Written for http://www.xboxgamezone.co.uk June 2009
Have you ever wondered what goes through the mind of Quentin Tarantino? What kind of disturbing dreams he might have? Maybe he just dreams of fluffy bunny rabbits roaming fields happily, but I suspect that really he dreams of a world like Afro Samurai. Afro Samurai is probably the most violent game I have ever seen. If the Daily Mail bothered to pay attention to games other than Grand Theft Auto or Manhunt, the entire office would have a heart attack watching just the first five minutes of Afro Samurai. The game is truly unrelenting with its depictions of violence and excessive use of strong language. If ever a game was deserving of an 18 certificate, this is it. If you are a prude, stop right here. You won’t like this game one bit; I haven’t even explained the sexual references in the game yet. This is most definitely a game for open minded adults, and no one else.
For those of you who haven’t heard of Afro Samurai before (myself included until I conducted some research), it is a Japanese anime series, set in a futuristic yet feudal Japan, starring a Samurai called Afro. Afro witnesses his father’s murder by another Samurai and vows to avenge him. The typical sort of thing you would expect really. However, Afro Samurai does seem quite a special anime. It has a very unique graphical style, its main character is voiced by ‘the coolest man on the planet’, Samuel L Jackson and it features a soundtrack produced by Wu-Tang Clan member RZA. All of which has been transferred to the game admirably. That’s not to say that I fully understand the story though, in fact I didn’t really have a clue for much of it. I just saw it as a good opportunity for some stress relief! As soon as the game begins, you realise just how violent the game is. Everything about it oozes violence, and blood. Even the achievements are blood thirsty, with points dished out for such things as cutting enemy toes and fingers off at the same time to slicing off hands, heads, feet….well everything you can imagine that could be sliced off with a big sword! Initially this is brilliant fun; it feels oddly liberating to have such simple gameplay as ‘slice people up in a variety of different ways’. The HUD or, should I say, the lack of HUD is also refreshing to see. Afro Samurai relies on visual indicators to help you keep track of events. Afro looks more noticeably covered in blood, the more injured he is. The same thing occurs with the enemies you fight. It’s usually quite obvious to know where you need to go next so a map isn’t really required. To keep track of ‘focus’ mode (it’s a bit like a black and white bullet time mode), a necklace that Afro is wearing lights up white when it’s available to use. The only real downside to the non-existent HUD is that there is also no way of tracking experience gain. Throughout the game, Afro gains experience by killing enemies, each level up means that more attack combos are unlocked gaining Afro new moves. However, as mentioned, there’s no way of tracking how near to levelling up you are, which can feel a bit detached. How much this affects you depends on the kind of gamer you are. Many won’t be bothered in the slightest as they will be happy with just hack n slash action, but for those who like basic RPG elements, they will feel that an opportunity has been sorely missed.
Afro Samurai comes out with some classic moments, the likes of which you just wouldn’t see in other games. Early on in the game, I happened to walk into a room full of scantily clad pole dancing female ninjas. Yes you did read that right, pole dancing ninjas. Maybe the feminist in me should have been disgusted, but instead I was impressed at the originality whether it was by the game developers or the anime creators. It’s not often that a game can surprise me by offering me a different sort of enemy to fight. As well as touches like that, Afro comes out with some unique lines while trawling through feudal Japan. In one level where I had to chase after a woman, every time I went in the wrong direction, I would hear Samuel L Jackson’s unique voice shout ‘You’ve spent so long chasing after justice; you’ve forgotten how to chase pussy’. Another somewhat misogynistic line that I couldn’t help but smile at. As said earlier, you do need to be of an open mind to enjoy this, and being a fan of Samuel L Jackson certainly helps. Afro Samurai is a very smooth game, both graphically and in terms of its self assured coolness, much like its main character really. I hardly noticed any graphical slowdown except for when particularly large battles were occurring, but even then it was minor and didn’t interrupt the enjoyment of the game.
As is almost always the case with games though, there is a negative side to proceedings. Afro Samurai suffers from an all too common affliction, slightly awkward camera angles at times. Coupled with somewhat dodgy platforming action at times, things can get infuriating. It’s a shame really as the fighting is terrific fun once you switch your brain off. But by throwing in a few platforming sections, it can make things more awkward. The camera just doesn’t always go where you want it to go, and as the platforming controls feel thrown in as an afterthought, expect a few insta-deaths to occur.
Afro Samurai is an enjoyable romp. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and it knows it’s never going to be a classic, essential title, but what it does offer is fun. It’s not a game you can gorge yourself on, if you play it for a number of hours at a time, you will start noticing just how flawed it is, and things will become distinctly repetitive. But as a game that you can drop into for an hour or two at a time, it’s excellent fun. It could never rival a title such as Ninja Gaiden but as an easier alternative, it is ideal to waste a few hours of your time. The ability to string together impressively violent looking combos, so easily is perfect for stress relief. It’s like a Summer Blockbuster film, you won’t remember it for years to come, but it’s a great way to while away a few bored hours and you’ll come out smiling.