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Critical Reception: Namco Bandai's Afro Samurai

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Afro Samurai, Namco Bandai's internally U.S. developed manga-based action-adventure that "embraces its subject matter with vigor", but with ultimately mixed results, according to
This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Afro Samurai, Namco Bandai's internally U.S. developed manga-based action-adventure that "embraces its subject matter with vigor and delivers equally dynamic combat in spades," according to recent reviews. Afro Samurai, which is available for both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 and is the first game to debut on Namco Bandai's Surge label, currently earns a score of 64 out of 100 at Metacritic.com. Matt Miller at Game Informer scores Afro Samurai at 7.75 out of 10, explaining that the game effectively duplicates the style of the anime and manga series it's based on. "Licensed games rarely exhibit this much style and unique content," Miller writes. "Afro Samurai succeeds by delivering on the promise of the work it is based on while expanding the storytelling in memorable ways." A deep combat system also proves to be one of Afro Samurai's most impressive features. "The meat of Afro Samurai lies in its complex sword battles, which require careful timing and astute observation of enemy techniques," Miller explains. "Combos unlock over time, and there is an increasing level of skill involved in mastering combat – the hack and slash approach won't cut it." "Fast-paced juggling of enemies must be alternated with frequent use of a powerful slowdown mechanic to finish off foes," Miller continues. "This technique makes most encounters challenging and enjoyable." Miller finds that Afro Samurai's platforming segments aren't as well-executed, however. "Even as combat generally shines, the frequent devolutions into platforming don't hold up to scrutiny," he says. "Falling during simple leaps is far too easy, and the movement controls feel too stiff to provide a sense of freedom and agility that befits the character." Miller feels that a satisfying narrative makes up for these problems, though. "The game hits its stride through its sophisticated script and intriguing story," he notes. "Anyone who has seen the animated version will enjoy the way this game expands the mythology in meaningful ways, and diverges from the animated story at key moments." Over at GameSpot, Kevin VanOrd gives Afro Samurai a score of 7 out of 10. "Namco Bandai's newest hack-and-slash action game offers more than just a curly coif that reaches for the heavens," he begins. "It is an entertaining and thoroughly gory offering that contrasts sumptuous environments and crisp cel-shaded characters with shocking sights of slow-motion dismemberment." Though VanOrd claims that Afro Samurai stands up to the genre's best in terms of combat, the experience is lacking in other areas. "In Afro Samurai, you'll chop ninjas in half and watch their disembodied torsos drag themselves along by the arms until they collapse in a pool of blood," he describes. "Sights like these make for some wickedly satisfying combat, though in other areas, the game falls noticeably short of the standards set by genre predecessors such as Ninja Gaiden and Devil May Cry." VanOrd notes that Afro Samurai's platforming segments are particularly frustrating. "The inelegant jumping sections are easy to stomach in small doses, but they're strung into long and frustrating sequences late in the game--one of which you have to repeat if you die at the hands of the boss that appears afterward," he writes. "You can wall-run here and there, and leap up and grab certain ledges, but as a rule, you can perform these moves only when the game wants you to, and they're purely for getting from one spot to the next," VanOrd continues. "You can't string them into combat moves a la Ninja Gaiden, and rough animations make these acrobatics look as awkward as they feel." The game also suffers from uneven pacing at points. "In some levels, you'll wander around without encountering enemies for far too long; in a few others, nonstop waves of enemies will make you scream for variety that never comes," VanOrd criticizes. "These issues come to a head in the penultimate level: The combat, normally a head rush, gets a bit tedious, the platforming takes center stage, and a few broken checkpoints might force you to replay sequences that you've already plowed through." Afro Samurai's flashy presentation and strong combat sequences make for a compelling experience nonetheless, however. "Its flaws are noticeable," VanOrd admits, "but Afro Samurai is ultimately a lot of fun. It isn't the next action classic, but it embraces its subject matter with vigor and delivers equally dynamic combat in spades." Games Radar's Matthew Keast rates Afro Samurai at 5 out of 10, claiming that repetitive gameplay is the title's downfall. "This straightforward setup provides obvious fertile ground for a videogame," he begins. "A beat-'em-up (or in this case slash-'em-up) makes sense, but in this age of gaming, if you're going to make something that holds the player's attention, you've got to avoid the megalithic hurdle known as Button Mashing." Afro Samurai's cartoon-like graphics and time-slowing Focus mechanics are described as high points. "The entire game's cel-shaded, cross-hatched cartoon look is fantastic," Keast praises, "and it all looks particularly slick when an enemy is floating through the air on slo-mo just before you slice him half. Or chop his feet off. Or his arms. Or his head. It's quite satisfying to get a particularly brutal Focus strike off, especially early on in the game." "Alas, the buzz cannot last with gimmicks," Keast continues. "Sure, it's a cool gimmick, but it doesn't take long for it to get old, and then you've just got an unremarkable action game, except with serious usability issues." Keast cites a problematic camera as being particularly troublesome. "It spins in reverse to your inputs – press left to look right – and there's no way to change it to the intuitive way that 95% of action games do it," he writes. "The camera also has a weird tendency to drift to an upward angle for no reason. The view is also too close to Afro. Everything you want in an action camera: farther back, higher up, intuitive, simple – is lacking." "Another major frustration is the wildly winging difficulty," Keast says. "Most of the game is not challenging at all, with hundreds of the same clones providing repetitive fodder, and even most of the bosses are easily overcome by simply waiting to block their attacks and then counterattacking. Then out of the blue a boss with a flamethrower shows up, and it's so frustrating we were cursing at the TV." Keast still finds the title mildly enjoyable, however, despite its problems. "It's really too bad that Afro Samurai is bogged down by nagging annoyances, because the core game is actually decent, if not spectacular," he notes in conclusion. "It could still scrape by on a rental for fervent fans of the show or beat-'em-ups in general – just be ready to wade through a morass of irritations."

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