Game Reviewby Dave Riley,
Afro Samurai 2: Kuma's Revenge
Afro Samurai 2 follows Kuma, once Afro's foster brother, now a mechanized teddy bear cyborg on his own path of revenge.
Afro Samurai has always been a curious case, a rare piece of major Japanese media that reciprocates American hip hop's pointed interest in Asian pop culture. A self-funded manga from an indie Japanese creator given animated life with help from Samuel Jackson and the RZA, it had both name recognition and indie cred. It promised a wonderland fusion of anime, hip hop, chanbara flicks, and everything else its creators thought was cool, anachronisms be damned: feudal Japan stalked by cone-domed kung-fu masters in oversized headphones, ultimate evil in the shape of a gravely-voiced gunslinger, and a cyborg teddy bear brought back from the dead. But whatever originality the anime could summon was squashed by the "me too!"-ism of the thing. It overflowed with ideas, but had no thrust. Likewise, the first Afro Samurai game was as by the numbers as it comes. Its sole bit of innovation, toying with analog sword swipes years before Metal Gear Rising hit the scene, was diluted by the usual hack and slash mechanics of a licensed game.
The sequel squeezes right into the same mold. You play as KUMA, the vengeance-hungry teddy 'bot who was once Jinno, Afro's bosom buddy until Afro's bloodlust caused the loss of their adoptive family and Jinno's close scrape with death. The pinnacle of feudal-era robot technology, KUMA's combat systems switch between three styles on the fly using the directional pad. You're supposed to swap around mid-battle, staggering a heavily armored samurai with the acrobatic Afro style then flowing into Master style to blow away crowds of ronin cannon fodder with broad sword swipes. But, as you quickly discover, almost every enemy in the game is vulnerable to Master style's area of effect elimination technique. So combat trends towards the path of least resistance: string together a ten-hit combo and push the Circle button to execute everything on screen. Only Ninjas are immune, KUMA can't slay them without his signature KUMA style's "Dharman Rage," a super attack that charges up seemingly at random. Or anyway, there's no meter to tell you whether it's attacking, dodging, or parrying, or anything else that readies your super. So the best solution is to jam buttons against the fleet-footed ninjas, like you would any other enemy, until the game gives you permission to dispatch them.
Set up as the first part in an episodic series, KUMA's Revenge is about two hours long and split up into nine chapters. Whether playing through a flashback with the wounded adolescent Jinno or an all-powerful cyborg KUMA, fights are no-tension slogs through enemies who barely are able to attack you, much less kill you. They seem more concerned with shouting their singular lines of dialogue ("Let's hear it for the ninjas! Gank me that robot, my ninjas!") over and over. You never touch the Style meter, the game's primary mechanic, outside of a tutorial until the seventh chapter. Once you finally make it to the actual combat scenarios your access to instant-kill techniques makes the fighting slightly faster, but no less tedious.
It's a papier mache game. DJs in sleazy joints, part strip club, part izakaya, shooting electricity from their speakers and summoning samurai from the ceiling, fanatical sects of explosive monks protecting mountaintop temples, the game looks like it has swagger, it seems convinced it's doing something cool. When the story stabs for pathos, you almost want to meet it halfway. KUMA awakes at the bottom of a mountain gorge, badly damaged and hardly able to crawl. A drum machine pumps a line of hip hop rhythm, nothing special, but passable enough to get your foot tapping. The ghost of KUMA's childhood love guides him the bits of his sundered body. "Recover those stolen parts of yourself, take them back, then use them to reclaim what you've lost," it seems to say. Later, the objective prompt orders you to "Confront the pain of knowing Afro killed the only father you ever knew;" but the method by which you achieve that catharsis is killing three guys with samurai swords the same way you killed the last three guys with samurai swords, back when the prompt read "Confront the guilt of knowing they died alone." KUMA's Revenge likes to set the stage, but each time you ask for follow through it stares back at you blank faced. "We gave you the setup, isn't that enough?"
If you want anime aesthetic with a hip hop verve, Samurai Champloo effects a better fusion. If you want action, there's a half-dozen Bayonetta and Devil May Crys to make you feel empowered and a whole host of Musou games to make you feel overpowered. Far below those points of engagement is this, which seems to think the best use of your time is dragging you through a QTE boss fight, where a guy with two hammers (named "Two Hammers") calls you a bitch. Afro Samurai wears its inspirations on its sleeve. It is spirited and silly, like anime can be. It is brazen and bold, like hip hop often is. But liking something a great deal provides few shortcuts to creating something great yourself. Hip hop isn't mimicry, it's synthesis, and Afro Samurai's greatest flaw is presuming substance flows effortlessly once style is proclaimed.
Overall : D-
Graphics : B-
Sound/Music : B-
Gameplay : F
Presentation : D
+ Passable hip hop soundtrack, charmingly dissonant look and feel
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