Giant Bomb Review

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Afro Samurai Review

3
  • X360
  • PS3

Afro Samurai's exciting and graphic combat is its strongest suit, but that fighting is bogged down by enough issues that make it tough to recommend.

Never Not Smoking
Never Not Smoking
Afro Samurai is a stylish sword-swinging action game that uses its M for Mature rating to great effect. Buckets of blood spill out as you hack enemies in half with your blade, and Samuel L. Jackson turns in some sharp voice work in a dual role as both the lead character and as Ninja Ninja, the lead's alter-ego who talks about what's really going on with plenty of character-appropriate cursing. If the actual action could back all this up, Afro Samurai could have been a great game. But repetitive action, camera troubles, and boss fights that feel like they were designed by someone who actively hated the rest of the game step in and mess up what starts out feeling like a perfectly good time.

The story of Afro Samurai the game is taken from Afro Samurai the anime, a five-episode arc that focuses on the lead character seeking vengeance against the man who killed his father. Naturally, you run into a lot of obstacles along the way in the game, and the game also takes a few liberties with the original story to better fit it into a game. The general progression has you moving from place to place in a linear fashion, hacking up hordes of ninjas, androids, and other foes. The game has a combo system that's reasonably deep, but unnecessarily so. You'll do just fine by mashing away on the two sword attack buttons. You can also drop into a slow-mo focus mode, and charged up attacks here can split enemies in half. The catch is that the enemies will try to dodge the attack, so you'll have to aim your sword strikes a bit before unleashing them. This leads to cool moments like cutting off the legs of a ninja who jumped in hopes of avoiding your slash, or catching enemies at diagonal angles because they tried to dodge to the side, and so on.

The action of cutting up enemies is exciting, though it's never too challenging, either, so it starts to get repetitive. The attempts to break up the core action leads to a handful of boss fights. Most of these fights aren't so great, instead forcing you to rely on simple tricks or attempting to properly time esoteric moves that are rarely handy outside of one specific fight, like Afro's ability to reflect bullets or split rocket-propelled grenades with his sword. The boss fights don't always give you great feedback when it comes to instructing about what it wants you to do, and these moments are also usually the spots with the most annoying camera issues, too. It might be enough to make you quit playing before you've seen the conclusion.

The game also forces a few platform-style jumping sequences on you. Here, you'll at least have control of the camera, but rotating around to figure out where you're going next, or missing some minor jump because you couldn't see it properly make this part of the game a bit of a dud.

You'll do a lot of fighting in villages like this one.
You'll do a lot of fighting in villages like this one.
Looking at Afro Samurai purely from a gameplay angle makes it sound pretty bad. Also, it doesn't last particularly long, as the stats screen claimed I had been playing for around five hours when I completed it. But there's something to the game's style that makes it stick out. The models and environments sport a nice set of textures that give parts of it a hand-drawn feel, and the multitude of ways that you can separate your enemies' body parts keep the fighting fresh. A few breakout moments, like one where you're fighting a sword-toting robot while you're both falling out of the sky, help the game stand out, as well. Of course, the audio is also a nice addition. The music is listed as being "inspired by" The RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan. While not every track is a hit, and you'll hear a bit too much repetition from the music, it sets the mood appropriately. The voice acting is also very good. Samuel L. Jackson has the most dialogue, and he shines as the foul-mouthed Ninja Ninja. The rest of the cast also does well, and even though the basic enemies utter the same phrases a bit too often, there's something about hearing an enemy shout "motherfucker!" as you're cutting him in half that never gets old.

Afro Samurai achieves a decent balance, providing enough style and combat to work more often than it doesn't. But considering how short it is, and how annoying parts of it can be, you'll want to approach this game with some caution, especially while it's being sold for full price.
Jeff Gerstmann on Google+