Afro Samurai – Reviewed – Xbox 360

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Afro Samurai is the new Samurai Slasher title based on the popular Anime of the same name and follows the life of the Afro Samurai, an African American who was brought up in Japan and taught the ways of the Samurai.

I have never had the pleasure of actually watching the Anime, so I was forced to enter the world of the Afro Samurai without a clue as to what it was about and how the story pans out, so it’s a fresh eyes review from me this round. As in the Anime, the game features a star-studded cast of Samuel L Jackson, Ron Perlman and even Kelly Hu.

With Afro Samurai going head to head with older titles such as Ninja Gaiden II as well as the recently released Ninja Blaiden (I mean Ninja Blade, excuse me) it has some fair competition.

So how does this Afro-donning sword-wielding samurai adventure stack up in the end?

Anime-tion

I have to be honest and say that when I sat down to play Afro Samurai, I wasn’t very excited. I didn’t really know anything about the franchise and the videos that I had seen so far hadn’t done very much to make me think that it was anything special.

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The story, which is based directly on the Anime series kicks off with you and your Samuel L Jackson voiced sub-conscience (in the shape of a strange guy who looks like you except that his skin is very light, his afro is white and he has some dodgy sunglasses on from the 80’s.) looking for the second of two headbands that supposedly give the wearer powers. In fact, the headbands are the main focus of the story and your quest to get the second headband so that you can take revenge on the other bloke who has headband number 1.

Phew, sounds a bit confusing and I’m not going to elaborate too much. All you really need to know is that if you haven’t seen the Anime, the story is fairly broken up in the game in a way that unravels itself over the span of the game. I actually found the story to be quite intriguing and it definitely helped me forge ahead so that I can find out more of what happens.

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Your aforementioned sub-conscience, known as “Ninja Ninja” is brought to life by some very funny writers and the incredibly vibrant voice of Sam Jackson. Some of the cutscenes (which are all done in-engine) had me literally laughing out load, as I watched the events unfold and the ludicrous words come out of his mouth.

Ninja Ninja is not only just there for laughs. He is utilised as a compass, appearing in the direction that you need to go along with a puff of smoke and a clever comment about “not being your damn GPS”. He is also used to convey a lot of the story, as the Afro Samurai doesn’t say very much, so it is up to Ninja Ninja to let you know what’s happening, and sometimes even point out the flaws in the story or the ridiculous events that take place.

Aggro-Afro

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The gameplay in Afro Samurai is not something that you have never seen before, and keeps everything fairly simple so that anyone can pick it up and play it. You basically have one button for quick attacks, one button for harder attacks, and then your standard layout of kick, jump, block etc.

As you play more and more, you unlock more combos for your Samurai, which are usually performed by tapping a series of buttons such as x,x,x,y,y,y and get better and longer the more that you level. The level up system is all automatic and does not give you any sort of option to level up specific combos or sections, and while I’m on the topic, you don’t use any weapons other than your sword, so no upgrades are necessary there either.

There is also a “focus” mode, which allows you to slow time down to perform a special move, and recharges by either waiting or doing combos. The focus mode actually works really well, allowing you to charge up horizontal or vertical attacks and slice right through your opponents, using a white line that shines on them to give you an indication of where the sword will connect.

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It’s a really cool looking mode, switching to black and white with only the blood showing in colour and gets really fun once you learn to integrate into combos as well as once your level ups give you better abilities, such as increasing range, allowing more moves, slicing bullets and even sending them flying back.

A great little side mini-game that can be played can be activated by walking over Ninja Ninja (who is usually crouched nearby), and the game is called “Body Part Poker”. The game basically treats different enemies as the suits, and then different body parts as the different cards (head = King, legs = Queen etc.) and you have a certain amount of time to create different poker hands by slicing up enemies.

If you want more complexity, go and buy Ninja Gaiden 2, honestly. But if you are looking for a combat system that is easy to use, but still keeps the combat fun and good looking, then Afro Samurai is for you.

There are also a few platforming and puzzle solving elements in the game, and while I did enjoy them it was very obvious that it was not the developers focus, as some of the areas were quite frustrating. As well all know, the camera can always be a problem in a game such as Afro Samurai, and it is unfortunate that it is a prime example of how not to do it. The camera will often have you staring at walls, and struggling to find your next enemy, and I really feel that the experience could have been that much better had it been sorted out before release.

One Night Stand

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If there is one thing that was a little disappointing, it’s that the game is very short. Even though you can see that it is designed for you to play more than once (you can not fully level up in one playthrough), I flew through the game in exactly 6 hours and 5 mins. The major problem I have with this is that some of the battles that you encounter, as well as a few boss fights, take way longer than necessary. When I say way longer, I mean that you start to believe that there is some other way to finish the area other than defeating the hordes of enemies, but in the end you just have to keep going until the enemies run out.

That said, it was a very enjoyable 6 hours and I am very tempted to start playing through again. If there is anything else that I want to complain about, it’s that in the review code that I played (which may not necessarily be the same as the final game), the loading was quite long, but at least there are some interesting story elements that happen to keep you interested. Aside from that there are a few bugs here and there, which sometimes have enemies standing in midair after being knocked by you sword.

Lookin’ Fly Playa

These problems only really bug you a little because the rest of the game is so incredibly polished. The anime-styled graphics are gorgeous and run smooth most of the time ( I only experienced hiccups here and there) and the sounds as well amazing hip-hop/samurai music really brings the mood in most areas, making you feel like a real bad-ass as you mow through enemies.

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Great use is made of a style that splits the screen into frames, almost like a comic book, showing you other points of interest such as more enemies arriving. The art style really is fantastic, and the texturing makes it seem as if all the 3D characters have still be sketched with a pencil.

Rated M, for Massacre

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Do not be fooled by the pretty cartoony graphics though, because Afro Samurai is, as you have already deduced, incredibly violent and only suited for mature players. Limbs fly, enemies swear like sailors and thanks to Ninja Ninja, there is quite a lot of references to sex. So if you are a parent, beware, it may look pretty but little Johnny will have some really interesting questions for you in the morning if you let him play it.

By the time the game had ended, I was happy with the experience and was pleasantly surprised by the games unfolding story and fun gameplay. While it’s major downfall is that it is way too short, it was a lot of fun and I could easily sit through the whole experience again, even though some sections had too much hack and slash.

Scoring

Gameplay: 8
Easy to use combat system makes it great fun take on the role of the Afro Samurai. The camera hurts this game the most.

Presentation: 8.5
Gorgeous looking graphics and cutscenes make it one of the best cartoon-styled games out there.

Sound: 9.0
The custom hip-hop music and the voice acting is fan-afro-tastic.

Value: 7.5
It really is just too short. The second play through is sure to still be quite fun, but 6 hours really is the bare minimum, and that’s all you get.

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Overall: 8.4

A great Samurai slasher. Fans of the franchise will no doubt love what it has to offer, and that also goes for any gamer looking for a fun, slightly casual romp through Japan. Go Afro.

Last Updated: March 31, 2009

Nick De Bruyne

Video games writer, editor and critic since ’08. Living and breathing video games, movies and cars since the 80s. Follow me on Twitter if you love tons of gaming talk, and @pennyworthrevs for fun stuff and links.

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