Afro Samurai: First Impressions

In an attempt at writing something awesome, (I’d hate to bore you, dear reader), I’ve figured that I should probably fill my blog with things that are of interest to other people. As such, I’ve decided to write not a review, but a little bit about my first impressions of Afro Samurai (X360), which I picked up for a  bargain at Tesco a few days ago, as a little post-dissertation treat. That’s right. I’m proper smart, me. On a side-note, Tesco is a pretty great place to buy games, as they seem to be cheaper than most other stores, in some cases, both on and offline. You also get Clubcard points, which I’m sure we all know are great. In case you didn’t know, they’re pretty great. Every little helps!

I’m not really a big animé fan, excluding a brief fascination with Dragonball Z and Gundam Wing which I garnered as a young teenager, courtesy of Cartoon Network’s Toonami, so I’m not really sure what attracted me to Afro Samurai. Probably the fact that it had £20 slashed off the RRP, which is more often than not a bad thing when you’re talking about a fairly recently released game. I think I was mostly attracted to the big RZA badge emblazoned on the front of the box. I’m a great fan of the RZA and Wu Tang Clan, particularly his soundtrack work on movies such as Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.  However, as I walked out of Tesco, I noticed that the badge smugly proclaimed, in small-print, that the RZA only ‘supervised’ the music in the game. I almost cried. I’ve been foiled again by bureaucracy. Even so, it still stands that I’m completely fascinated by Samurai lore (let’s face it, ninjas suck, in comparison, unless we’re talking about Batman, of course) which makes this one heck of an appealing package. Oh, and Sam Jackson also has probably the biggest vocal role in the game, voicing Ninja Ninja, Afro’s light-hearted sidekick. Think Flavor Flav from Public Enemy (minus the clock) and you’ll get a pretty good idea of the role he’s playing. I’m about three levels in at the moment, and sadly, Mace Windu hasn’t made an appearance (yet), but I have faith. Watch this space.

The actual game itself is a sordid hack-and-slash affair, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I wouldn’t have expected anything else from a game which asks you to play the role of a samurai with a huge chip on his shoulder, matched only by his immense afro. It’s a pretty awesome concept, no? The story is your standard revenge-like, ‘you killed my father’ offering, and tasks you with tracking down the fabled warrior who wears the much coveted #1 headband, who of course, murdered the father of Afro. Nothing stupendous, but I it carries the ‘story’ along as you’d expect in a heavily-discounted hack-and-slash title.

Now, I must stress, that the game looks lovely. I’ve only been playing it on my CRT TV (my lovely 1080p LG flat-panel is at university, I’m afraid) so I still need to see how the game scales up to HD, but from what I can see, it looks really, really nice. Afro and Ninja Ninja are modelled particularly well, and the cell-shading works a treat, giving off a ‘cartooney’ feel, while retaining some level of maturity, given the inevitable masses of blood that you’ll encounter during the game. Combat is a treat, with attacks (of hard, light, and ‘kick’ varieties) stringing together fluidly, and making you look like a total samurai legend. There is also a ‘focus’ mode, which requires focus points, that you get by stringing together combos, which slows down time and allows you to utilise various powered-up forms of your regular attacks. Focus mode also grants you the precision to decapitate your enemies just as you choose. Think a certain enemy has an ugly mug? No problem! Slice it off! Does said enemy have gorilla-like, disproportionate arms? No worries! Do you want to cripple your enemy’s chances of ever being a professional footballer? Feel free! (I hear football was pretty big in feudal Japan) The decapitations are gory and satisfying. Not that I’m into any of that, or anything. It’s just a heck of a lot of fun to do. I particularly like splitting enemies right down the middle. It nets you bonus focus points too, as if you needed an excuse to try it out! Win! The voice acting is also pretty top-notch. Not just Sam Jackson, mind, but the whole cast seems pretty solid, making you feel like you’re in any old samurai epic involving a samurai with a humongous afro. All jokes aside, the voice acting gets the thumbs up from me. The game also ‘feels’ pretty animé-esque, or what I feel is animé-esque, seeing as I haven’t actually seen the Afro Samurai animé.

The game does have its drawbacks, though. It is painfully linear. I got bored of the repetitive routine of button bashing while making my way from checkpoint to checkpoint, in a matter of levels. I have no idea how the game can sustain an audience throughout its entirety, but I’d like it if I was pleasantly surprised. But, yes, it’s very linear, not only in its narrative, but in its level design too. The levels I played did have platforming sections, which were essentially scripted sequences, just requiring you to push a certain number of buttons, while pushing forward, to navigate them. Think QTE with a tiny bit more common sense, or possibly even some parts of Sonic Adventure. Add into the mix a dodgy camera, and rather lazy AI, which allows you to essentially button-bash your way through levels, minus boss-fights, which force you to utilise the game’s creaky block-and-parry mechanic, and you’re left with something that I can see getting quite tedious.

That’s not to say it’s a bad game. It’s a very stylish game, with the dialogue being exactly the right mix of ‘bad-ass’ and ‘kick-ass’. The graphics remain authentic to the animé roots of the title, and the music, which despite only being ‘supervised’ by the RZA, much to my ire, proves to be both quite hip and hop. If you’ve got time to waste, or are just eager for some hack-and-slash action, I’d give it a look. I’m still banking on an unlockable Mace Windu costume, too. I’ll let you know.