For those not in know about Afro Samurai, it was originally a manga that then got adapted into a cartoon, and features an assassin literally named Afro living in a sort-of future yet feudal Japan. Possibly inspired by Highlander, the story focuses on the number one assassin (originally Afro's father), who can only be challenged by the number two assassin. This naturally leads to all the other assassins wanting to kill number two so they can challenge number one.
Of course, Afro is the current number two. This straightforward setup provides obvious fertile ground for a videogame. A beat-'em-up (or in this case slash-'em-up) makes sense, but in this age of gaming, if you're going to make something that holds the player's attention, you've got to avoid the megalithic hurdle known as Button Mashing. You've got to provide something approaching the depth and variety of God of War, even if you don't have the budget for something so grandiose.
Afro Samurai has pretty much one twist to make it stand out: the Focus attacks, where you slow down time (yawn) and precisely aim slashes to dissect foes however you like (yay!). The entire game's cel-shaded, cross-hatched cartoon look is fantastic, and it all looks particularly slick when an enemy is floating through the air on slo-mo just before you slice him half. Or chop his feet off. Or his arms. Or his head. It's quite satisfying to get a particularly brutal Focus strike off, especially early on in the game.
Alas, the buzz cannot last with gimmicks. Sure, it's a cool gimmick, but it doesn't take long for it to get old, and then you've just got an unremarkable action game, except with serious usability issues. First, the atrocious camera. It spins in reverse to your inputs – press left to look right – and there's no way to change it to the intuitive way that 95% of action games do it. The camera also has a weird tendency to drift to an upward angle for no reason. The view is also too close to Afro. Everything you want in an action camera: farther back, higher up, intuitive, simple – is lacking. Basically you have to constantly babysit the camera, and even then, you're often attacked by enemies you can't see.
The second major usability issue is the glaring lack of information. Afro gains experience and levels, but XP gained per kill, and XP needed to level up isn't given. Quite far into the game it's revealed that performing a perfect slice between the eyes or through the neck gains Afro bonus XP. Gee, that would've been nice to know hours ago so we could have been trying for extra XP all that time.
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