Anyone who’s ever watched more than five minutes worth of anime knows that you can usually expect some pretty weird shit, and the Afro Samurai game based on the anime of the same name is certainly no exception. The fact that the main character seems to be the only gentleman of color walking around a hip-hop flavored version of feudal Japan becomes downright normal when compared to the endless barrage of other oddities, like a teddy-bear-headed cyborg assassin driving a motorcycle, for example. Suffice to say, if you’re some kind of traditionalist, best to run away screaming right…about…now. Joining them should be anyone who pales at the sight of blood, because daaaaamn! On the other hand, if you’ve got a strong stomach and you like your action games with a whole lot of slicing and dicing, there might just be a little something here worth checking out.
Afro Samurai the game is sort of a condensed version of the basic Afro Samurai storyline, detailing the origins of his bloody quest for revenge all the way through his final confrontation with Justice, the man who killed his father. To do this you’re going to have to cut a lot of people in half, thirds, quarters, and other miscellaneous chunks. Without a whole lot of pretence, you must hack your way through the hordes of katana-fodder as you make your way across each of the ten levels, most of which culminate in some kind of ridiculously over-the-top boss fight.
As quality of beat-em-ups goes, Afro Samurai is just okay. There’s a lot of crazy whirling dervish combos that you can unlock, both by leveling up (read as: killing lots of dudes) and by finding hidden memories on each level, but the highlight of the combat system is a bullet-time style slow-mo concentration mode where you can charge up attacks and literally carve up the opposition with perfectly timed strikes. The animations are all pretty slick, as are the graphics in general, and it can make for a pretty crazy show. The downside of all this though is that concentration mode is so powerful and so readily available that there’s seldom any reason to use any of the amusing but largely impractical combos. And for the most part the seemingly endless parades of baddies aren’t hard, they’re just extremely numerous, and wack-a-moleing through them can get a little stale. Throw in some really weird and gadgety boss fights and you’ve got a game that seems to fail more than it succeeds.
Ultimately Afro Samurai ends up being a pretty classic style over substance experience. It brings some interesting graphical style, some cool hip-hop beats, and some top-notch voice work by Sam Jackson to the party, but it’s too short, too repetitive, and too flawed design-wise to be anything but a mediocre game. Only if you really love gory swordplay or Afro Samurai are you likely to find anything here but a passing novelty, and that doesn’t meet most people’s criteria for a gaming purchase. Rental or bargain-bin pick up maybe.