Retro Review: Afro Samurai
Afro Samurai has identity issues. It’s not that the character does, anyone who has watched the cartoon series knows that Afro is quite aware of his personality to a fault. While the game works very closely with the cartoon series, despite the game’s claim in various moments to convince you it’s deterring from the original plot (a few major points are changed, but you have to know the series to catch them), the game itself doesn’t know what it wants to be. On the positive side, it does manage to sprinkle these various types of games in a relatively strong light.
Any fan of the series will feel right at home as Namco Bandai have captured the aesthetic feel perfectly. The original gritty feel of the anime allowed for a cell shaded game that literally brings the series to life, complete with the player controlling a living, breathing (and smoking) Afro Samurai. Couple this with a great mix of sound design and everyone’s favorite Samuel L. Jackson (voicing Afro’s loudmouth sidekick) making a mockery of both Afro and the player at the same time and the immersion is complete. That is, until you begin getting later in the game.
For starters, Afro Samurai is a short game; it took me probably five and a half hours to complete and there is no initial choice in difficulty. It starts off with a few levels of good old fashioned hack-and-slash gameplay, teaching you some moves here and there, and occassionally having you fighting a boss. I have to admit that while many people may find this repetitive, I felt right at home with the button mashing bloody mess that begins the game.
Shortly after that, in the quarry level to be specific, the game begins to deter from its original pattern and takes on several new qualities. Timing becomes very important as you enemies begin to learn how to consistently block, parry, and even throw you. Additionally you are forced to do things like split bullets in mid air and cut thick ropes that require a timed slash, which took me a while to figure out was connected to the controller vibrating. That is the one thing you’ll slowly learn about Afro Samurai, it consistently assumes you know things you’ve never been taught. More than a few times I’d confront a situation or a boss battle and wonder how the hell I was supposed to do it, and while it took everything in me not to consult a walkthrough, I found no sense of accomplishment when finally figuring things out. It usually ended with me loudly exclaiming, “Really? Really!” and then moving on.
There are also some rudamentary things that Afro Samurai breaks from the norm and only results in a more frustrating experience. First of all, neither you nor your enemies have life bars, instead you all turn certain hues of red until eventually dying. This may seem cool at first, but after you’re in a time-intensive boss battle for 15 minutes and the guy has been red forever and you’re starting to turn red because he always seems to get in an unblocked hit, it begins to get annoying. Also the platforming, which handles clunky in a “jump and pray” kind of way that completely breaks you from the experience. More than once I would take out a horde of bad guys only to miss a simple jump and have to repeat the whole sequence.
Don’t let this deter you from thinking that Afro Samurai is in any way a bad game, because it’s definitely not. The game mechanics and timing based system remain consistent and allow the player to slowly (thorugh repetition) perfect their skills to the point that they truly feel like a samurai master near the end. You will find yourself smiling maniacally as you mow down 3-5 enemies in one well timed slice before walking full force into a boss battle without fear. While the negative aspects of the game get annoying and frustrating fast, the experience is so short you have little time to gripe. The levels are also spaced out perfectly that you can take a break within a few minutes of deciding to stop as well as quitting a frustrating part from the day without much backtracking. Fans of the series will definitely appreciate the attention to detail and faithfulness of this translation (and possibly even excuse the liberties taken with the cannon plotline). I do warn you, however, that just like the series, the end of this game is riddled with countless and tiresome boss battles, but in the end you do truly feel like you’ve fought your way to a well deserved prize.
Final Score: 3 out of 5
This review was originally posted on a previous site I was senior editor at, That Gaming Site, and was converted over with permission. Additionally the review score was adapted from a 10-point scale that originally gave the game a 7.4 out of 10.