E3 2011: El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron hands-on preview – lush art meets lunatic design

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is a Japanese-developed third-person action-platformer based upon the Book of Enoch, an apocryphal (read: not considered legit) Judeo-Christian text that was part of the Dead Sea Scrolls. But don’t go thinking you know El Shaddai just because you’ve read your Bible; the game takes a few liberties with its already questionable source material. For example, the main character is a well-cut blonde man prancing around in designer jeans trying to find seven fallen angels in order to stop God from flooding the Earth. Yes, you read that sentence correctly. This. Is. A.Weird. Effing. Game. But that’s actually what makes it so damn interesting.

Developed with Takeyasu Sawaki (character designer for Okami and Devil May Cry) at the wheel, El Shaddai sports artistic inspirations from what seem like a billion different sources. During our play time, we saw African and Japanese art designs featured in both the levels and the assortment of enemies we faced. Likewise, the exhibitor informed us that later levels featured designs inspired from Native American art and the film Tron. As utterly goofy as this all sounds, believe us when we say that this game is honest-to-goodness beautiful to behold. Colors blend and move across the screen like a living water-painting and we never encountered a single static screen. Considering how the majority of games we see are usually hung up on being as photo-realistic as possible, seeing the stark contrast of El Shaddai’s visual aesthetic is actually somewhat jarring in the best possible way. This is a very, very pretty game.

The combat in El Shaddai follows a simple two-button format that actually belies a great deal of depth. One button is used for attacking and the other blocks. Holding the block button and hitting attack will cause you to uppercut your enemies into the air and holding down the attack button will cause Enoch (the well-cut blonde man we initially mentioned) to dish out deadlier strikes. Using this simple format, it’s genuinely surprising how many different attacks you can string together.

The second half of the combat revolves around stealing weapons from your enemies and purifying said weapons. Once you’ve beaten an enemy into submission, you can hit the purify button to enter a short choreographed sequence where you take their weapon from them (we spent the majority of our time using something that looked like a long bow crossed with a hacksaw). As you use weapons on enemies, they become defiled and you must purify them to restore attack power (think of it as a stylized reload function). Purifying a weapon takes a couple seconds, so you need to time these instances carefully. Finally, the weapons you use alter Enoch’s mobility. For instance, the hacksaw-bow-weapon thing we mentioned granted Enoch the ability to hover in air. Another weapon we picked up enabled him to perform air dashes.

During our playthrough, gameplay kept swapping between 3D perspective and style that was very reminiscent of Devil May Cry (or any other action game, for that matter) to 2D side-scrolling platforming segments. The game has no HUD to speak of with damage being represented by Enoch’s armor chipping away. Also, El Shaddai is actually quite challenging. The demo never threw more than three enemies at us at once, but those instances proved to be legitimately taxing.

El Shaddai is a perplexing beast, indeed. It’s a shame to think that this game just might be overlooked because of its excessive weirdness. Surely, a game that’s bold enough to change its art direction every ten minutes, recklessly flip-flop between 2D/3D platforming and throw in Tron-themed levels all while sporting designer jeans deserves your attention?

Jun 13, 2011




  • PopularBluesMagicianSandyCabbage - June 15, 2011 12:14 a.m.

    The demo is pretty interesting... I heard that Shane Bettenhausen worked this game. From what I've played so far, it seems like the only measure of variety is in stealing others' weapons... which might get old. It just seems really simple. Or, maybe that's the genius of it, like chess. I do hope there's another gameplay element in there somewhere though. Otherwise it looks awesome.
  • eliguy83 - June 14, 2011 8:03 p.m.

    Been watching this one for a while too, can't wait.
  • ThatGuyFromTV - June 14, 2011 4:53 a.m.

    This is definitely going to be a cult hit with a bunch of people, but I think that most will just find it too weird to get. Not sure which side of the fence I'm on
  • Gahmah - June 13, 2011 11:21 p.m.

    you've actually missed out on some of the combat, delaying presses changes the following move, for example with the sword, you flip over your enemy, while with the green arrows, they go on a parabolic path to comedown like mortars on the enemy, similarly the moves of the attack button pause combined with R1 results in a line of of strikes stretching out from enoch firing off all the arrows.
  • silentflame666 - June 13, 2011 9:54 p.m.

    SEELE eyes from Evangelion in the last pic? Expected.
  • Westacles - June 13, 2011 9:17 p.m.

    Uh, the Book of Enoch is very legitimate, Jude actually even quotes from it. But it was decided that the text seemed to gnostic at the time and they decided to take it out of the biblical canon. But the Book of Enoch isn't gnostic at all. Anyway, looks like a cool game
  • 510BrotherPanda - June 13, 2011 9:08 p.m.

    I am slightly miffed that a reviewer in that trailer called it "if Lady Gaga made a game". I just don't see that as a legitimate enough comparison for a game like this...
  • BladedFalcon - June 13, 2011 8:50 p.m.

    @TriforcePlayer ...Says the guy sporting a fruiter guy in his avatar... Seriously though... Anyone passing this game up due to something as shallow as the look of the protagonist, regardless of the actual quality or originality of the game, is a bit of a dick. ...Which reminds me of all the assholes whining about the new DmC game without even waiting for the game to be further in development to know if it will really be a good game or not. Anyway, I have been keeping my eye on this game for a while now, looks really amazing, cool and different. The kind of stuff we ought to see more. If this game ends up being overlooked like Okami was, (and it probably will be... fucking retarded crowds...)I'm gonna be seriously pissed.
  • Dondada - June 13, 2011 7:49 p.m.

    Looking forward to this one, in 3D. Looks psychedelic.
  • TriforcePlayer - June 13, 2011 7:47 p.m.

    If he didn't look like a fruit I'd be interested.
  • renkun67 - June 13, 2011 7:37 p.m.

    DAY 1 also, no mention of dual sields?
  • reson8er - June 13, 2011 7:26 p.m.

    Another game (though, admittedly not nearly as artistically inspired) that mixed genres and really tried something different with its story was Nier. Although critically panned the game really was a something worth checking out. It has shooter, puzzle, sidescrolling, and 2-d platforming all wrapped up in a Action RPG shell.

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