Is there anything cooler than a black samurai that has an afro? Absolutely not. Afro Samurai started off as a manga created by Takashi Okazaki, and then anime created by Gonzo studios (creators of Full Metal Panic, Welcome to the N.H.K. and Chrono Crusade). A very stylish manga becoming a stylish anime and now a stylish videogame, Afro Samurai has a look and feel that manga/anime don't normally have. The best way to describe it is that if Quentin Tarantino felt the urge to create an anime, this would be it. As far as production values goes, there's very few games can compete. As a game, however, it falls a little short.
The story of Afro Samurai takes place in a "futuristic, yet feudal Japan" with our hero, a black samurai with an afro who is aptly called, Afro. Afro's journey is the tried and true journey to avenge his father. His father was formerly "Number One". In this world, "Number One" has the power like a god and can only be defeated only by one who is considered "Number Two". Like the manga/anime, the story goes into the background of Afro, the journey to avenge his father and the goal to be "Number One." There are some certain plot points within the game that are not in the original story with some providing more background for Afro while others change certain bits of the story around.
Playing through Afro Samurai, you'll notice that the game is just not anything new. Like other games, the attack buttons consist of a light attack and strong attack, as well as a kick attack. Pressing the same button over and over again will do a small combo, but it's the mix and matching of the different attacks that will make for more powerful combos. Afro can also do quick dashes to make up a lot of distance for an attack. For defense, there is a block button that with the right timing, can parry an attacking leaving the enemy wide open for an attack. Defeating enemies will raise your experience, and after a certain amount of enemies, you will level up. Leveling up means more health, more combos, and more damage dealt.
There are two special attacks that Afro can pull off that are pretty unique to the game. One is a charge attack that will slow down the enemies for a bit and you can charge your attacks for extra damage, and can focus on cutting parts of the body off. Sadly, this attack become less helpful later on because enemies take more damage than the charge attack will do, but there will be instances where this focus attack is needed because you have to target certain areas on the body. On the other hand, the second focus attack "overfocus", is a great way to mow down a lot of enemies at once. Enemies will slow down, and every attack Afro does will be a one hit kill to regular enemies. This focus attack only comes after you've defeated so many enemies.
Throughout the different levels, there is a mission that eventually takes you to the boss. In some cases, it's about just following the boss, in other cases, you may have to save somebody or destroy certain objectives. Of course, many enemies will stand in your path and you have to make your path a path of blood and body parts. Yes the body parts and blood will fly everywhere. When fighting enemies, they can damage you, of course, and after so much damage you die. DUH. But I brought this up because health is not as noticeable as in other games. The only way you can really tell you're about to die is that Afro's clothes will slowly turn red, seemingly because of his blood being soaked up by the fabric. Health recovery comes in the form of teddy bears scattered throughout the level, and the simple act of killing enemies.
There are points where there will be some platform jumping, and some "ninja" jumping such as the triple jump and the wall run/jump. In these jumping spots, missing the platform will technically kill you, but you're revived right away at where you jumped from a la Prince of Persia.
The bosses you fight start off easy with simple blocking/parrying techniques, but then they ramp up the difficulty requiring you to use every attack in your arsenal but only at the right times. Thankfully, bosses are pretty interesting since the regular enemies are such a big bore on how you beat them.
Where the gameplay needs a little help is the camera. Right away, everyone notices that the camera just does not feel right. It works opposite of the "normal" camera scheme you're used to in FPS games, and even "inverted" still feels awkward. Since you cannot zoom out or in, you're totally at the will of whatever camera distance is given to you. In some cases, you cannot move the camera at all even when you need to. It's by far not the worse camera I've dealt with, but the fact that it's noticeable means that it's a problem. Another really annoying thing is the lack of on screen info. You really can't tell where you're at health-wise, no clear gauge to show when your focus is filled up to do your "overfocus" attack, and nothing to tell you where your experience bar is at. For that last one, you can pause the game and see it, but it could have been put on screen. I never understand why developers insist on having their game have a clean screen of no info, yet they don't clearly tell you how to figure everything out in the tutorial or instruction booklet. I'm reminded of the Getaway for the PS2 that wanted to give you a movie-like experience, since there are no health bars or ammo icons on a movie screen, but they didn't tell you how to recover your health in the damn game. Developers have to remember, this is a game and people want to play it, but you have to tell them to play it. Don't make the tutorial long and tedious, but if you forget some important points, gamers will give up on the game right off the bat.
If there's an aspect of the game that surpasses 90% of the games out there, it would be the presentation. First off, I'll talk about the graphics. Using cel-shaded graphics works for recreating anime, but some games go too far in the "cel-shaded" aspect in that they look too cartoony and too bright. Afro Samurai's graphics keep with the darker, bleaker feel of the manga/anime. Everything looks great, and while there's not a tremendous amount of detail, it's the art style that is so visually appealing. I've normally thought cel-shaded graphics were an easy way for developers to make their game "artistic", but Afro Samurai really changes my view on the whole style. No game based on an anime comes close to looking as good
To put the audio in simple terms, no game has ever made me enjoy hip-hop as much as this game. Granted, I was a fan of hip-hop back when, but lately, it's been pretty lame. This awesome soundtrack is thanks to Rza of the Wu-Tang Clan. Similar to his work on the Kill Bill soundtrack, Rza has an ear for kung-fu/samurai music that sounds so familiar that you swear you heard it before, but you haven't. He's thought of those great sounds and melodies that feel so right. On top of that, the use of hip-hop is not like a jukebox on EA games or on GTA, but rather the hip-hop you hear goes with the action in the game. It's a literal beat-by-beat composition that puts you right in the mood to do some damage. For those that don't care for rap, you may enjoy it, but those extreme haters will probably not be pulled over to the other side.
Another very positive note is the return of the anime voice characters. Samuel L. Jackson, Ron Perlman, and Kelly Hu reprise their roles of Afro/Ninja Ninja, Okiku, and Justice respectively. By having these voice actors, it allows them to play out their roles like in the anime leaving out any forced attitude or lame attempts to create the feel of the anime. There have been games that bring back the cast to voice the game characters has failed horribly *cough*Lost: Via Domus*cough*, but being that this is based on an anime, the transition from anime voice work to video game voice work is unnoticeable.
With 6-8 hours of gaming, or a little less if you rush it, there's not a lot of game within the game. Replay value is limited to those who had so much fun that they want to beat it on hard, or the achievement whores that need to get as much achievements/trophies as possible.
If asked, I would put this game as a rental for those who want a solid action game to play, and a must buy for fans of the show. The gameplay leaves you wanting bits here and there, and for many, the game will start you off on a bad foot by being frustrating. It's not that the game has a learning curve but rather that the developers took away some expected on screen cues and they didn't give you a clear explanation of what's what. While I had the tedious, hand-holding tutorials, I equally hate to have to go online and search for simple stuff that should have been explained within the first few minutes. However, Afro Samurai does set the bar on the productions values of games based on anime. It sadly falls a little short on the gameplay putting far away from being perfect, but not close to where it's bad.