http://www.gamesetwatch.com/sidetracked.jpg So, it's true, we at GSW do have a bit of a man-crush on Killer 7 developer Grasshopper Manufacture's airy, crazed approach to game design - for example, we were recently remarking hopefully on their latest Japanese release, Blood+: One Night Kiss.

Well, I finally got round to picking up a copy of the Namco Bandai published Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked for PlayStation 2, the only Grasshopper Manufacture game available in the U.S. right now apart from Killer 7 itself (the company's survival horror title Michigan got a European release thanks to 505 Game Street), and, well - Sidetracked has the absolute best, most stylish hack 'n slash combat system I've seen.

Don't write this game off just because it's an anime license - sure, this was clearly a straightforward work-for-hire job for Grasshopper, but, if you can grok the combat system, the game becomes plain awesome. Let's try a basic explanation - you have just two attack buttons, and have to match simple combos (displayed at the top of the screen, variable from level to level), also timing them to the hiphop soundtrack - you can change soundtracks to change up which combos are displayed.

If you can end a specific combo at the right time - say, heavy, heavy, light, light, where there's a red box around the final 'light', then you get to 'Hyper Mode' (screen goes red, you can go crazy for a bit).There's also a whole separate 'Tate Mode' if you max out your attack 'Tension Gauge' and hit an enemy with stars over his head, which allows you to button mash a specific button to slice and dice the enemy as a countdown occurs.

If you can get 100 slashes in _that_ initial 'Tate Mode' time limit, then you get to 'Trance Mode', where you get a silhouetted dojo-style mini-game to destroy more enemies and rack up a bigger bonus. In addition to _that_, there are special 'QTE'-style Counter Attack and Technique Counter moves for when enemies attack you. It's gorgeously multifaceted.

Now, here's the issue - the word on the street is that overall, Sidetracked gets pretty repetitive over time (despite having some awesomely crazy stages, mini-games, and characters), and I'm not sure I've played long enough to hit that wall. You probably don't even have to master all these intricacies to complete the game - you can just button mash in general to get through it in one piece. So, plenty of down sides, too.

But I think about this complex, clever combat play style being applied to games like Dynasty Warriors or Ninety-Nine Nights, and I drool. And most of all, Grasshopper Manufacture's riff on the standard licensed anime game drek is clever, stylish, and joyful - and that's why Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked will be one of the overlooked video games of 2006, at least for those of us with miniscule attention spans who like short, sharp bursts of hyper-stylized action to make up their action games.