Game review: Afro Samurai

[image-1]Afro Samurai, to me, is a great game that tried to do just a little too much. The combat is button-mashing combo heaven. Line them up, slice them up, watch the blood flow. Score! Find all the 'artifacts' (which is somehow a group of five crows as opposed to an item), and you unlock moves handed down from your father. Wanting to get a killing blow in after a long combination? Activate Focus mode to enter a gritty black-and-white reality where time slows down and you can slice and dice your foe to your heart's content. There's even some pattern recognition in regards to what each boss takes to take down, and an Overfocus mode for when you get buried in a group of bad guys. These are all great elements.

The first, and perhaps most major problem for me is the almost ridiculously sensitive camera that seems to love to get itself wedged in the absolutely most inopportune places when you're in the middle of fighting. Taking down a boss? The next thing you know, the camera is beside you, and the boss is just out of sight. Or worse still, mid-fight you'll find it's about ground level, behind you, and you're getting a nice shot of Afro's bony butt in his blue-jean hakama as you're getting the crap kicked out of you. Sorry, but skinny cartoon butt - even Samuel L. Jackson's ass kicking alter-ego - isn't really what I signed up for here.

Beyond that, there are some very inconsistent platforming elements which start out fun, but by the end of the game drag well into tedium. There's also a mini-game if you're into adding 'Body Part Poker' (courtesy of Afro's cowardly imaginary sidekick, Ninja Ninja, also voiced by Jackson) into your combo-glee. Slice certain parts off to achieve a 'hand' and with any luck, unlock a higher gamer score. The problem is that this mini-game feels forced - like somehow they didn't trust the combat to shine enough by itself, and instead added this secondary challenge for those who wouldn't just enjoy kicking and slashing their opponents into so many chunks of bloody chuck roast.

Overall, it's a fun game with some really good elements, an interesting storyline, great voiceovers and music, and some real button-mashing fun. That said, unless you're a devotee of the show, or a fan of games like Prince of Persia or Devil May Cry, you may want to stick with renting this one. Replay is questionable, if only because when you're done, you'll likely want to avoid screwing with the tedious bits again.

Based on the first season of the Spike TV modern 'anime' series (which is in turn based on the manga) by the same name, Afro Samurai has just about everything you would expect from something with Samuel L. Jackson's name on it. There's violence; blood; (cartoon) gore; revenge; and half-naked women. Just add in the word 'fuck' liberally, stir to taste, and you get the general idea. That's okay, because the core demographic this game (and indeed the Spike TV channel itself) is geared towards will likely eat this game up with a spoon.

With a cel-shaded style that is becoming more and more common in games these days, the look of Afro Samurai doesn't disappoint. Backgrounds are lush in the earlier levels, becoming starker as Afro makes his way through the dark revenge story-line. The voice acting by Samuel L. Jackson, and soundtrack partly performed by RZA (the rest is "inspired by") is nothing short of awesome. I definitely couldn't say playing wasn't a hell of a lot of fun - at first.

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