When Afro levels up, he may gain a new move, or he may not. There's no way to know what it is in a simple way – the game tells you nothing. Instead, you have to pause, then scroll through the loooong lists of moves and try to figure out which move you just earned. “Hmm, did I have that move before? I don't remember. I guess that's new?” You can't even press up to quickly flip to the last entry in the list. Why did it have to be such a chore?
The lists of moves certainly aren't lacking in combos. Unfortunately, the game doesn't provide incentive to use them – Afro can get by just randomly slashing and then blocking occasionally, and the really long combos just make it take longer to kill enemies, because almost every enemy can be killed with a single Focus attack. Why hit a guy fifteen times when he can be killed in a fraction of the time? On top of that, the Focus attacks gain more XP, so you're encouraged to use them as often as possible.
Another major frustration is the wildly winging difficulty. Most of the game is not challenging at all, with hundreds of the same clones providing repetitive fodder, and even most of the bosses are easily overcome by simply waiting to block their attacks and then counterattacking. Then out of the blue a boss with a flamethrower shows up, and it's so frustrating we were cursing at the TV. Now, difficulty based on fairness if fine; we don't mind losing to what feels fair. But this boss felt horribly cheap – often his fire would obscure the camera completely (there's that ugly head rearing again), and the window to attack him between fire bursts was extremely short.
Immediately after the hair-ripping flamethrower boss, we came to a place where our helpful and potentially imaginary sidekick Ninja Ninja informed us, “Cut the ropes!” Indeed a fat juicy rope twinkled like every other interactive object that came before. We approached, we hacked, we slashed, we jumped and slashed. We used Focus and did perfect vertical slice... and watched our sword bounce of the invulnerable rope. All this time, ol' Ninja Ninja yelled over and over: “Cut the ropes!” After literally five minutes of this, we got at a weird angle deep under the rope (not the angle from which you initially approach) and managed to cut the rope. “Wha?”
A perfect example of how Afro Samurai seems to have gone through zero usability testing. Nobody mentioned the invulnerable rope? Everyone said the camera was perfect? Scrolling through the lists for new moves was hunky-dory? Oh, right, the manual can take care of that! Indeed, the manual does explain so much that the game can't be bothered with. Oh wait – the manual's listed control for Dash is wrong. Good thing the only source of useful information on the game is trustworthy.
It’s really too bad that Afro Samurai is bogged down by nagging annoyances, because the core game is actually decent, if not spectacular. If it had a healthy dose of polish it would be a solid rental (but not full-price purchase). As of now, it could still scrape by on a rental for fervent fans of the show or beat-‘em-ups in general – just be ready to wade through a morass of irritations.
Jan 27, 2009