Afro Samurai Review
I can't quite remember the last time a game allowed me to take on a quartet of topless she-ninjas, but a half hour into Namco Bandai's' artistically amped Afro Samurai, I'd remembered it'd been far too long. This super-stylized anime-based title also reminded me that more games would benefit from having Samuel L. Jackson call their players "motherf*ckers". Neither of these occurrences are unusual in Afro, and both totally make for a better game. In fact, the title is absolutely brimming with amazing, authentic style that fans of the anime series will surely appreciate, and even newcomers will find hard to resist. Add some ultra-gory, kickass combat to the mix, and you've got one of 2009's first top tier titles.
Jackson's voicing of Afro's alter-ego Ninja Ninja is one of the production's many highlights; spewing sarcasm and foul language, not unlike his jheri-curled hitman Jules from Pulp Fiction, he more than brings his A game—and attitude—to Afro. Matching his quality performance is the game's stunning art direction. A quick glance reveals an anime brought to vivid, playable life, but becoming even more immersed in its world further rewards the eyes with smaller, but equally effective details. Afro, himself, looks fantastic; from the smoke trail bellowing from his cigarette, to the glowing pendant dangling from his sword, it's obvious the developers took great pride in rendering the revenge-seeking badass.
The gore-fueled combat also packs in the pretty details, as limbs fly, heads roll, and blood spits towards the screen. In fact, the more covered in crimson colored spots it is, the better you're doing. This is all part of the title's intuitive no-HUD approach, one of the best uses I've ever seen of the increasingly popular cinematic-aiming practice. The organic system sees Afro's clothes soaked with blood when he's at death's door, his pendant shine when he gains experience and his sword glimmer when he's ready to unleash an extra powerful attack. It takes a bit to get used to all the cues, but you'll soon follow them seamlessly, while appreciating that the display isn't cluttered with text, meters or numbers. Even navigating Afro's surroundings is a map-free endeavor. Not sure where to go next? Just tap down on the D-pad and Ninja Ninja will drop a hint. Of course, while he's at it, he'll probably swear at you for being clueless.
I'd definitely peg Afro a style-over-substance experience, not because its gameplay is lacking—although we'll get to its few flaws in a bit—but because its presentation is so engrossing. I loved experiencing this game, allowing my senses to be stung by its stylized visuals, hip-hop inspired soundtrack, and overall attitude. And on more than one occasion, its blood-letting battles had me recalling the choreographed chaos of the Kill Bill films. The combat is primarily fast and fun hack-and-slash button mashing. There are plenty of advanced moves and combos to be learned, however, you'll be able to best most enemies with the standard light, heavy and kick attacks. You can also gain the upper hand in focus mode, where the action slows, the visuals go black and white (there's that slick style again) and Afro can unleash some insta-kill moves. Additionally, "over focus" allows Afro similar room-clearing abilities, but without having to keep attack buttons pressed to build up power. These slo-mo modes pack an amazingly addictive punch because they simultaneously allow you to be more precise with the combat and also savor the gore in all its over-the-top glory.
The camera, although controllable, does need to be baby-sat a bit too much. And the game's penchant for breaking the action into comic book-like panels,though very easy on the eyes, can disorient a bit during especially chaotic battles. Afro also stumbles a bit in the platforming department; Afro has some fancy jumps and wall-runs in his acrobatic repertoire, but he’s no Persian prince; these sometimes frustrating moments generally don’t detract from the fun, but they’re a far cry from the fast and furious combat. Thankfully, most of your time is spent chopping bad guys into pulpy chunks and painting the world in their blood—and man, do these dudes bleed.
Not being very familiar with the source material, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this one. But that only made it all the more satisfying when its ambitious style and ass-kicking combat hit me over the head like a bag of plush teddy bears (Afro fans will get that.) I’m also a huge supporter of games not afraid to offer only a dedicated single-player campaign. I’m guessing one of the reasons Afro’s presentation is so polished is because its developers weren’t pressured into tacking on an undercooked multi-player mode. If you enjoy wicked style and simple, yet satisfying combat, mature content that’s more than a script full of unnecessary F-bombs, and more gore than you’ll see in all five Saw films combined, then Afro deserves a spot in your game library. Just prepare to be insulted a lot by the voice of Sam Jackson.