It's hard not to notice Afro Samurai, the game in which the main character of the same name sticks out like a sore thumb in feudal Japan with his enormous hair and tattered clothes. Even harder to miss are the well-choreographed moves, copious amounts of blood, colorful commentary by Samuel L. Jackson, and never-ending number of enemies to slice through. We had the opportunity to play through several levels of a preview build and are impressed by the beautiful visuals, hilarious dialogue, and over-the-top limb-chopping violence.
If you haven't been following our coverage, we've been able to see and play through several demos, so for more details you can check out our other previews here. This is the first time we've been able to spend some quality time with Afro, the tortured samurai out to avenge his father's death. The titular character is actually rather quiet and stoic, and it's Ninja Ninja--Afro's imaginary antithesis, a perfect embodiment of Jackson--that livens up this bloodfest with expletives that flow naturally. Not only does Ninja Ninja provide humor with his obscenities, but he also acts as your guide if you're not sure where you need to go next. He talks a great deal, so consider yourself warned. When you press down on the D pad, he'll appear in the direction you need to head and then vanish in a puff of brown smoke. If you call on him often, he'll say things like "I ain't your GPS b****!" or find other delightful ways of expressing himself.
Afro Samurai is a button masher--a very elegant one in which you can pull off sweeping flourishes and acrobatic flips. Combos unlock as you progress through the game so that you don't grow tired of mashing the same combination of buttons over and over again. There are some moves you'll learn that are aptly named: Where's My Money, Pimp Hand, Hardwood Thrust, Oh That Hurt, and Dayam That Really Hurt. Using the R1 button, you can briefly enter a focus mode where Afro can charge up his katana and dismember with deadly precision. A line will appear so you can determine if you want to take off a particular limb, cut the person clean in half through the midsection, or perhaps just slice straight down the middle between the eyes. You'll eventually get a feel for how long you can stay in this mode and use it to optimize your attacks. In the early stages, you'll be able to instantly kill opponents by neatly slicing them in two in this mode. Against tougher enemies and bosses, the focused move will do additional damage, but it won't be a one-slice kill. Because the game is visually stunning and the moves are fluid and graceful, it's always a blast to watch your character do his deadly ballet routine. What wasn't so smooth, however, was the camera, which we hope will be fixed by the time the game ships. There were a few instances when we'd get a close-up of a wall or the side of a cliff face and couldn't see Afro unless we went into our focus mode.
In between the slicing and dicing, there is some light platforming. Running wall jumps can be performed with ease, and even if you slip and fall, you won't be bumped back very far. Afro generally won't fall off a cliff unless it's part of the platforming sequence, so you don't have to worry about tumbling over in the heat of battle. The game consistently provides you with hints on where to go, even though it's already straightforward and linear. In addition to Ninja Ninja's friendly guidance, points of interest will sparkle and the cutscene focuses on what you need to do next. Afro Samurai is relatively easy and accessible by anyone, though the profanity and gore will probably mean that only an age-appropriate audience will be able to enjoy the game.
One noticeable change from what we saw at Namco Bandai's pre-Tokyo Game Show event is that your health is no longer indicated by the dark tunnel-vision lines on the screen. The amount of blood on your clothes will indicate how much damage you have taken. Your opponent's health is also measured this way, and after you deal the finishing blow, the sound of gushing liquid also indicates whether or not you did a good job. Hint: The more blood the better. Statistics from the main menu will tally how many gallons of blood you've spilled if you want to get really specific--which is rather morbid. Achievement junkies should note that as long as you continue to brandish your sword and lay waste to your enemies in style, points will be earned.
The cel-shaded art style is gorgeous, and there's nothing like slashing through bodies like they're tofu, with the glow of the setting sun at your back and the deep blue ocean that bleeds out into the horizon. One of the new environments that we got to play through included a lush bamboo grove with cascading waterfalls, which was very different from the village rooftops that we originally started off in. The score is inspired by Wu-Tang Clan member, The RZA, which includes hip-hop mixed with some authentic-sounding Asian instruments. This interesting combination works well and complements the action and story.
Afro Samurai is not all blood and violence; it's about loss, revenge, betrayal, and even love. The game's events unfold as though you're watching a movie--from the cinematic opening to the cutscenes, gameplay, and voice-overs. Be prepared to wield Afro's blade with finesse, because the game is set to be released on January 27, 2009, on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.