Afro Samurai, like the show is an animated story of a puffy-haired Samurai who goes on adventures across the land. Its material that is perfect for the raw storytelling of anime or even better yet, the simple mechanics of a beat em’ up adventure. Let’s get down with Samuel L. in Afro Samurai for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.
Namco Bandai has launched a new publishing label Surge, and the first game to be released under Surge is the anime inspired Afro Samurai. Afro Samurai is an artistic blending of cell animation, hack n’ slash gaming and hip-hop music all melded into an entertaining gaming package. Like the show Afro Samurai has its own unique style that makes it an instant classic to watch. The developers did a great job porting over the look and feel to the game which is half the battle when dealing with an animated series moving over to a video game. Graphics have come a long ways and Afro looks great on both systems.
Initially I was a little worried about playing Afro; after all it’s not getting the greatest scores from the associated press. I wondered what could have gone wrong? What’s wrong with Sam’s Afro buddy?, and why didn’t Namco Bandai pull out all the stops for their first game under the Surge name? Well, in my opinion they did. Afro Samurai is better than the average marks it has been pulling in from around the net. This game is under-rated and a total joy to play. Given Afro Samurai isn’t perfect and it has its faults, however over all this is a game that will please all fans of the series and games looking for a cool hack n’ slash styled adventure. Actually compared to the average hack n’ slash game, I think Afro pulls ahead and creates a unique setting that is one of the best in a while.
Afro Samurai puts you in the sandals of the mysterious Samurai, who obviously sports an impressive sized fro. As Afro you set out to avenge your father’s murder. This means searching out ultimate power in the form of becoming number one, the prestigious spot that your father held at the time of his demise. To become number one, or any number, even number two, you have to defeat the spot holder in battle and take their ceremonial headband. In Afro’s world the one who is number one has the powers of a god and can rule the world. In Afro’s rage he battles through hordes of enemies looking for the man named “Justice”, the one who killed Afro’s father.
For beginners the plot has enough grit to be solid enough for a beat em’ up action title and it works in the premise of the games parameters. Topping the basics off is a unique brand of storytelling which blends real-time elements with a number of cryptic flashbacks and memories from Afro and others around Afro. The storyline which is rather cut and dry becomes an interesting web of colourful characters who only add to the games development. Included in this mix is “the man”, Afro (Samuel L. Jackson) who is strong silent type, Ninja Ninja (Samuel L. Jackson) who is probably the best and most interesting character in the game. Then you have a number of Boss characters and the female Okiku (Kelly Hu) who turns Afro Samurai into a game worth checking out and playing through for its story bits.
The faults in the game are easy to spot, but that doesn’t mean Afro is a bust. Actually, I found Afro Samurai to be a fun no-brainer type of adventure with enough substance to keep me interested as I explored the world of the Afro Samurai. However the flaws do stand out as a game that might tribute its action a little to close to the old school way of gaming. First off you will notice the repeating faces of your enemies who are stylistically drawn come around way too often. Afro Samurai switches up the bad guys a little bit on each level by adding a few parts like a new hat, or changing a weapon, but overall it feels like your running on treadmill. You might even come across a new enemy type the more you play, and like the typical “blue ninja” in the game, expect to see a lot more of them. Thankfully Namco doesn’t cheap out in the boss department and focus characters in each level. These characters all have their own unique look and background. Like Afro, the important characters really shine which helps spice up the monotonous chore of chopping up clones.
The second aspect is the core gameplay which doesn’t really add too much variation in its actual mechanics. The interest and changing part of the game is Afro’s plot which is surprisingly deeper than I was expecting. In Afro Samurai you are going to be slicing and dicing through the enemies with your sword... and that is it. Not too many other elements creep into the game which means the swordplay better be solid, and it is. Afro Samurai combines a number of combo moves with slow motion attacks and parry and doge maneuvers. Mixing all the attacks up is the fun part that helps keep the combat fresh. Each enemy type will need to be approached in a different way and the fun starts when Afro is out numbered. Against big groups, the combat mechanics really come to life as you jump around dismembering limbs one after another. It’s not a landmark concept, but it works.
That is about it when focusing on Afro's flaws, and really a few missteps doesn’t drag the entire game down. Afro might be a slasher in its core; however its heart is much bigger. Afro Samurai keeps the player moving and evolving along with the plots developments. Your character levels up with new abilities which add to the excellent amount of combos and the multi-leveled environments have you running around a fighting on all sorts of layers and backdrops. Compared to other titles with similar concepts, Afro is an outstanding piece of work, rendering artistic flair with solid gameplay and storyline. Sure, improvements, or changes could have been made to make Afro less of a straight-forward, but then it would have its core essence and singular focus.
The art, as you can tell, borrows from the anime series and brings it to life in video-game form. The quality isn’t up to the standards as the actual animation, like in Resurrection, but it is adept to make an impression. The violence is pretty damn bloody which means this isn’t for younger gamers. Afro doesn’t shy away from nudity as well, so expect to see a few women’s jubilees bouncing around. The violence, language, and nudity all seem to fit nicely into the games atmosphere without being exploitative.
The music plays a large role in Afro Samurai as the tool to bring a certain cool, hip-hop vibe into certain situations that juxtaposes against the background of feudal Japan. Howard Drossin and The RZA (Bobby Digital, Wu-Tang Clan) get behind the mixing board to lend their musical talents to Afro's soundscape. Drossin did an excellent job providing a fresh sound to the project in the way of backing tracks and hip-hop beats. Helping out the audio is an excellent library of sound effects adding in the necessary slashing/dismembering effects that pounce out of the game, as expected. The voice acting is also supported by some of Hollywood’s finest which doesn’t hurt the production values. All-in-all, the production in Afro Samurai stands out in both the graphics and sound category, this is quality. If Afro is ay indication on what Surge is striving for then we are definitely looking forward to their next project.
“AFRO!!” (Picture a yelling Sam L. Jackson) jumps off the screen into a stylized hack n’ slash adventure that has been overly scrutinized by the majority of the public. Afro Samurai is a fun action game that brings the anime to life with an interesting plot development overly the dizzying basics of the hack n’ slash formula. This one is a non-brainer, turn off the up-stairs lights and have fun. Soaked in his adversaries’ blood, Afro Samurai showcases the unique twisted tale of a revenge mixed into a pot of anime inspired action with the vibrant beats fueling his steps. I guarantee you haven’t played a game like Afro in the past, even if it feels like it. Fans of action slashers should defiantly check out Afro Samurai. Even if it’s not a 100% purchase, Afro should give you enough enjoyment out of a weekend rental. “AFRO!!!!”
Gameplay:7, Graphics:8.5, Sound:9, Innovation:7, Mojo:8 Final: 7.9 / 10
Reviewed by Downtown Jimmy | 02.09.09