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Jeremy Jastrzab
07 May, 2009

Afro Samurai Review

360 Review | Yo Dawg, I heard you liked afros on your samurai...
Now there’s a title with two words that you wouldn’t usually expect to find next to each other. Well, as the aficionados will tell you, anything is possible in the world of anime. And so, we have Afro Samurai, a strange blend of manga, hip-hip and Samuel L. Jackson. Another thing that anime fans will tell you is that the games based on their favourite shows often leave a lot to be desired. They’re either too friendly for the kids or just plain suck. To its credit, Afro Samurai almost gets it right. It’s definitely not for the kids, and while not the next Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden, it's a fun romp for fans of the anime and action genre.

While Samuel L. Jackson voices the titular character and his bizarre sidekick, Ninja Ninja, Afro Samurai is not about the busiest man in Hollywood. No, it’s about two sacred headbands – the number one and the number two. The warrior with headband one is considered a god and can only be challenged by number two. Problem with being number two is that you’re fair game for everyone else. Having witnessed the death of his father at the hands of ‘Justice’, voiced by Ron Perlman, a young Afro Samurai sets off on a quest for the number two headband, where he is forced to make the choice between revenge or his adopted family.

If you haven’t figured by now, he chooses revenge and the life of death and bloodshed associated with being 'number two'. While the story in both the game and anime take a backseat to the showpieces, it still deals with some interesting concepts and does so pretty well. The concept of the number two taking revenge on number one has been explored not just in anime but in cinema, with the cult classic Versus coming to mind. The game follows the same basic plot of the anime, but with its own delivery. Some parts are delivered better than the anime, but while others not so much. In all, one isn’t better than the other, but as a game, it gets the job done and keeps the source material intact.

A samurai with an afro... What next, a black president?

A samurai with an afro... What next, a black president?
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The combination of fantasy, feudal manga as well as some modernisations and hip-hop is one of the most bizarre concoctions out there. In its own peculiar way, Afro Samurai takes these seemingly conflicting elements and produces a fun and unique scenario. The developers get down on their hands and knees and implore the players to suspend their beliefs and really take the game as it is. Basically, you can’t take it too seriously, as the game developers have even managed to poke fun at the game and themselves in places.

The anime was considered a visual showpiece upon its release in 2007. The game does a good job of recreating the look and feel. While it’s obvious that the developers would use cel-shading for the game, they pull it off reasonably well, with all the characters and number of locales instantly recognisable. There is no shortage of gore either, with sliced limbs and pools of blood flying here there and everywhere. Technically, the game is solid and the presentation has some nice touches and perspectives. However, some uninspired level designs, stiff and jittery animations and weak camera point to inexperience from the developers.

The audio in the game is arguably one of its strong suits, particularly if you’re into hip-hop. Some of the background music successfully combines traditional anime samurai styled music and modern hip-hop, and the hip-hop songs during major set pieces fit quite well. That was, until a character tried to talk in-game or when the track finished and there was an awkward silence before the restart. Every main character is backed up by strong dialogue and great voicing. Some of Ninja Ninja’s lines are particularly ridiculous and memorable, while Ron Perlman’s Justice sounds like a truly evil antagonist. While the audio in between the great music and voicing, such as the generic sound effects and unimaginative enemy one-liners, isn’t great, overall the audio gets the job done.

What's wrong? You seem beside yourself.

What's wrong? You seem beside yourself.
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While Afro Samurai gets a lot of points for its style, delivery and presentation, action games live and die by the gameplay. Afro Samurai has some good ideas and brutal, gory combat, but a few flaws in the execution mean that it doesn’t manage to be the next Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry. Starting with the good, Afro is an indomitable character and he’s been well equipped with a large set of combos and brutal sword attacks to take on the swarms of enemies that are after the number two headband. As you play, Afro will learn new combos and abilities which helps to keep things busy.

Despite relying on a dial-a-combo model, the combat can be thoroughly entertaining and brutal. Watching Afro plough through the hordes of enemies is not too far off what you’d expect from the anime. The most satisfying aspect of the system is the focus ability. Slowing down time to fight may not be anything new, but pulling off instant kills and dismemberments is downright awesome. This is especially true once you've got the system 'worked out'. However, you can only pull off dodges and rolls in focus, which wasn’t a good design move because it leaves you very exposed in large battles. The dial-a-combo nature of the game is exposed against harder and stronger enemies. Particularly as it can be hard to tell sometimes whether your attacks are successful or blocked.

