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

Jordan Baughman is a freelance journalist who has written for the likes of GamesRadar and Gamer magazine. With a passion for video games and esports, Baughman has been covering the industry for years now, and even hopped the fence to work as a public relations coordinator for clients that include EA, Capcom, Namco, and more.