Review: Afro Samurai

Beautiful bloodbath
By MADDY MYERS  |  February 17, 2009
3.0 3.0 Stars

VIDEO: The trailer for Afro Samurai

Afro Samurai | For the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 | Rated M for Mature | Developed by Namco Bandai Games | Published by Surge
Afro Samurai, which is based on the anime of the same title, follows Afro on his quest to find the Number Two headband. Whoever wears the Number One attains godlike powers, but only the wearer of the Number Two can challenge the Number One. Afro fights numbers of ninjas for the Number Two in order to avenge the death of his father, who once owned the Number One and was killed by a gunman named Justice.

The boy-avenges-father's-death trope is a familiar one, and the plot of Afro Samurai isn't very complex. The anime goes into more depth; the game is a hack-and-slash beat-'em-up with little time for plot and plenty of room for gore. Fans of the anime will be happy to learn that almost all the voice actors signed on for the video game — most notably Samuel L. Jackson as the voice of both Afro and Afro's sidekick, Ninja Ninja.

Although the game lacks a multi-faceted plot and features a couple of annoying gameplay problems, Afro Samurai makes leaps and bounds in other areas. The music weaves traditional Japanese musical instrumentation with rap tracks laid down by the Wu-Tang Clan's RZA. The game's attitude echoes this fusion of semi-feudal, semi-futuristic Japan and hip-hop culture. Your female ninja opponents would be better classed as prostitutes; either they're topless or they wear next to nothing, as though they'd stepped out of the lyrics of Flo Rida's "Low" and grabbed katanas. The mind-numbingly bloody violence of the warring ninjas in Afro paired with their tendency to whimper "motherfucker!" and "fuck meee . . . " upon dying gives the impression that you're watching a hip-hop music video about samurai gang violence. I would be offended by cheap attempts to hold gamers' interest with near-pornographic ladies and flying appendages, but the stylized, detailed cel-shading here has more class and style than your average hyper-violent game graphics. Afro Samurai manages to be an artsy title in spite of its blood, sex, and obscenities.

The gameplay will hook you as well, if you're willing to be patient. For no clear reason, the camera controls for left and right are inverted, and this is not reversible. Most of the time you're surrounded and there's someone to slash in every direction, but when you're fighting one-on-one with a boss, the left/right inversion leads to unnecessary frustration.

The most important aspect of Afro Samurai is the slicing and dicing. If you're a fan of fighting games like Tekken or Street Fighter, learning Afro's nuances will be a snap. It uses an experience point system, but this never seems to matter. There are no health bars; instead you and your enemies get increasingly redder and bloodier as death grows nigh.

Like all fighting games, Afro Samurai is about timing. Afro has two different ninja modes in addition to his default fighting mode: Focus and Overfocus. An amulet glows to indicate that these modes are "ready" to use. In both modes, the screen goes black and white and your opponents slow way down. You can use special attacks and aim your sword more specifically in order to lop off whatever appendage you desire.

Afro Samurai has its share of hiccups, but the art and music take it to the next level. Developers of other mindless murdering games could stand to step it up; carnage for carnage's sake doesn't hold gamers' interest for long.

Related: Review: Chrono Trigger DS, Review: Street Fighter IV, Puzzle Quest: Galactrix, More more >
  Topics: Videogames , Entertainment, RZA (Rapper), Spike TV,  More more >
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