Afro Samurai started out as a very unique concept on television. You have a samurai in the middle of some futuristic Japan (it's hard to tell the exact timeline), who is out to get the number one headband and will do anything in his power to obtain it.
A head band, you ask? It brings immortality to the bearer. What more can you ask for?
I wanted to wait to review this game (I'm very aware it came out on January 27th, I'm sorry readers!) until I got a hold of the anime series. I wanted to understand the storyline and the characters before I made too quick of a judgment about the intentions of the storyline. It's very important nowadays to understand your goals and the madness behind the character's motivation to achieve those goals. So, with that said, I have a firm grasp of the story which makes the experience much better.
The story is simple, there are multiple headbands and you must obtain one to challenge for the other. For example, if you're wanting to get the number one headband (the end all, be all of headbands) you must obtain the number two before you can move forward for the number one. It may seem like a video game goal, but this is actually how the storyline goes in the actual show. So, to start this review out, rest assure that the story was nicely captured within the video game. Namco Bandai generally does a very good job at that type of translation from show to game. If you need another example, look no further than their Naruto series.
Let's talk about some gameplay.
The gameplay inside of Afro Samurai is just a plain hack and slash for the most part. Generally put that is what it should be considered and what should be expected from the title. You go into battle and find the best way to survive while killing multiple parties. And it's consistent, it truly doesn't let up, but that (again) is how the show runs. You have multiple button combinations that you can pull off that range from light attacks to heavy attacks (which cause more damage). The light attacks are quicker and less precise, while the heavy attacks are definitely more effective, but they have to specifically targeted. The attack system is pretty simple in general, with a great slow motion technique that allows you to pull off the It's called the 'Overfocus' attack where you literally slow down the gameplay, it turns black and white and you can target a body part on the enemy to slice and dice. It's a nice effect, slows down the charge of the enemies, but the end result is not as effective as the execution of the 'overfocus' makes you think. There were multiple times where I used the overfocus on an injured enemy, only to have to do it again and again and again. All it really did was ultimately buy me time in the game. I know it probably has some strong effect on the enemies, but it didn't really show me that once.
As offense is straight forward, the defense is actually impressive. You can block with your sword, as you should be able to, but the blocking completely dependent on what current position you're standing in. So, if you are blocking someone from the front and someone from the back decides to attack you, you better rethink your strategy because you're about to be hit. Not many video games are specific like this and usually they just allow you to swtich points of view, but this one makes you work for the defense. I just wanted to give you a heads up, just in case you're feeling a bit badass about you're Afro taking on multiple peeps.
As for the A.I., it's okay. They're typical, stupid drones that will attack you until they die rotten deaths. It's completely predictable and sometimes just plain laughable. The one positive about the A.I. is that it enjoys ganging up on you. So, if you're looking for a fight with multiple people, then you're going to find plenty of moments here to satisfy you. As for the bosses, they're one-trick ponies. They tend to be very pattern oriented and there's always one solution for them. Obtaining the first headband (not number one, but the first one) was pretty simplistic. Block, push away and cut. That technique also worked on a few bosses in the game. Again, all the bosses I slaughtered had the same type of pattern. It will take you about 3-5 minutes to figure that pattern out and then find a viable solution to overcome it. Again, very simple A.I., not hard at all to figure out.
As you continue through the game there is a leveling system that follows you. It's kind of like gaining experience through kills and upgrading the strength of you character. It's a nice add-on to the game, but at times it's barely noticable as you don't have a moment to rest. The game is pure action. So, it's good to see progress, but you can't celebrate it as the story just keeps pushing you in linear fashion.
Now, if there is going to be one knock on this game that just annoyed me to no end it would have to be the camera angle. I understand the purpose of a a camera that allows you to spin it in 360 degree rotation. I get it and I appreciate whoever came up with that idea many years ago. With that said, I want to focus on the action and want to make sure I keep the action in front of me. I would have preferred to have a radar indicator of some sort in the lower corner of my screen (work your creative magic to call it something that has baring on that time period) detailing enemy position instead of a camera I had to rotate and lock. I want to focus on hack and slash, I don't want to be a videographer. I could have done with a locked camera. It would have pleased me completely. Or, better yet, why not lock the camera back into position when I'm done rotating it? That would have been nice. The camera angle was just a bit of a bitch.
Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?
The presentation factor for Afro is nearly perfect in comparison with the show. They have brought in the actors, yes even Samuel L. Jackson, to voice-over the characters and made it as close to the show as humanly possible. It's basically a seamless transition. The artwork is especially nice as they capture the essence of the visuals from the show. You get that cool swagger that the show carried with it. The animation is smooth, it's fun to work within the world that Namco created. It's stylish and open (and very alive). The environments are gorgeous at times, ugly some other times, but mostly visually captivating. You can be damn sure they put a lot of work into making this look and feel like the show on Cartoon Network.
As for the voice-over team, wow! You get the popular and enjoyable-to-listen-to Samuel L. Jackson as the flagship voice of the game. He's entertaining, funny and extremely vulgar. You'll hear the F-bomb dropped, the S-bomb, the GD-bomb, the MF-pump, the P-bomb (woman's anatomy) and everything else in his arsenal of verbal onslaught. This is not made for kids. So parents, if you're reading this, you have been warned. I think it's potentially more vulgar than the show (can you believe that?). With that said, the talent is still impressive.
Now, what would have made this game even better might have been the addition of a multi-player option. Samurai against samurai would have been badass. I think that in the next go around with this, because I firmly believe Namco will give this another shot, that should be considered. It would make the fun factor explode out the roof. Of course, things like 'overfocus' would have to be reconsidered as I could imagine everyone performing that online at the same time. Anyway, it's something that would have made this a bit more fun and a bit more worth the price of admission. Right now, you're looking at about 10 hours of gameplay. Some people might take longer, but if you play this straight through it shouldn't be more than that.