Afro Samurai Review
Xbox 360 | PS3
Afro Samurai box art
System: X360, PS3 Review Rating Legend
Dev: Surge 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Namco Bandai 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Jan. 27, 2009 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Mature 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
Slice and Dice with Style!
by Jonathan Marx

After a busy week of work, playing through Killzone 2, and getting ready for the Super Bowl, I found it difficult to find time to play Afro Samurai - a game that has a Metacritic press average of 60/100. When I finally did get down to business, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the game. It seems my peers have jumped on a bandwagon, claiming the game to be nearly unplayable due to extensive gameplay foibles and an incoherent story. I found no such difficulty playing or understanding the game, and I thoroughly enjoyed the short experience.

Afro Samurai screenshot

For those unfamiliar with Afro Samurai's story, the protagonist is a badass black man who's one-part Sheriff Bart, one-part Shaft, and a whole lot of Bruce Lee. Afro was brought up in a dojo after his father was murdered by an assassin. Afro not only seeks revenge for his father, but also wants to recover his headband and take his rightful place as the baddest mofo… Sho 'Nuff!

Admittedly, Afro Samurai is not particularly innovative in terms of gameplay. In fact, the devs seem to have borrowed heavily from such titles as God of War, Ninja Gaiden, No More Heroes, and Devil May Cry. In other words, players will take advantage of extensive attack combos, turning their opponents into a quivering, bloody mess. However, borrowing proven mechanics is not always a bad thing. Last time I checked, those other games have been hailed as utter masterpieces. So, why has Afro Samurai gotten such a bum rap?

First of all, one of the biggest gripes of the game is that all this combo play feels more like a button mash and less like a test of gaming skill. On the contrary, pulling off stylish moves is simply a matter of memorizing the combinations. Certainly anyone can pick up the game and struggle through it by mashing their way to glory, but taking advantage of the advanced moves not only looks cool, it makes things a heck of a lot easier and satisfying. I've got a feeling that the majority of the reviewers out there didn't take the time to familiarize themselves with the game's controls. Studying the combo list with the Back/Select button, I was lopping off heads and getting flushes in Body Part Poker like it was nothin'!

Afro Samurai screenshot

I found the game’s controls to be excellent. Using the face buttons to initiate various kicks and sword combos is industry standard stuff. Players can also enter two different focus modes that allow you to pick body parts to slice clean through or clear out an entire room of unfortunate foes. Also, intricate dash attacks, enemy mounting, the ability to parry and attack, bullet deflection, etc. provide Afro an arsenal of moves that should make all but the most jaded gamers giggle with glee. Before long, I and my play partners hacked our way through the onslaught of enemies like cord wood. It was not only easy and intuitive, but the stylish nature of our killing spree looked like it was taken straight out of Kill Bill. Wading through waves of unprepared minions is hilarious. What’s more, the challenging, highly-stylish boss battles go a long way toward capping off the chapters and moving the story along.

On the downside, the game does suffer from rather uninspiring platforming. Often, players will miss jumps and wall runs. Thankfully, dying while platforming is not gravely punished. Players will simply start at the point where the mistake was made. This takes a lot of the frustration out of the often wonky jumping segments, however, I can't help but think the devs were forced to put this instant restart mechanic into the game to make up for the substandard platforming. Also, the branching level design, while interesting and realistic, can be confusing. Luckily, calling up your Ninja Ninja GPS is just a button away.

Afro Samurai screenshot

Some have complained about the camera controls. Indeed, camera issues are perhaps the title’s biggest shortcoming. If you aren’t a Quake player from way back, or can’t seem to retrain your brain, you might struggle. Afro Samurai does allow you to select a standard or inverted camera along the Y axis, but players will not be able to change the X axis. This can be quite frustrating until you become accustomed to this nuance. I found myself using the automatic camera re-centering button via the right stick constantly, and this seemed to eliminate the frustration except during some boss battles. Still, players should never be railroaded into a specific control scheme by an unforgiving developer. I can see how some might want to pass on this title simply for the frustration surrounding the camera issues. Although, if you give up that easily, you’re probably a pussy. Okay…maybe not.

Screenshots / Images
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