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Afro Samurai Review

Blake_Morse By:
GENRE Action 
PUBLISHER Namco Bandai Games 
DEVELOPER Namco Bandai Games 
M Contains Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language

What do these ratings mean?

Taking number one.

If you ask interior decorators what the key is to creating an ideal living space, they'll all tell you the same thing: atmosphere. Whatever mood you want to create or emotion you wish to inspire in people, the setting is essential. And that is one thing Afro Samurai has in spades - In every way, shape, and form, the newest game from the boys at Surge literally bleeds style.

click to enlargeThe title draws its inspiration from the animated series that stars the most perplexingly yet appropriately named hero of all time. Yes, Afro Samurai is his given name. (Who knew if you named a kid after a haircut and a profession, they'd grow up to wear/be them? That's why I'm naming my kid Crewcut Billionaire.)

Afro's father used to wear the number one headband, which signified him as a powerful, god-like warrior, until he was decapitated in a duel with a gunslinger wearing the number two headband. Afro witnessed the horrifying event and has been on a quest for revenge ever since, sacrificing those he loved and killing anyone who would stand in his way. It's all explained in great detail in the animé.

The game does its best to fill in some of the blanks in Afro's origin story. It mixes events from the series with some twists here and there to keep gameplay interesting. Most levels take place through the narratives of supporting characters as they recall their encounters with the number two from their own perspective.

As we know, you've got to start with the visual presentation to set the right mood. The essence of the imaginary hip-hop Wild West meets Edo-period Japan anachronistic world where the story takes place has been recreated in great detail. All the background art and character models are done in a cross-etched cel-shaded style to give it that animé appeal. Landscapes vary from ancient temples and bamboo forests to dusty gulches in dry deserts.

click to enlargeNext, you need the proper ambiance to accent the visuals. We can accomplish this in several ways. Let's start off with one of the baddest motherfucker ever (it says so on his wallet), Samuel L. Jackson, as the narrator, reprising his role as Afro and imaginary (or is he?) jive-talking alter-ego Ninja-Ninja. He provides a voice-over for most of the cut-scenes, as well as a talkative compass if you get lost in a level, though most of time, he ”ain't telling you shit”. Kelly Hu and Ron Perlman reprise their roles as well, providing the voices of Afro's love interest and antagonist (guess who is which?).

Now add the superfluous beats of the RZA to the mix. All the music in the game is made by Bobby Digital himself and it is quite dope. Bass booming hooks with Wu-Tang rhymes come at you through the speakers at key moments, adding to the cinematic flair. While the music is fantastic, at some points when traveling between brawls, it can be too absent. Also, some of it seems like a 30 second track that loops over and over again. Even though the quality of music is on par with that of the RZA's film score work, it's given in sparse doses.

Another nice aesthetic feature is the total lack of a HUD. All of your normal meters and health bars have been completely replaced by audio and visual cues. As you take damage you see the blood soak into your clothes and you hear heartbeats enter in the mix - all the sound effects and music get that swimmers ear faded swishy-ness.

Combat is frantic, gory, and... well... repetitious. As would be expected, there is much hacking and slashing. Afro uses his father's sword along with a cool slow-mo focus attack feature to slice off limbs, cut off heads, and split folks down the middle, which as you would imagine, means that there will be blood. Lots and lots of it. We're talking more blood than there was in the fight with the Crazy 88s in Kill Bill.

click to enlargeThe frantic button-mashing for combos-death-orgy does get old after a while, but such is the nature of the beast. Action titles like this always end up limited in this sense, whether you're a bald, angry Greek seeking revenge on the gods or a bushy-haired samurai seeking to become a god. If you are the kind of person that gets tired of such things quick, then this is not the game for you.

The feng-shui unfortunately suffers greatly from poor camera angles, and some of the 70s action movie cuts that occur during gameplay can make things very confusing for a minute. It's hard to get a grasp of depth perception, and at some points things would glitch out on me as the camera spun around.

Platforming sequences are fairly bland and seem to serve more as filler for traveling between fights. It would have been cool to see some of the fancier moves, like running up or along walls, thrown into the combat to spice things up even more. One of the later levels involves a lot of running and jumping and it's super frustrating. Trying to nail the timing while dealing with poor camera placement is a exercise in patience and breaks up of the flow of one of the more thrilling levels.

You could spend all the money in the world hiring the best decoraters in the business to try and make your home perfect and you would still find flaws. While Afro Samurai makes for a fun and visually enticing escape, there's really not much left to do after beating the game. There's only a single -layer story mode and once you're done, you've pretty much seen all there is to see and killed everyone you possibly can. While eviscerating so many ninjas is cathartic, Afro Samurai ends up feeling more like a slick, hyper-visual arcade experience more than a solid home console experience. But still fun nonetheless.

B Revolution report card
  • Superbad style
  • Hyper-gore violence
  • Samuel L. Mother-Effing Jackson
  • RZA bomb-ass beats
  • . . .which can be sparse at points
  • Rough camera angles
  • Curse of the button-mashers
  • Only one mode of play

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