By Frank Tobin
The old school is the new “new school,” as recent releases seem to suggest (“Mega- Man 9” springs to mind immediately). Game development companies, evidently desperate for fresh ideas, are looking back at old intellectual properties and attempting to cash in on our nostalgia (which, when done well, is most certainly not a bad thing). And sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
But the ones that do seem to work the best, are those that retain the old school, no-nonsense, feel of games long past: “Super Mario Galaxy” for the Nintendo Wii, which emulates all the Mario games before it, “Ninja Gaiden Sigma” for the Sony PS3, which expertly blends blistering game play difficulty with eye-popping visuals, and “Gears of War 2” for the XBOX 360, with its attention to cinematic detail and smooth controller interface.
However, the games listed are the exception, and not the rule. The simple fact is that gamers are getting flustered by the empty promises delivered by the majority of multi-million dollar budget games, games that promise only a cinematic experience, while offering nothing new in terms of old school design. All the most simplistic of gamers want is to boot the game and kill some bad dudes, akin to the glorious experiences of the days of Golden Age gaming yore. That’s why “Afro Samurai” is the best game of 2009, and if anyone disagrees, they’re wrong.
Actually, the latter is a touch over-dramatic. But in any case, ‘Afro’ does deliver on its promise to allow you, the gamer, the ability to take up your sword and slice and dice anyone, and anything, in your path for revenge. Blood spews, and pools, around your feet; the vulgar one-liners of your counterpart Ninja-Ninja (the character Afro’s sidekick), encouraging you to press on through the piling body parts, and walls of the dead you accumulate along the way; and, of course, Samuel L. Jackson reprising his role as both Afro, and Ninja-Ninja, with The Rza (from the fabled Wu-Tang Clan) supplying the best in old school hip-hop beats heard this side of Staten Island New York.
Mixing elements found in the cult-classic Anime, and newer elements written exclusively for this game’s release, ‘Afro’ set out to establish itself as a one-trick-pony type of experience: hack, and invariably, slash.
From a game play standpoint, this game is top-flight entertainment. The combos fly off your fingertips as you deftly move from one poor, doomed, soul to the next. All is not perfect in this futuristic feudal Japan. For one, the enemy types get tedious, and over-worked. Fighting the same straw-hat drone can get a tad tiring after an hour. Also, the platforming sequences not only do an excellent job of completely breaking up the flow of the bloody action, but perform like a dying harp seal trying to jump from rock to rock (see: poorly). However, the simplicity of its sword-play scheme is enough that it would encourage even a younger crowd to take part… if not for the excessive vulgarity and spine-tingling violence; which leads into the audio/visual category.
And here is where the game shines most brightly: the environments are a beautiful mix of high polygons, and cel-shading; the blood effects, and split-screen story-telling, immerse you in the action like few other games can; and the aforementioned music, that still haunts you with its classically melodic hip-hop nature, strikes the perfect chord when you start to get into that killing groove.
If you’re a fan of the Anime, or just a fan of senseless action, then this is the game for you. Just go ahead and walk right past the Wii aisle at your local game store; that section will see less action than Phyllis Diller on an alcohol bender.