Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma Volume 1 Review — Unadulterated Ugliness
The original Afro Samurai was a relatively smooth adaptation of the popular manga and anime series. It wasn’t groundbreaking, but it was faithful hack-and-slash action that fans could get behind: mindless, fanservice-y fun in the vein of One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3 or Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment. Best of all, it finally gave Takashi Okazaki’s gorgeous, stylized artwork a playable vehicle.
By comparison to Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma Volume 1, the first title now looks like the Metal Gear Solid V of licensed games. This new entry is a shambling mess that bears little resemblance to the 2009 original, and rather little resemblance to a playable video game at all. It’s an unmitigated disaster, a depressing trip through unfinished levels broken up by excruciatingly long cutscenes and ear-grinding voiceovers.
If you’ve never engaged with any Afro Samurai-related media before, don’t even bother trying to understand the narrative as it’s presented here. The tale makes an attempt at nonlinearity that falls flat on its face, and the result is a hideous blur of shrill screams, meaningless monologues and repulsive violence. Somewhere in this murky swill is a simple tale of murder and revenge, but it’s buried under layers and layers of heavy-handed, pseudo-artsy window dressing.
What can be gleaned about the story largely comes from the unintentionally hilarious objective windows that pop up, assigning long-winded and melodramatic tasks like “Confront the pain of knowing Afro killed the only father you ever knew.” These are far more informative than the cutscenes, which take two forms: 3D scenes in which the camera weaves between static models, and 2D slideshows of comic book art. During both of these, you can guarantee that someone is either a) shrieking, b) delivering a pretentious speech or c) participating in a combination of a and b. One particular sequence, in which a character extemporizes an endless monologue while the camera circles ad nauseum around a stone chair, has to be seen (and heard) to be believed.
Don’t expect the gameplay to be this title’s saving grace, either: if anything, it’s even more of an embarrassment. While the first game largely centered on hack-and-slash, this one is a mishmash of unfinished ideas seemingly thrown together at random. A lot of the time, you’re just running or crawling along a short path until the next cutscene. When you’re not, you wish you were, because you’re angrily fighting with the unresponsive combat controls or screaming in rage at the sticky climbing mechanics. In one instance, an enemy simply refused to die even after a 200+ combo, forcing a reset of the level.
There’s no semblance of logic or artistry to the level designs whatsoever — they’re neither formulaic nor organic, and there seems to be more padding than actual content. In one level, a sloppy quick-time event makes up the vast majority of your activity. A single mistake forces you to watch as your character is brutally murdered in an overlong failure sequence, complete with a few of the most annoying voiceovers in recent memory. In another stage, you spend an inexplicable amount of time wading through a field of corpses while comic book panels depicting their horrified faces slide on-screen. After finishing many of these levels, the prevailing feeling is “What the hell was that?”
As you might imagine, these depictions of gore and torture don’t even do us the favor of looking nice. Afro Samurai 2 looks like a bad PS2 game upscaled to high definition; muddy textures, hideous models, wooden animation and constant clipping are the order of the day here. It’s a shame, because Okazaki’s visual style is so striking in its depictions of rough-around-the-edges characters and brutal, stylized violence — absolutely none of that makes it to the screen here.
Combine the sloppy visuals with the nightmarish audio presentation — with voiceovers so poorly mastered that they crackle through your speakers — and you have one of the worst-looking, worst-sounding games on the system. Some of the soundtrack’s hip hop songs, procured by Wu-Tang alum RZA, are pretty stylish pieces of music. Unfortunately, even they are used in ways that make them irritating: played loudly while characters are speaking, for example, making it hard to hear what they’re saying. And yes, quite a few of them are overused to the point of absurdity.
An Unfinished Mess
Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma Volume 1 is an unpleasant, deeply depressing experience throughout its short running time. Its narrative is incomprehensible melodrama told through sloppy cutscenes and obnoxious monologues. The levels largely feel unfinished, offering only sporadic opportunities for player interaction. And aside from a few decent tunes courtesy of RZA, the audio and visual presentation is appalling in its lack of quality, featuring hideous textures and even uglier models. This is the first part of the episodic sequel to the PS3 original, and there’s nowhere to go but up — here’s hoping the second chapter sees some much-needed improvement. As it stands, this volume is an unmitigated disaster that’s impossible to recommend to even the most hardcore Afro Samurai fans.
Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma Volume 1 review copy provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.