Thursday, May 13, 2010

Afro Samurai (video game)

Platform: X-Box 360, Playstation 3
Developer: Namco Bandai Games
Genre: Action
ESRB Rating: M
Release Date: January 27th, 2009

If there's one thing the Afro Samurai anime films have in spades, it's style. Heaps and heaps of style. From the super slick animation right down to hip hop so infectious even someone opposed to the genre can get into it. It's what makes otherwise straightforward revenge stories sing, worth both your time and money. As such, there are expectations; if it carries the Afro Samurai name, it needs to carry that style with it if it hopes to succeed.

Thankfully, the game carries it's badge of cool proudly; and it elevates a game that's fun, but wouldn't be noteworthy without it.

Seriously, the gameplay isn't anything we haven't seen before. If you've ever played a God of War game, you've pretty much got the basics. Light and heavy attacks, blocking/parrying, combo's both available and unlockable. The focus is largely on dismemberment, however, with focus attacks that can take off limbs in one slice and an in battle minigame - body part poker - which focuses specifically on severing different limbs to get a decent hand. So as you'd expect, it doesn't deviate far.

The other elements of the game are the stars of the show. The cel shaded animation is smooth and without much flaw. It's not the exact look of the show, but it replicates the shows style with it's own flair, which works out well. Even better, however, is the soundtrack. While The RZA didn't directly oversee the soundtrack due to obligations, it's composed much in the same spirit, with many memorable tracks accompanying the limb slicing. I'm admittedly not a fan of hip hop and the music made an impression on me regardless, which I think speaks to the strength of the music. If you were to take tracks like "When the Smoke Clears" or "Can You Top This" and put them in the show, I think you'd be hard pressed to tell it didn't belong.

Thankfully, the storyline - pretty much an adaption of the first anime - has twists and turns in it that keep it fresh. The changes are welcome. As Ninja-Ninja says, you think you know how it ends because you've seen the show, but you really don't. To talk about some of them would be spoilerish; important considering some of the enjoyment is seeing what is different in the adaption. But the main crux of the story - boy watches his father die in a duel, boy grows up to take revenge - remains largely the same. It's just not always going to play out how you think, including how it ends.

The thing I can talk about is the thing that's probably changed the most in the story, the character of Ninja-Ninja. His general purpose is still the same - he's still a semi physical manifestation of the side of Afro that Afro has long since denied - but he has much more of an edge to him. Whereas the character in the anime is more of a friend and comic relief companion, the game version carries significantly more disdain for Afro and in some cases seems like he could care less about Afro's well being. He taunts Afro, is far more snide to Afro and basically shows little concern. In this way, the character becomes less a manifestation of the good that was in Afro and seems to become more like an imaginary reflection of Afro's own self loathing and pain that he buried deep beneath his desire for vengeance. I'm not sure if that's how it was intended, but that was how the change came off to me and I must admit I found it an interesting switch for this adaption.

The Score: Dramatic Thumbs Up

In all, the game runs the risk of falling into the general trap of basic video game adaption. It comes pretty close too. Thankfully, it's style makes up for the generally mediocre substance and the kinks in the general story make it worth a look. I don't think this is something you should rush out and grab, but if you find it on the cheap or feel like a breezy rental you can really do so much worse.