Afro Samurai has gone from the silver screen to your console in Namco Bandai’s simply titled Afro Samurai game. Following rather closely to the television series, the game follows Afro Samurai and his friend Ninja Ninja slash their way through a modernized-feudal Japan.
Afro’s story is one of revenge, his entire existence is to hunt down Justice, the man responsible for his father’s death. Unfortunately, Justice dons the “Number One” headband, meaning he’s the most powerful swordsman around and only the “Number Two” can challenge him. Being the Number Two puts an even larger target on your back because everyone wants your headband. Accompanied by Ninja Ninja, Afro fights through different situations from the television series, although there are a few parts in the game not shown in the series.
Afro Samurai’s gameplay is broken into two parts, combat and platforming. The combat is comprised of almost non-stop sword fights, which amounts to pretty much button mashing. Combos unlock over time, but it’s just a series of more button mashing. To be fair it can be fun to sit there and just mash away, but after a while it gets a little old. The benefit of all he mashing though is that the presentation and animations are incredibly smooth. The way you dismember enemies looks great, and best of all it’s possible to dismember an enemy in a number of different ways. One negative aspect to the combat is the camera angles. It can be jarring at times and a hindrance at others. Sometimes you’ll never know which way you’re headed because the camera gets confused. You might think you’re killed the enemies, but there’s one more lurking in the blind spot. The platforming side fares even worse then the combat. Falling during simple leaps is far too easy, and the typical array of wall running and climbing are flaky and at times difficult to control.
The most frustrating experience in the game are the various boss battles. Each level ends with either a rather easy or frustratingly hard battle, and many come down to completing them simply by trial and error. You’ll find yourself finishing the boss in record time or having to take a break to think about what you can do better to defeat the boss. To make matters worse, one level requires you to beat three bosses, but to restart a portion of the level before each boss. Too often the work is tedious and the payoff minimal.
Samuel L. Jackson does a great job with the voice-acting, as the no holds barred, foul mouthed Ninja Ninja and the quiet, reserved Afro Samurai. The game also brought in others from the anime, like Ron Perlman, to reprise their roles to give it a more authentic feeling. One of the biggest influences in the Afro Samurai series and movie is the music, and Bandai took the same approach with the game. The RZA’s hip-hop beats and anthems compliment the game perfectly. If they made an official soundtrack I’d be all over it.
Visually the game is amazing. It looks absolutely beautiful and reminiscent of the anime it’s inspired by. It has the same shaded cell look as the most recent Prince of Persia. Colors were vibrant and popped, backgrounds were lilvely and added a sense of depth to the game. Not enough can be said about how it looks, but unfortunately it’s not enough to make the game worth a purchase.
It’s also important to add that there is no co-op or multi-player mode to the game either, which is massively disappointing. To make matters worse I completed the campaign in about six and a half hours, and that was with repeating a few of the boss battles a few too many times. Overall, for $60, it’s a very short game.
In the end, while Afro Samurai may be an entertaining experience, it’s plagued with too many flaws to make it memorable one. The potential was there, but horrible bosses, poor camera controls and mediocre platforming dissipate any hopes. It looks amazing, but plays mediocre and ruins the experience. I had pinned so many hopes on the game and felt obliged to finish it out of respect for the franchise. If it weren’t Afro Samurai it probably would have sat unplayed. Save your pennies because this one is a rental.