El Shaddai hands-on preview

It's pretty tough to stop a group of renegade angels. No one knows this better than Enoch, who has been charged by God to do just that. After a group of winged ones called the Grigori, who were appointed by God to look over humans, became fascinated by their earthly subjects and decided to defect. Rather than allowing God to flood the Earth to rid it of the angels, Epoch made a deal: If he could capture and return all the angels to Heaven, then God wouldn't doom all of Earth to a watery fate. Seems fair, right?

To do so, Enoch has to travel to the Tower of Babel, where the angels have barricaded themselves in. This version of the biblical locale isn't exactly the huge, stone tower that is usually associated with the monument. It's an ever-changing colorful landscape that's bizarre to look at and even weirder to play. It really doesn't look like anything else, and isn't terribly easy to describe. For a bit, it looks vaguely like Japanese watercolor with neon shading. And then, all of the sudden, the colors switch into negative. We asked why, and were met with a shrug and a non-explanation that that's just how this world operates. As long as it keeps looking that good, we don't mind.

At first, we were kind of thrown off by the visuals, as it was occasionally difficult to tell what was a pit and what was just a darker piece of the land. But then it would all be forgiven when the abstract visuals would do something really amazing. When met with a seemingly impossible to cross pit in one of the 2D platforming levels, we were whisked away by a swirling cloud and carried to the next group of platforms. Because the clouds looked almost identical to those in the background, we weren't exactly expecting that to happen, but we were pleasantly surprised that it did.

It's this sort of abstraction that intrigues us about El Shaddai. The world isn't like anything we've seen before. Of course, that's to be expected from the same art team as Okami, but this is on another level. There's no UI to speak of, with Enoch's health represented by the amount of armor he has left on his body and the state of his weaponry represented by how corrupted by orange and black light it becomes. It's an elegant and stylish presentation, and we hope it stays that way.

Breaking up the platforming are combo-based combat segments. But instead of your typical two-button combo system, everything is done with a single button and proper timing. Rather than just jamming the attack button and hoping combos happen, a series of quick taps and delays will pull off different stuff. Two quick taps and a delayed one will knock enemies into the air for aerial combos. It may seem a little repetitive at first, but it's surprisingly deep and it's certainly a cool twist on the traditional combo system. It helps that there's three different weapons – one aggressive, one ranged, and one defensive – with vastly different combat timing and moves to shake things up.

We didn't get a huge taste of El Shaddai, but what we've managed to get to get our hands on looks incredibly interesting. With influences coming from all over the place, including boss designs influenced by Zelda games, combat inspired by the Devil May Cry series, and even character design inspired by various rock stars (we hear there's a David Bowie in Labyrinth inspired angel!), it's got the weirdness chops to be a cult hit.

Mar 7, 2011