Not using a HUD is bold idea, but doesn’t quite come off. Your health and focus are determined by whether Afro and the pendant on his sword are glowing, as well as audio queues. However, it's extremely difficult to tell how much health or focus you have at a given time, and through out the game you’ll often misjudge how much of each you have. The platforming and camera aspects have been heavily maligned in other publications but truth be told, we’ve seen much worse. Borrowing a lot of the wall running and rebounding moves from games such as Ninja Gaiden, the platforming is serviceable enough to break up the pace. It is exposed when it tries to do a bit too much later in the game. The primary issue with the camera is that it doesn’t adapt and often requires you to realign it, but we never failed any aspect of the game because of it.

Yes, that is a bear head... You sure that's a cigarette you're smoking?

Yes, that is a bear head... You sure that's a cigarette you're smoking?
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As an action game, Afro Samurai surpasses your garden variety anime tie-in. However, there are a few things that stop it from playing with the big boys of the genre. The flow and pacing is hampered by a lack of endearing design. While not poor, the design falls into a familiar pattern, where one mass battle is generally followed by another which is then often followed by a brain-dead puzzle or platforming sequence. In fact, it would be a stretch to define the few switches that you flip in the game as ‘puzzles’. Consequently, the game feels like it drags during the longer chapters. This further exposes the lack of dynamics within the combat, particularly when you have fewer combos available early on.

Great action games are memorable for their boss battles, though unfortunately, Afro Samurai has some disappointing and often cheap boss battles. All bar one have some element that will frustrate, be it cheap deaths or seemingly impenetrable defence and none really take advantage of the combat system’s strengths. However, the one good boss battle is real corker, particularly for the fans. While the game clock will tell you that you finish it in 6-8 hours, the game in reality will take you a little longer than that. We felt this was the right length for the game, though some may not feel that this is enough with the game only offering an unlockable hard mode when completed.

A game based on a franchise or alternate entertainment medium will rarely please everybody, but Afro Samurai remains faithful to the anime, oozes a unique style and it caters for those who are old enough to enjoy it. Mixing feudal Japan, hip-hop and Samuel L. Jackson is so ridiculous, it somehow manages to work. Diligent players will find faults within the combat system and game design, but when you play long enough and work the kinks out, you’ll soon have limbs flying all over the place. The game is also a good effort when you consider that it was worked on by a rather small development team. So if you’re after a brutal action game with a style so bizarre that it works, Afro Samurai is one to check out, foo’.
The Score
Lose yourself in the limbs, style and lyrical waxings of Samuel L. Jackson, and the flaws in Afro Samurai won't be so glaring. It might not be the best game ever made, but it knows how to show off and have fun. 7
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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3 Comments
4 years ago
Worth a rent. I enjoyed Afro Samurai well enough. Up. Until. The. Final. Battle. Which I never did complete! Not often that I just give up out of frustration, but Afro Samurai... you managed to make me a quitter.
4 years ago
jomonjin wrote
Worth a rent. I enjoyed Afro Samurai well enough. Up. Until. The. Final. Battle. Which I never did complete! Not often that I just give up out of frustration, but Afro Samurai... you managed to make me a quitter.
You should youtube it and have a look how you defeat him. I did the same thing and found out and finished it. Now i am going through the harder diff and its going to be a bastard i tell ya that. Yeah its worth a rent imo.
4 years ago
jomonjin wrote
Worth a rent. I enjoyed Afro Samurai well enough. Up. Until. The. Final. Battle. Which I never did complete! Not often that I just give up out of frustration, but Afro Samurai... you managed to make me a quitter.
Well you better lend it to me then, if its anything like the 59th level on soul calibur 4 though................. icon_evil.gif
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  2/04/2009 (Released)
Standard Retail Price:
  $109.95 AU
Publisher:
  Atari
Genre:
  Action
Year Made:
  2008
Players:
  1

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