Namco Bandai recently created a new publisher within their holdings empire, and they named it Surge. This publisher was formed with the goal of catering to western gamers’ tastes, and for their first game, they went with a fitting meeting of east and west in Afro Samurai. The game, which is based on the manga and anime series, takes place in feudal Japan, but a feudal Japan with hip hop music and samurai robots. Mission accomplished, Namco Bandai.
While it seems like it should be difficult to mess up a formula like that-especially one from an established series that plenty of people already adore-Namco Bandai did just that while developing the video game version of Afro Samurai. Now, that’s not to say that no one should go out and buy this game, because it has some excellent moments, ones that oftentimes more than make up for the problems, but the issues are also too much to just overlook outright.
Jan. 27, 2009
Let’s start with the positives. The gameplay is more than solid, with a simple yet deep battle system in place. You have light hits, heavy hits and another button that kicks; string those moves together to form long combos to take out your foes. You will know you have a combo working when blood splatters on your screen; the more blood, the more effective your combo has been. You can also perform these same attacks whilst in the air, which makes for some nifty looking moves.
You need something besides combos and a few different ways to whack the bad guys though in order to make a brawler worthwhile, and Afro Samurai delivers with its focusing system. ‚ You essentially slow down time in order to charge up a powerful vertical or horizontal slash (or a leg sweep to set up one of those two), and the effect is very satisfying. You can aim with the left stick in order to take out bellies, hands, limbs, heads, and even go for fingers or toes. That kind of control over what you do with your sword keeps things fresh and entertaining throughout. The game keeps track of those kinds of things for your Achievements as well, so those who follow their gamer score’s will want to start aiming.
Another neat addition to the battle system is the ability to mount your foes after performing a successful parry. Just hold down the A button after you parry, and Afro will hop on the shoulders of his adversary; follow that up with a finisher, performed by pressing the left stick along with one of the attack buttons, and you’ve got yourself some entertaining ways to clear your path of foes.
The battle system is a success, which is good news, because it’s the thing you will be doing the most of. There’s some platforming, but for the most part it isn’t anything difficult. The occasional wall run, wall jump or basic hop from platform to platform makes up most of the platforming experience, though there are occasions where these will be strung together for a more difficult experience. They can be more frustrating while trying to fend off enemies, but this is a rarity as well.
The presentation for the game is another strong point. The art style is gorgeous, as it’s a mix between a comic book and an anime, with the hefty horsepower of this generation’s consoles behind it. You will not tire of looking at the backgrounds or the fluid animations of Afro as he slices through everyone in his path. There are two minor downfalls graphically, though: enemy animations when not in battle are stiff, ‚ and there is also slowdown when the screen fills up with enemies and action. The latter isn’t a huge deal, given you do have the ability to slow down time after all, but it does detract from the fast-paced action on occasion, and is a major pain when someone is shooting at you while you’re surrounded by swordsmen.
In addition to the looks, the sound is superb. Samuel L. Jackson provides the voice of Afro’s traveling buddy Ninja Ninja-he’s basically the polar opposite of Afro, who himself gives off the air of a quiet, deep thinking samurai-and Ron Perlman is the antagonist, Justice, the man responsible for the death of Afro’s father many years prior. Both do an excellent job of voicing the characters, so you won’t be too upset that you can’t skip the cut scenes. The music was inspired by the work of The RZA, as he put together the soundtrack for the Afro Samurai series. Howard Drossin composed the tracks this time around while RZA worked as musical director and contributed vocals on two tracks; just like in the series, this portion of the project shines. There aren’t a ton of tracks though, and they do loop quickly, but what you hear is done very well, and given the fast-paced nature of the fighting, you will feel like you’re swinging your sword and kicking to the beat of the music behind you.