard, you are the red samurai fending off against multiple blue samurai with yellow heads, which attack four at a time. They trot towards you with their swords outstretched, and you die if your body even so much as grazes their point. To attack them, you hold onto the attack button and keep your own sword out for as long as you hold down the button. You can do quick slashes if you want, but it's more effective to do as your enemies and hold your sword out. Your sword points high for the first time you press the attack button, then the second time puts it out to the middle, and the third time draws it low, cycling between the three for each time you press the button. It's strange at first but easy to get used to, particularly once you realize that the best way to dispatch enemies is to leave your sword out above or below, and approach them from their unprotected head or feet. You both resheath your blades if they clash with each other, so draw it again as soon as possible before they do the same.
While you're attempting to destroy the opposition, an unscrupulous ninja climbs around on the gate at the top of the screen and tosses down shuriken. If you're not attacking, your raised sword will automatically block it, but it can be tricky to contend with this outside interference while you're trying to cut down the other samurai. Additionally, those who stand waiting on the edge of the arena use poles to stun you if you step too close. At some points, a rogue with a grappling hook might also stun you if you roam too close to the bottom of the screen, making it easier to be slain by swords or shurikens. After picking off several normal samurai, a cyan samurai elite steps up to challenge you. This guy effectively counts as Samurai's boss character, back before bosses were a regular factor of any given action game. He moves with a bit more diligence and caution than the normal rabble, and he is able to take two hits before giving up. You miss out on finishing him if he kills you first, but felling your foe nets you a nice point bonus.
In a rather progressive effect, you are not technically playing as a single samurai, but rather a group of identical-looking warriors. There are three in total, and while the first one remains in play, the others remain at the top of the screen, acting as additional lives. When killed, some text appears that says "Munen ato wa tanomu", which roughly means "Regrettably, I leave it up to you", as the next samurai takes to the field to replace his fallen comrade.
And that's all there is to Samurai. That's not to say it isn't fun, as the simplicity of the action makes it fun to pick up, rushing enemies with your sword outstretched and seeing how fast you can mop them up. It can also end as quickly as it starts, mostly due to that danged ninja and his infinite shuriken supply. Outside of the somewhat sluggish movement, it's a fine game, and the core mechanics are decent enough that it's a shame they were not expanded upon with better technology. The graphics are equally minimalistic, at least for the main action. The title screen is represented by a giant kanji for "Samurai," which then gets split in half by a blue bar, a subtle but neat effect for its time. When you put in a credit, a neat giant lantern and jutte rendered in giant pixels decorate the screen, but that's as punchy as the visuals get. The sound consists of a bunch of escalating and de-escalating tones, along with the occasional shrill sound effect.
Samurai was not ported for any home consoles, leaving its only release as part of the Sega Ages Memorial Selection Vol. 2 for the Saturn. This version shifts the status bar information to the side of the screen, rather than the bottom, but otherwise plays identically. As of this writing, MAME does not support sound for this game, so the Saturn port is the only accurate way to play it. It also verifies that the game was released in 1979, not 1980, as many sources indicate.