I’m a big fan on the Afro Samurai Manga. I loved the Samuel L. Jackson voiced anime, and despite its issues, I had a soft spot for the original Afro Samurai video game released on Xbox 360 and PS4 back in 2009. So, as you can imagine, I was rather looking forward to the episodic sequel to Namco Bandai’s initial effort. That game had its fair share of problems, but the style of the source material shone through, and anyway, this would be a chance to smooth out the rough edges and deliver the game that fans of the series had been hoping for, right……..right?
Well, no actually. New developer, Versus Evil have taken the intriguing concept of an episodic follow up to the first game starring the bear headed, Kuma and driven it into the ground via an array of spectacularly poor design choices, shoddy graphics, glitchy gameplay and inconsistent and largely broken combat. Revenge of Kuma is, to put it bluntly, an unmitigated disaster.
Few properties lend themselves as potentially well to the video game format as Afro Samurai, and despite the first game offering a decent template to build upon, this first foray into the episodic sequel is nothing short of a technical and artistic abomination – I simply don’t understand how they have managed to get it so unbelievably wrong. It plays worse, it looks worse (despite being on a new generation of consoles) and somehow, despite having the source material to work from, they have managed to absolutely botch the story. It’s not that the story is necessarily bad, but the way it has been framed coupled with an array of technical issues that ensure that the music is often playing very loudly over the dialogue, ensures that any chance that the game might have had of telling a half decent story is ultimately squandered.
Despite the use of some gorgeous looking stills to tell half the story (easily the best looking thing in the game), Revenge of Kuma spends just as much time telling the tale via the poorly animated and largely characterless in-game visuals. Not only that, but much of that story is told via horribly playable story segments that see you crawling along the floor or walking in outrageously short bursts as Kuma (and occasionally as Jinno during the games’ many flashbacks), while shouting “OTSURU!!!” or “I REMEMBER EVERYTHING!!!” in an anguished voice for the umpteenth bloody time. Again, the story has the potential for impact, but when it’s broken up every few seconds to allow you to walk a few steps before jumping to a different visual storytelling device before jumping back again, well, it all becomes horribly disjointed and really rather grating.
This might have been forgivable if the gameplay was up to scratch, but despite the mechanics rarely asking you to do anything more than attack enemies (oh, and walk a few feet), Revenge of Kuma’s core gameplay is embarrassingly inept. There are three different styles that are unlocked throughout the episode, but none feel genuinely different from one another. Also, beyond a few battles right at the end of the episode, there is rarely any reason to change your style of attack with the vast majority of battles won by spamming a single button. You will occasionally get an idea of what the developer was going for with the three ‘unique’ combat styles and how they could be effectively changed mid-battle, but sadly, despite the odd fleeting moment of gameplay in which it all seems to come together, for the most part, it all feels tacked on and largely pointless.
There is a counter button ala Arkham Knight, Assassin’s Creed, Mad Max etc etc etc etc, but somehow, even that doesn’t work. The limited animations and very poor collision detection certainly play a part, but the biggest crime is that the counter system has been implemented with no thought as to how it effects the rest of the core combat. You’ll see the usual flash above an enemy to inform you that an attack is coming, but they will often be too far away to actually hit you and with a fixed counter animation, it’ll often leave you needlessly open to other attacks. That would be easier to accept if it was something you could learn to read, but sometimes, despite the distance, the enemy will nonetheless make up the ground and attack you anyway. This means that countering is subsequently relegated to an infuriating guessing game in which you’ll often find yourself open to attack regardless of your own actions due to the inconsistencies of fundamental mechanic. Needless to say, it’s very annoying.
Things are a little better when on the offensive, but again, all three styles feel incredible similar with only the unique finishing moves really setting them apart. These one hit kills do look the part, but even here, the dodgy hit detection will see enemies cut in twain despite the fact that your blade never got within an inch of their body.
These types of visual glitches are not unique to the combat either – in fact, they are prevalent throughout the entire experience. Be it clipping, frame rate drops or missing parts of the scenery; from a purely technical perspective, Revenge of Kuma is an absolute mess. There is some decent art design to be found here, but it’s rarely long before it is inevitably ruined by dodgy animations, bizarre pacing or yet another technical bug that drags you kicking and screaming away from any potential sense of immersion.
With a broken upgrade system rounding off the package (I was left with 42 unusable upgrade points by time I finished the mercifully brief 2 hour episode), Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma Volume One has very little in the way of redeeming features. I don’t enjoy crapping on video games, but this really is a stinker of undeniably epic proportions. With upcoming episodes advertised as your progress through the game, I can only hope that Versus Evil get their act together in time for the next release. Sadly, as good as any follow up might be, I fear that they have already burnt far too many bridges with this buggy, ugly and poorly designed mess. Sure, some of the hand drawn cut-scenes are kinda cool and music throughout, despite far too much repetition, is certainly catchy, but beyond these most minor of positives, Revenge of Kuma Volume One stands as one of the most disappointing and downright worst video games of 2015.
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