With a modified Gex: Enter the Gecko engine at its core and a loose interpretation of voodoo as its backbone, Crystal Dynamics' Akuji the Heartless is a grim and gritty "full scroller" that dares to defy Spyro the Dragon and the rest of the recent slew of light-hearted 3D platform games for the PlayStation. The story is equal parts Todd McFarlane's Spawn and Dante's Inferno: You're a voodoo-practicing, blade-wielding hero, and you've been slaughtered and had your heart ripped out on your wedding day by your brother. Now you travel through the planes of hell, destroying its caretakers and collecting the souls of your ancestors for the top-hat-wearing voodoo loa, Baron Samedi. If you do, he's promised to grant you passage out of the underworld to take revenge on your sibling rival and reunite with your sweetheart.
Visually, Akuji's 3D world appears much like a darker-themed version of Gex: Enter the Gecko and carries many impressive little graphical and lighting effects throughout (the chamber of rolling snakeskins comes to mind). Undercutting these niceties, though, is the game's camera, which can be moved from side to side around the character using the L1 and R1 buttons, targeted with R2, or else it otherwise eventually shifts into position. The problem is that "eventually" takes too long to rely on, causing you to continually shift the camera around, hence turning the perspective into another of the game's many puzzles. (I don't know about you, but I have simple enough needs when it comes to 3D platform-game cameras: I just want them to stick in a view that's aimed in the direction my character is facing.)
The music in Akuji is exceptional. It has an excellent undulating soundtrack that obviously loops but also changes its rhythm from time to time and keeps its jungle beat sounding continually fresh. The pace of the music also picks up whenever a fight begins, which works to build tension unless you're confronting the most pathetic grunt creature. Both elements work together to set a great mood for the game. The voice work, on the other hand, is only decent. Akuji's voice-overs (done by Shaft's Richard Roundtree) are occasionally delivered in a tone of near disbelief (when he picks up the Hell Blast spell, he says "Hell-Blast" as if asking a voice coach, "Is this right?") and are never as dynamic as you'd expect them to be. Slightly worth noting is the fact that Akuji's bride-to-be sounds far too old for him, leading to the thought of her being his mother instead. (If you make that leap, the beginning of the game is very funny. When she starts explaining the basics, you think, "Aw mom! Leave me alone! I'm trying to play a game!")
Besides the game camera though, the rest of this is ancillary to the title's gameplay, which is decent and sometimes very fun. It's a nice, easy little platform game that'll only take you about eight to ten hours to beat in all, making it a good, brief distraction from tougher, time-devouring titles such as Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It's over a little too quickly to recommend Akuji for purchase, but it's well worth the money and time it'd take to rent it.