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Game Review

by Jean-Karlo Lemus,

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron HD Remaster

Nintendo Switch

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron HD Remaster Video Game Review
Seven Angels have fallen from Heaven, betraying God and leading Humanity towards destruction. Their taint upon the world engenders the Nephilim, who might destroy Earth before Heaven enacts a Great Flood to cleanse everything. You are Enoch, tasked with embarking upon a timeless journey to purify the souls of the Fallen Angels and prevent the Nephilim from destroying Creation.

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron was a curious game when it released in 2011. The world wasn't quite ready for it then, but time (and a PC port) helped people accept it. With a new Nintendo Switch port available, even more gamers can experience Enoch's transcendental adventure across the world. How does it fare on Nintendo's portable device?


For the most part, it fares well. At first blush, El Shaddai is gorgeous. Its art direction is nothing short of brilliant, constantly changing perspective and putting beautiful sketches of its literally-angelic cast in full view. Enoch explores rich worlds, from ethereal tunnels of clear stones and pools of water to mysterious tribal cities dotted with anachronistic skyscrapers. Players have no control over the camera, but they get the best view of Enoch traipsing across floating platforms. El Shaddai also has scores of moments where it shifts into a 2D perspective. Enoch leaps through sprawling cathedrals etched with images of the four Archangels, literally runs past a summary of events occurring over hundreds of in-game years, escapes caverns flooding with vile darkness, or crosses playful playgrounds where the dopey Nephilim frolic about. It helps that the characters, from Enoch to the lowest spirit attacking him, are all so memorably designed. All of the Fallen Angels have the same suit of armor—until you notice they all have different bestial faces etched into their chest plates. In a creative take on minimalism, El Shaddai has no heads-up display: your health is displayed via Enoch's armor. As you take more and more damage, your armor cracks more and more until Enoch is wearing nothing but his Levi's; meanwhile, Enoch's blows crack enemy armor. Similarly, weapons all have a measure of durability, requiring Enoch to periodically "purify" them of residual vileness from enemies before they break. This is easily seen by weapons turning from white and blue to black and red. There's also a fun way to bounce back from defeat in battle by mashing buttons, giving players a few extra chances while on a roll so long as their fingers are up to it.


This trend of simplicity runs throughout the game. El Shaddai is stylish enough in the sense to be a character action game, but more in the artistic sense than in the bombastic sense. The game only has three weapons: the sword-like Arch, the long-range Gale, and the shielded Veil gauntlets. They have the basic move lists: a basic combo, a counter-attack, and a guard break. Enoch can only wield one at a time, switching weapons by stealing them from enemies. And each weapon has an advantage against another: the Gale can overpower the Arch, the Veil can punch through Gale's salvos, and the Arch can overwhelm Gale's fists with a flurry of slashes. As enemies spawn, you have to prioritize which enemy to target and attack to have the easiest fight. There aren't many puzzles to speak of, unless reaching a switch to activate a moving platform constitutes a puzzle.


Here, the cracks begin to show in El Shaddai. It's fun to jump around with Enoch, and his weapons confer different means of moving around—the Arch lets Enoch glide across chasms, while the Gale lets him dash through the air. But the platforming in El Shaddai does feel a little floaty and sloppy. Because you can't control the camera, you have to eyeball a lot of jumps with nothing to gauge them but Enoch's shadow—sooner or later, you'll find yourself stuck on a jump simply because it's hard to tell if Enoch can make it or not. It's worse in some of the Dark Caverns you need to clear, where Enoch also has to evade the rising tide of darkness. All it takes is one slip for you to get railroaded into a prolonged Bad Ending.


Combat can also suffer a little due to the attempts made at simplification. There's no lock-on mechanic in combat, so players can only direct Enoch at a nearby enemy and hope for the best—even if there are multiple enemies or you're using the ranged Gale. Using a guard break attack requires you to make a paused input (making an attack, waiting a moment, then making another attack); it can be hard to judge whether you've paused long enough for the input to register, especially if you're using the Veil with its slow attack animations. The button for purifying your weapon is the same button for stealing another weapon; there were more than a few times when extra weapons were lying around in the arena, and I found myself accidentally switching because I decided to purify a weapon just a little too close to a stunned enemy or weapon drop.


But those are nothing new; anyone who's played El Shaddai before knows to expect those bits of sloppiness, and any newcomer could feasibly power through them (if platforming doesn't tilt you too much). The real question is how the Switch port specifically stands up. There are no surprises here: if you're coming from the PC version, the graphical fidelity will have taken a hit by comparison. El Shaddai looks great; the framerate doesn't seem to dip below 30 fps all that often, but it's very noticeable that Enoch moves much more smoothly when there aren't any other enemies or objects on screen, and with the visual splendor on display it's a shame the rest of the game can't move that well all the time. But that's the price paid for a portable Switch version; the ability to play El Shaddai while curled up in bed more than makeup for the less-than-60fps framerate.


And really, that's what it all boils down to. El Shaddai is a very ambitious title with a lot of creativity. It's an adaptation of the apocryphal Book of Enoch, with the major players resembling actors in trendy outfits (Enoch resembles Brad Pitt more than a little, and Lucifel's cell phone never ceases to get a chuckle out of me). The bid towards simplicity helps El Shaddai more than hurts it, letting you focus on the visuals at hand—and the constant visual splendor is certainly a feast for the eyes. This might not be the ideal means of playing El Shaddai, but any means of playing this game is worth it.

Overall : B
Graphics : B+
Sound/Music : A
Gameplay : B
Presentation : A

+ Stellar art direction, engaging-yet-simple gameplay, tons of creative flourishes
Platforming can be annoying, inconsistent framerate is a bummer, the simplicity sometimes works against it

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