Afro Samurai - first impressions

After Afro’s father, the number one warrior in a futuristic, feudal Japan, is cut down by a ruthless gunman named Justice, you should expect vengeance to be had. And because Afro is voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, the biggest badass on stage and screen, eloquent swears will flow just as copiously as ninja blood. Based on the manga and anime of the same name, Afro Samurai tasks you with slicing through anyone unfortunate enough to stand in front of his blade. Hitting the PS3 and 360 this fall, we had a chance to check out Samurai in motion and came away impressed with the result.

Immediately we’re reminded of cel-shaded masterpiece Okami with Afro’s art design and Japanese setting. Rather than outright copy the former’s pastel-induced super happy fun style, Afro sports a darker atmosphere. The color palette consists of dark hues in rocky waterfall setting and the surrounding village stands darkly sinister at night. Afro himselfis rail thin and posed to battle, while a cigarette lazily dangles from his lips. He dashes forward with the elegance of Shinobi, even mimicking the famous assassin with his flowing bandana. On closer inspection, Afro has pencil-like sketch marks adorning his character model and crimson that stays on his blade after battles, of which there are many.

Fighting is a bit more strategic than your typical hack-and-slash affair. Using three attack buttons, you’ll slash, block and combo your way to victory. Reminiscent of God of War, you can even launch baddies into the sky and juggle them using air combos. Enemies aren’t dummies either. They can roll, duck and even hop over your blade to stay alive.

But when you do connect with your sword, enemies are sliced apart depending on where they’re struck. We saw ninjas lose legs, heads and even saw a number of them split down the middle from head to crotch. Afro can also hop onto enemies and chuck them in any direction. Either that or decide to finish them off via decapitation or a particularly brutal kill, where Afro just shoved his sword through a ninja’s face. If you kill enemies quick enough, the screen fades to saturated white and a comic panel depicting Afro’s unblinking eye scrolls across the screen, enabling Focus mode and one-hit kills.

In fact, Afro will invariably play like a cinematic comic book, as enemies charging you are depicted in separate panels that show up on screen. Also lending to the atmosphere of the anime is the integration of hip hop music by RZA, giving this game a highly illegal amount of funk. Also making it in the game from the show are Okiku and even the entire Empty Seven Clan, doubling as bosses. We only witnessed a small taste of what Afro Samurai had in store for us and can’t wait to see what else lays in store for the hip hop warrior. Check back in the coming months for more on Samurai.

Apr 16, 2008