Review: Afro Samurai (Microsoft Xbox 360)

coverAfro Samurai
Developer: Namco Bandai
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Genre: Hack and Slash
Release Date: 01/27/2009


Hack and slash games are a particular guilty pleasure of mine. While they are typically the B-Movies of gaming, when they are done correctly, my inner barbarian is able to briefly escape. There is just something about wielding a sword or an axe and cleaving enemies to pieces which just makes me giddy like no Grand Theft Auto or Halo can. And the closer the game comes to actually making realistic use of those weapons, the happier I am. Which brings us to Afro Samurai. Based off the TV series which I never saw, which was itself based off a comic which I never read, this game literally flew under my radar until I saw it on the store shelf. Let me show you what I discovered.

Story:

Afro Samurai tells the sad story of Afro Samurai, and his search for the two headbands of destiny. Whoever controls both headbands will become a god, because no man could stand before him on the battlefield. Afro’s father was once the wielder of one headband, and Afro makes it his mission to seek out and destroy his fathers killer. In the process he pushes all emotions aside, which forms an alternate psyche in his head. This psyche goes by the name of Ninja Ninja, and throughout the game NN will make wisecracks and occasionally assist Afro in his quest by pointing out things. Because Afro feels no emotion thanks to Ninja Ninja, he lets nothing stop him in his bloody quest for vengeance. Not even love will stand in his way.

Coming into the story fresh, I have to say I enjoyed it. The characters, the interactions, the not quite definable time period – they all mix to create a compelling storyline.

Graphics:

Afro Samurai is a damn good looking game. This is due to both the actual graphics and the graphical style chosen for the game. The main characters all look fantastic, and while the enemies are somewhat bland, they are only there to tell you Afro’s story, so they don’t matter. You will cut a path through hundreds if not thousands of enemies, and who has time to remember that many faces?
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The levels range from a shrine in a blizzard to a town at night to the middle of a desert to an island village. All of them look good. And when they don’t you’ll be too busy cutting down enemies to care.

Sound:

The game is obviously written for who is voicing it. Both Ninja Ninja and Afro are voiced by Jules himself, Samuel L. Jackson, and it’s equally as obvious that he has thrown himself into the part. The language is often filthy, and really some of the lines make no sense if the story actually takes place at the turn of the 20th Century, but I don’t care and neither should you. After this game I want every game I play to have Ninja Ninja cussing me out and telling me what to do. I had a blast chopping enemies to pieces while hearing Sam Jackson.

Strangely I also enjoyed the music. I don’t even like rap or hip hop. Yet the soundtrack fit this game perfectly and I didn’t once have the urge to mute the game. I’m not going to sit here and debate the merits of the soundtrack versus other Rap artists or what have you. I’m just going to say it again. The music fits the game perfectly.

Controls/Gameplay

Now we come to the heart of the matter. I’ve already mentioned how much I enjoy these games. I’ve also said that if a game actually makes me think my sword is dangerous at all times then I’m going to like it a lot more. So how does Afro do? From the moment I hit the start button I found myself cutting enemies in half, then cutting MULTIPLE enemies in half at the same time. This I accomplished thanks to Afro Samurai‘s focus mode, which is basically a charged attack (either vertical or horizontal). You learn those attacks early, and then later in the game as you progress you unlock more combos. In addition to Focus attacks there is the Overfocus mode, which is really just you going into berserker mode making all of your attacks instantly fatal. This mode is built up by successfully killing enemies and not tapping into your focus attack powers.

There is a second portion of gameplay that I found which I really wasn’t expecting. Afro Samurai is a bit of a Prince of Persia clone. Some of the levels are inspired by the Prince. There is wall running, pole swinging and hopping from one wall to the other to get up a few stories. This portion of the gameplay is not as polished as the swordplay, but there is only one level that really needed a bit more design and planning. Thankfully I was not alone in my confusion, as the all mighty internet was there to save me, but I should not have been forced to seek assistance.

Some have complained about the camera system, but I can’t really see the issue. Yes there are times when the camera doesn’t move as it probably should, but it’s not really any worse than average.

Replayability:

This is one of those stress relieving kinds of games. Once you complete the first play through you can play again on hard mode, or you can select levels to play through again if you desire. I could easily play through the game again in the future, in the long dark days between AAA hyped releases this game would fill the void nicely, so I can see why Namco Bandai released it when they did. Perfect lull game.
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Balance:

If I had only played the first few levels, I would have scored this game a perfect and walked away happy, knowing my praise was completely justified. However I did finish the game, and sadly the perfection that was found in the early levels was bogged down in the mire of trying to make the game longer and more challenging. Boss fights in particular were what vexed me the most. I understand that bosses are supposed to be more difficult. I even understand that the fight which should be most difficult would be the one where your opponent knows you as well as you know yourself. But when you have a boss fight while you have no health meter beyond how bloody your shirt looks, it can get irritating really quickly when you run into the standard boss character who will soak up your attacks, use cheap counters when cornered, and can finish you with two to three attacks.

Not every boss is annoying. Some are clever; some are merely puzzles to be figured out. Others are just there for you to chop to pieces. But when I ran into one boss, I was convinced I was at the end of the game based on how difficult it was to kill the guy. In actual fact the boss was maybe half of the way in.

Originality:

Not many black samurai games out there that I can recall. There was that one dude in Way of the Samurai, but I don’t believe you were able to play as him. Nor are there many games where you get to have Sam Jackson yelling at you to “Mount that asshole!” In fact I’d have to say Afro Samurai is one of the most original titles I’ve come across in a long time. It’s there to be discovered, and I’m not going to spoil it.

Addictiveness:

The game is highly entertaining and suffers from only the occasional bad design decision. If that is not the recipe for an addictive game I know not what is.
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Appeal Factor:

Did you see the trailer for “Snakes on a Plane” and instantly think, “Hell yes!”? Do you think the only thing cooler than Samuel L. Jackson is Samuel L. Jackson with a bloody sword? Do I need to go on?

Miscellaneous:

Unlike other games which try to distract you from what you are doing every so often by making you “man the cannons” or “drive the motorcycle” Presumably other games do this to break the boredom, the monotony. Whatever their excuse, Afro Samurai does nothing like this. Instead it’s a straight sprint from start to finish, chopping here, slashing there, until the story is complete and the game is over. I found this to be a refreshing change.

The Scores:

Story: Great
Graphics: Great
Sound: Unparalleled
Control and Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Great
Balance: Good
Originality: Amazing
Addictiveness: Classic
Appeal Factor: Great
Miscellaneous: Incredible
Final Score: Great Game

Short Attention Span Summary:

Full of filthy language and graphic violence and even a little bit of nudity, this game is not for children. But when those kids grow up, show them this one, because this is now the hack and slash game which all others will be judged against.

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