'Afro Samurai' game delivers gory, gorgeous action

If you thought Samuel L. Jackson's previous projects were laden with profanity and violence, such as the Kill Bill or Pulp Fiction flicks, wait till you lay your hands on Afro Samurai, an over-the-top animated adventure based on the television miniseries of the same name.

This gory but gorgeous Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3 action game was created and published by Surge, a new division of Namco Bandai Games.

If you're unfamiliar with the TV show, Afro Samurai follows the title character, a cigarette-smoking samurai with an Afro (voiced by Jackson, who also serves as executive producer on the animated series), who goes on a mission to avenge the murder of his father in a "futuristic, yet feudal Japan." With sword in hand, this lone warrior, Afro, hacks and slashes countless enemies, while seeking to destroy the murderous Number One and strip him of his ceremonial headband.

This game is beautiful, honoring the same graphical style as the show with smoothly animated movement, graphic novel-style storyboarding sequences and dramatic slow-motion effects that all contribute to the game's charm. Add an original hip-hop soundtrack from The RZA (of Wu-Tang Clan fame) and you've got one interesting game from an audiovisual perspective.

But this Mature-rated game is not for young eyes (or ears, due to excessive cursing). Afro spills copious amounts of blood as he takes down villain after villain. Consider yourself warned; after all, the website for the game is BloodisBeautiful.com.

Controlling Afro from a third-person perspective is pretty simple, with light and heavy attacks, kicks and jumps. There's even a reward for pulling "combos" featuring a mix of these moves: enough "Focus Points" accumulated by savvy ninja moves lets you press and hold a button on the controller and enter a slow-moving, black-and-white fighting mode, allowing Afro to pull off special attacks for a limited time (the only color on the screen is red blood). As you fight through the game, you will unlock new maneuvers and can also "level up," a common feature in role-playing games, which makes Afro more powerful over time.

Fighting is the name of the game, and the combat is quite rewarding, but there are also some less-gratifying puzzle-solving elements and "platforming" tasks that challenge you to balance on planks and platforms, jump and swing on poles, and so forth. Another issue is the auto-camera that follows you around and sometimes obscures your view in tight places.

Shortcomings aside, this game's high-production values (including its stunning art style, memorable set pieces and great soundtrack) and over-the-top combat should more than satiate adult gamers — regardless of whether they're already fans of Afro Samurai.

Contact Saltzman at gnstech@gns.gannett.com.

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