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Afro Samurai
Score: 79%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Surge
Developer: NAMCO BANDAI Games America
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Adventure/ Fighting

Graphics & Sound:
Let me cut to the chase. I have never seen an entire episode of the Afro Samurai anime. I am familiar with it, I have seen the commercials and I know a little about it from friends, but I wouldn't identify myself as the type of person that Afro Samurai is aimed towards. That being said, the time I spent with Afro Samurai was very enjoyable and now I'm browsing Amazon.com for the anime on DVD so I can see what I missed.

I think that qualifies it as a success. I was a complete newcomer to the series and walked away very impressed. Sure, there are a few shortcomings, but the good definitely outweighs the bad.

One of the most important facets of the anime is its fantastic art style and animation. So, it should be no surprise that the visuals were top priority in Afro Samurai. The developers used a cel-shaded art style mixed with excellent animations to rival the show and in some cases, outshine it. Most of the time, the framerate is smooth and only hiccups when there is too much action on the screen. I didn't notice too many visual glitches and even the ones I did notice, it wasn't anything that ruined the moment.

I was simply astounded by the soundtrack. The tracks and beats made by RZA (from Wu-Tang Clan) are incredible. A sweet hip-hop soundtrack accompanies the samurai slaughter all throughout Afro's adventure. The only complaint is that there isn't enough of it. The filler stuff is fine, but I really dug the moments when the music swelled up and forced me to bob my head to the rhythm while I hacked away at some cronies.

To be fair, I did notice some audio glitches during a few cutscenes involving voiceovers. Since the voicework is as great as the soundtrack, the few times it skips are very obvious. Knowing that they got the stars of the show including Samuel L. Jackson and Ron Perlman to reprise their roles, having their great performances marred by audio skipping is a shame. I don't know if the glitches are specific to the PS3, but a patch would make everything better.

Afro Samurai follows the story of a man named Afro. Afro has been traveling in feudal Japan for many years since he witnessed his father's death. His dad was ranked the number one warrior in all the land and had the headband to prove it. The number two was the one that killed Afro's father and ever since that day, Afro has been on a mission of vengeance to kill the former number two.

Throughout his travels, Afro has his only friend Ninja Ninja (yes, twice) follow him everywhere he goes. It isn't a well kept secret from the beginning, but Ninja Ninja is Afro's alter-ego and narrator of his journey and often has very funny lines about the situation.

The first thing to know about Afro Samurai is that it is most definitely not a game for children. It may look like a cartoon, but it is filled with sex and violence. (And oh how great they are!) Afro Samurai plays like a by-the-numbers action game, but the over the top violence as well as its tendency to be as ridiculous as possible really makes it something special.

Most of the time spent playing Afro Samurai is spent fighting hundreds of goons throughout various yet gorgeous locales. You are equipped with just one sword and your acrobatic arsenal of deadly moves and that is it. There are no extra weapons to collect or spells to be earned, just your sword and the constant unlocking of new skills through the leveling up system. Stringing together combos is easy and surprisingly deep for a licensed tie-in. It is just a shame that all that depth comes at the cost of poor enemy A.I. Most of the baddies will simply run at you and wait to be neatly sliced in two.

Every now and then, there will be a mid-boss and a few real bosses too that are really imaginative and fun, but (along with the soundtrack), the filler just doesn't impress.

There are some light platforming elements as well, but the developers decided to take the Prince of Persia approach and you are not penalized for missing a jump. You don't die; you simply respawn in front of the last place where you were on solid ground.

Another thing that is done really well in Afro Samurai is the presentation. Everything about Afro Samurai bleeds "cool" and "stylish." There is no HUD, so the health system is managed by paying close attention to the outline around Afro. If his colored outline begins to turn red, he is near death and needs to get out of the fight quickly.

There are special attacks called focus attacks that slow the camera down in order to make precision slices with your blade. This is essential for dealing with large groups of enemies because it can eliminate some with one slice.

After a few chapters, Ninja Ninja introduces a mini-game called "Body Part Poker" that alters the way in which you would normally approach a group of enemies. Basically, the heads, hands, and feet all count towards a face card and a different type of enemy is the suit of the card and the goal is to achieve a full house, straight flush, or three of a kind by slicing off the corresponding body part. Violent, yet fun.

There is one major weakness with Afro Samurai though and that is the camera. For whatever reason, the camera controls are tied to one another instead of being independent and that makes some people (like me) frustrated when they prefer only one axis to be inverted, not both. To play devil's advocate, the camera does stay in a pretty good spot most of the time without manipulation at all. It's only when you need to run towards the camera and swing it around when it falls apart.

Afro Samurai is not a long game by any means. Around 5 - 8 hours should be the norm for most people. There are two difficulty levels, but only Normal is available from the start. The Hard difficulty is only unlocked after you beat it once.

Like I said earlier, platforming portions don't penalize you for failing, so the only times that anyone would have to restart are during a fight. I never died from a normal group of enemies, but there were a few boss battles that I had to replay a few times before I learned the patterns. Other than those few occasions, Afro Samurai is a moderately difficult game offering challenges when need be, but still being easy enough for any newcomer.

Game Mechanics:
At the core of Afro Samurai is a fairly basic control scheme. (X) jumps while the remaining face buttons are responsible for the different types of attacks. (Square) is the horizontal attack, (Triangle) is the vertical, and (O) is for kicks. Guard with (R1) and initiate focus attacks with (L1).

The developers did a really good job at keeping things simple, but I think they did a poor job explaining things. On-screen instructions pop up for just a second and then they are gone. Most of the times that I was stuck, I had to go into the Pause Menu and look around for the attack or command that I should have been using for the situation. (Hint: Sprinting is (L3))

While Afro Samurai may have some flaws, there are moments of brilliance that prove that it has potential. Very few licensed tie-ins attempt anything unique with the I.P., but Afro Samurai proves that sometimes a game can be better than its source material. While it may not be as great as Goldeneye or Chronicles of Riddick, it comes pretty close and if every movie game that was made was as good as Afro Samurai, I wouldn't hesitate to buy more of them.

The best way that I can sum it up is if you have any interest in Afro Samurai at all, I believe that you will not be disappointed with your time spent with Afro. If it gets a trophy patch and fixes a few minor bugs, then it would be a must-buy.

-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

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