Afro Samurai Review
When you’re the baddest mofo this side of a Tokugawa Shogunate, it isn’t so much a question of if you’ll get a videogame, only when. For the anime-borne hip-hop sensation Afro Samurai, that day has finally come, materializing as a next-gen action slice-‘em-up for the PS3 and 360. From its bloody bouts to its unwavering sense of cool, Afro Samurai is a game that definitely prides itself on style, but does this ragtag ronin make the cut?
Life is lonely at the top, especially if you’re a stone-cold killer named Afro. As the second deadliest swordsman in the land, Afro is a guy challenged by few and hated by many, but rank is about the last thing on this troubled warrior’s mind. The man that’s number one just also happens to be the man that challenged Afro’s dad years before…and well, let’s just say things got a little personal once he decided to get ahead of the competition.
Afro’s pursuit of vengeance unfurls in a pseudo-episodic manner meant to mimic the progression of the TV mini-series. But with sparse dialogue, a dearth of cutscenes, and lazy use of voiceover, a significant portion of the show’s potency gets lost in translation.
Some of the most pivotal moments in Afro’s tale are diminished to awkward transitions between battles, and with missing characters and scenes newcomers may find more than a few plot holes to jump through. The game earns a few good marks for a unique plot twist and lassoing in the show’s respective talent, but in terms of painting a picture, this legend of headbands and hoes could stand to be a bit more on-point.
With katana in-hand and dozens of fools lined up for the kill, Afro Samurai channels a distinct Ninja Gaiden vibe that’s simple in goal and even simpler in design. You must take out everything in sight. Limbs fly with careless abandon as Afro traverses each of the game’s linearly constructed levels flooded with baddies. But with action that can teeter from dry to annoyingly relentless, the game’s uneven pacing will often leave you begging for variety.
Every so often, the game makes a few modest attempts at exploration with light platforming bits and the occasional switch to hit, but in all, there isn’t much going on that gives the blandly-designed stages depth or range. On more than one occasion, it also seems like a huge case of Groundhog Day as one stage endlessly repeats itself. In reality, the culprit turns out to be vague objectives and poor event scripting that cause you to cheaply retread earlier parts of the level.
Needless to say, bounding around feudal Japan can grate on the nerves, but at least Afro’s not in it all alone. Joining him for the ride is his impish id Ninja Ninja, who acts as Afro’s certified hype man and living compass. The guy certainly plays up his role as comic relief, but it isn’t quite as funny when his navigation skills cause him to appear as a disembodied voice barking in obscure directions.
Stacked up to its contemporaries, though, Afro Samurai could definitely do worse. Neat touches like a body part poker mini-game and a HUD-less health interface lend the game some much-needed personality, though at a slim six hours and a meager list of bonus features, the ends can definitely be challenged to justify the means.
Falling in line with the law of the number one headband, everything in Afro Samurai is governed by the cruel steel of the sword. Battles ensue in a furious flurry of light and heavy strikes that can be brought together in flashy techniques and blood-spilling combos. Though you’ll no doubt get some mileage out of classics like “Where’s My Money!” and “Afronado,” the true emphasis of combat lies in the almighty focus attack: a time-slowing maneuver that lets Afro coil up and release a single, deadly master stroke.