Afro Samurai Updated Impressions

If the idea of slashing through scores of enemy samurais doesn't appeal to you, how about a little game of body-part poker? Namco Bandai showed off a near-finished version of the game at Atari Live.

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At the recent Atari Live event in central London, Namco Bandai's Daryl Tumacder, Afro Samurai's product coordinator, gave us a updated tour of the upcoming manga-inspired swordfighting bloodbath, including an as yet unseen level. During Tumacder's presentation he also spoke a bit about the story, based on the anime series' first season. Afro (voiced to great effect by none other than Samuel L. Jackson) is on a mission of revenge after his father, the "number one" samurai, is killed. Whoever holds the headband worn by number one is said to receive godlike powers, although the only person who can challenge him to receive those powers is the number two. Anyone, however, can challenge the number two to claim his headband, acquired by a grisly fight to the death.

You'll leave many corpses--and litres of blood--in your quest for vengance.
You'll leave many corpses--and litres of blood--in your quest for vengance.

The level we saw in the demo takes place around and inside a samurai school, taken directly from the series. While the Swordmaster trains you in swordfighting during the game, you'll discover that he is actually the number two samurai. At this point in the game, however, Afro is trying to find out who has the number two headband, and he already suspects the Swordmaster. In addition to him, there will be plenty of other enemies trying to get the headband, and to prevent this (and protect the students) you'll need to defeat them in bloody combat.

We've talked about the controls previously and after getting some hands-on time with a Xbox 360 pod, found executing a few simple combos both easy and instantly, albeit morbidly, satisfying. That shouldn't come as any surprise, given the developers didn't want to market the game to a hardcore audience, but rather appeal to a wide range of tastes that might appreciate combat, action-heavy games, hip-hop culture, and more. Tumacder told us the game will have a levelling system, earning you extra moves as you gain experience and progress. Killing enemies earns you regular XP, and performing harder moves such as decapitation or slicing vertically down the middle of a body earns bonus XP. The game will have around 120 moves for you to unlock, including swordplay, kicks, throws, grabs, pounces, jumps, side rolls, side flips, and even legacy moves from your father. Each mission also has five hidden crows, and by finding all of them you'll unlock some of your dad's special moves.

We were shown an amusing minigame called Bodypart Poker. The mode is tied in to the campaign's focus time system, whereby you earn focus time by performing combos. You can then use your earned focus time to play card "hands," with the object seemingly being to beat the hand your enemies have produced. You might do this, for example, by severing a head, arm, and leg--the game's equivalent of a royal flush.

In addition to Samuel L., other stars reprising their roles from the TV series include Kelly Hu, Ron Perlman (Hellboy), Terrance Carson (the voice of God of War's Kratos), and John Di Maggio (who also plays Futurama's Bender). While we only heard Jackson's voice in the demo, Afro lives up to his reputation. Expect lots of profanities in only the way Jackson could deliver them. While Namco Bandai's other anime-inspired action game, Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm, is suitable for children, it's safe to say that Afro Samurai is not. It is quite amusing, however, and crammed full with plenty of Samuel L.-style F-bombs, and phrases like "Oh s***, mount that a**hole... That came out wrong," or "Jump that Motherf*****."

You'll fight plenty of regular foot soldier samurais in your journey; however, the game will also feature many other villains from the cartoon including ronin, android ninjas, anime girls, and even 8-foot-tall minibosses brandishing maces the size of Afro himself. When you defeat a boss you'll learn new techniques you can use later in the game. Only number two headband difficulty is available from the beginning, with the much harder number one headband difficulty unlocked after you complete the game. Fear not, however, as the team wants the average gamer to be able to beat the game. The average player should be able to do that in six to eight hours.

Afro Samurai feels like a cool blend of Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction.
Afro Samurai feels like a cool blend of Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction.

Afro Samurai's cel-shaded, blood-splattered graphics are looking pretty final, and we were told the game is on track for its January 27 US release date. An Atari UK spokesperson confirmed to us that European gamers will be getting the game shortly after its North American release.

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