Afro Samurai - Cheat Happens Game Review
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Afro Samurai
Playstation 3, XBox 360

Reviewed on: XBox 360

Developer:
Namco Bandai Games
Publisher: Atari
Rated: "M" for Mature



CHEATfactor Game Review
by Joe Sinicki

   
   
   
Audio/Visual: 6
Gameplay: 5
Lasting Appeal: 5
Overall: 6
   
CHEATfactor: 6
   
     
You know, when you really sit down and think about it; Samuel L. Jackson and licensed games have a lot in common. With the right guidance, like Quentin Tarantino directing Jackson in Pulp Fiction, or the team behind the surprisingly amazing Chronicles of Riddick game, they both can be quite effective, but in the wrong hands; they’re utter garbage (yes, I’m looking your way Snakes on a Plane).

With spectacularly imaginative visuals, a killer soundtrack and morbidly satisfying gameplay, Afro Samurai had a shot at being one of those few licensed games worth playing. But, nagging technical issues and the fact that nearly everything Samurai does right has been done better in other titles makes it just another run of the mill licensed game.

Developed by Namco Bandai, Afro Samurai is a retelling of the popular anime of the same name. You play as Afro, who as a child witnesses the murder of his father in a battle for The Number One Headband – worn by only the world’s greatest fighter. You can probably guess what happens from here, Afro vows to obtain the headband and avenge his father in the process. It’s a pretty straightforward tale of revenge with a few decent plot twists thrown in, but odds are most of them will go over your head unless you’ve familiar with the source material. Samurai has a habit of introducing essential plot elements and characters in one scene, and they’re never heard from again. Of course, a licensed game is meant to bring a larger audience to the brand – but is it worth it when you constantly feel like you’re missing a giant part of the game’s story? 

"Besides a few key spots, you’ll find yourself mashing the same sequence of buttons..."

 
   

Afro Samurai is a beat-em-up, like you’ve played a million times before – but there’s something oddly satisfying about it. Using a simple button layout – you have a button for light attacks, one for heavy attacks along with block and jump buttons, you’ll use your trusty katana to hack and slash your way through a seemingly endless supply of identical enemies. Sure, there are combos to learn and experience points you can earn to level up your character, but they may as well be non-existent. Besides a few key spots, you’ll find yourself mashing the same sequence of buttons, and the story is so linear that when you don’t level up, the game will eventually do it for you to keep up with the narrative.

Where Samurai truly shines is in its over-the-top mature content. It’s campy, it’s unapologetic – it’s incredibly satisfying.  Blood will spew and splatter on the screen, while you hack off heads, slice enemies in half and sever other valued appendages. Though the combat is shallow and lacks much depth, you’ll find it hard to stop – similar to last year’s Wii cult-hit No More Heroes, there’s just something so satisfying about seeing your opponent’s head lob to the floor. This is impacted dramatically by the ability to aim your swing. Feel like your enemy would look better sans their head? What about their arms? You can pinpoint where you want to strike, resulting in some grueling animations.

Like last year’s amazing Prince of Persia reboot, Samurai uses cell shading to give its world a storybook-like feel. This technique lends itself well to the title, as it stays true to the anime’s visuals, yet carves out its own identity at the same time. Standing still, Samurai is something to marvel at, but once the action picks up – and it does often; you’ll notice just how unreliable the graphics engine is. Often, you’ll find yourself facing off against multiple enemies at once who all attack fast, but the game will slow down to a crawl, causing you to be unable to time attacks or even block properly. Yes, the frame-rate sucks that bad, which is a shame as otherwise, Afro Samurai’s visuals are quite impressive.

Complementing the visuals quite well, Afro Samurai features quite the soundtrack. Mixing feudal Japan with modern hip-hop may have been done before (by Samurai Champloo and the Kill Bill movies to name a few) but everything seems to fit quite nicely in Samurai. Featuring music by and chosen by the RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan, the game’s action and soundtrack blend together quite nicely, not to mention the voice over work of Samuel L. Jackson and Ron Pearlman. My only gripe is that the amount of tracks itself is quite limited so you’ll be hearing the same tracks over and over.

"The action in Samurai moves fast and frantic..."

 
   

Plenty of games have bad camera systems, whether they don’t focus on the right thing, or are hard to center, but not many games get as much wrong camera-wise as Afro Samurai. Seriously, you will get so frustrated over it, you’ll be tempted to take the game back – it’s that bad.  The action in Samurai moves fast and frantic, and the camera seems incapable of keeping up – you’re only hope is to try to manipulate it with the right thumbstick. Sound easy? Well, it is if you’re used to playing with an inverted control scheme – you see, by default the game in inverted and while you can modify this for your up and down controls, you’re stuck with left and right.                                                                                                                                                                                     

When viewed as a licensed title, Afro Samurai is passable, but when compared to some of the original titles it takes most of its formula from – its problems are more evident. Want gorgeous cell shaded graphics? Try Prince of Persia. Looking for a bloody, hack and slash brawler? There’s always No More Heroes. While fans of the Afro Samurai anime will enjoy the little touches thrown in by developers, there’s just not much else here to recommend, especially when compared to other games.  

 

CHEATfactor

CHEATS USED: None

As of this writing, the only "cheat" available for Afro Samurai is unlocking the hard difficulty after completing the game on the normal difficulty. While gamers will find themselves using the included combo system and leveling up as soon as possible in the harder difficulty, it’s just not enough. How about being able to play as other characters? Hell – how about other costumes? It would also be extremely helpful to be able to unlock an infinite supply of Afro’s focus maneuver.

Afro Samurai is focused heavily on blood and gore – in fact, the game keeps track of just how many baddies you decapitate, split in half and maim. How about unlocking an extra time trial mode where you see how many enemies you can take on in a set period of time? Modes like this may not do away with some of the problems in Afro Samurai, but they will add to the game’s incredibly thin presentation.

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