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Afro Samurai


Afro Samurai has become one of the more popular anime franchises on the market today. That most assuredly has something to do with its mainstream appeal, thanks to the presentation on Spike TV and involvement of Samuel Jackson. Despite the obvious marketing attempts on behalf of the producers of the series, the fact remains that Afro Samurai is actually a bloody good time. Now, when I heard a game was coming out I was naturally skeptical. I mean, how many crappy license-to-game endeavors have been forced to suffer through? Imagine my surprise when I realized that Afro Samurai, the game, was pretty damn fun...to a point.

If you're familiar with the show then you'll definitely feel right at home in the world of Afro. If you aren't, however, there are a few things you should know pertaining to the story. The whole affair follows a deadly samurai named Afro (duh) who is out for revenge against the man who killed his father. The way the world is set up is that powerful warriors earn headbands dictating their stature and position in the grand scheme of things. Afro's dad was number two when he died facing number one, and Afro has risen to the same rank. Standing before number one and Afro is a slew of bad guys and warriors who would love nothing more than to separate our hero from his snazzy headband. You're not going to let that happen though, are you?

Gameplay


For all intents and purposes Afro Samurai is a knock-off of Ninja Gaiden, just with fewer nuances. You'll basically be running around as Afro, slicing bad guys up, platforming when need be, and fighting the occasional boss battle. There's really nothing special to the gameplay, and if you've played one action game within the past two years this will feel desperately familiar, but throughout it all Afro Samurai is actually quite a bit of fun. There's a defined sense of style to the game that keeps the experience light and flashy, which is exactly what this game needed.

When it starts out you will have some rudimentary attacks, combos, and special moves at your disposal. Things are fairly standard from the get-go, but once you get a little further in and start gaining levels your repertoire will grow ever-so gradually. While you'll simply be button mashing at the start until anything that's moving is bathed in blood, once you get a handle on the combat system you'll be anxious to see what new skills you unlock. It's a rewarding system that is implemented well and helps add some much needed depth to an otherwise straightforward fighting system.

Since battles are the name of the game there are a few things you should know. You basically have two attacks (light and heavy) and how you press them in conjunction with each other will pull off different combinations. These can be tied into your jumps and dashes, but the greatest addition here is the Focus ability. As you kill and get drenched in blood you'll be able to slow down time and pull of some sick looking moves. This is useful for clearing a whole room full of people in a matter of seconds, and for doing crazy stuff like slicing bullets in half or deflecting them back at the person who shot at you. There's a multitude of things to do while Focusing and the system really helps elevate the game's combat. Boss fights, however, suck.

Sure, running through a stage fighting faceless minions for hours on end gets boring, so why not throw in some boss battles? That would be well and good, save for the fact that the camera utterly ruins things here. It swings uncontrollably as you move and refuses to allow you to adjust it at these times. While there are several examples of crappy boss fights that just take all the fun out of the game, the greatest example is one against Brother 6. This asshole totes a flamethrower that he turns into a grenade launcher and gets gradually harder as you defeat each phase. As I fought him, I must have died about ten times before I just gave up and walked away for a while. The camera swings wildly here, you'll be hit when you can't see Brother 6, and even when you do see him the moves you have are virtually useless. When I cooled off and went back to fight him I literally had to spam the same dash move over and over again. After a few more attempts I managed to kill him by some weird fluke.

For all of its good points, Afro Samurai also has its fair share of negative ones. The aforementioned camera is problematic a lot of the time, but it's also worth noting that the game is simply too repetitive for its own good. You'll be running through the same stages multiple times and fighting the enemies for most of the six or so hours it takes to beat. Add to that a lack of direction at some points, which leads you inadvertent backtracking, and you have a game with some design issues. They aren't necessarily deal-breakers mind you, but the flaws here definitely keep Afro Samurai from realizing its potential.

Despite Afro Samurai's weaker points the gameplay is actually quite fun. Lopping limbs off, decapitating enemies, slicing bullets, and bathing the screen in blood is very satisfying. It's just unfortunate the game lacks polish in some of the other areas that matter. If you're a fan of the show then you'll definitely want to check this out. Due to the overall length and what you get out of it, I'd say that Afro Samurai is better off as a rental, but it's a good time nonetheless.

Having played both the 360 and PS3 versions of this game extensively, I can assure you that they are virtually identical when it comes to the gameplay. The PS3 controller is every bit as intuitive with regards to the control scheme and the same pluses and minuses persist across the platforms.

Graphics


The thing that struck me most about Afro Samurai wasn't just the stylized combat; it was the way the game looked. With support up to 720p the game has some nice, sharp resolution, and the artistic style of the game utilizes that to its fullest extent. Cel-shading has come a long way since the days of Jet Set Radio, and Afro Samurai is a perfect example of the height of that technology. The character models and world are simply gorgeous with high levels of detail, fluid animation, and cross-stitching that gives the game a hand drawn look. With that being said there are some problem such as clipping and the occasional glitch. Overall those occurrences aren't enough to break the game, they just show a slight lack of polish.

Sound


With music and a voice cast direct from the anime Afro Samurai certainly sounds authentic. The game oozes style during cut scenes and the bits of conversation peppered throughout are definitely highlights. Unfortunately the constant sounds of fighting grate on the nerves after a while, and there are some awkward silences here and there. Some times there will be no sound at all, or voiceovers will be muffled, which again leads us to the conclusion that the game was rushed. What's here is more than adequate, but it could have been given a little more attention to tighten it up.

Conclusion


If you're a fan of the show, then Afro Samurai is definitely a game you should take the time to play. It may lack polish in a few key parts, and it may be shorter than we'd like, but the fact of the matter is that the game is a blast. The sense of style has been lifted from the anime and once you start busting out some Focus powers you'll definitely feel the rush. In the end this one is more suited for a rental, but it's one that fans have to check out. If you own both the PS3 and Xbox 360 then you really just have to flip a coin for what version you get. Both are on equal footing and there's hardly any difference between the two.