I really hoped this would turn out differently. After playing a few minutes of Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma at E3 over the summer, I had hope that the mediocrity of the original could be atoned for with this unassuming but interesting looking sequel. It features a new story branching off of the original’s, what was touted as improved combat and the return of RZA and Takashi Okasaki, both of whom were integral to Afro Samurai‘s success. Unfortunately, Afro Samurai 2 isn’t just a letdown of a sequel: it’s a technical mess of a game that left me scratching my head at just about every turn.
Stealing the spotlight from the titular badass is Kuma, Afro’s adoptive brother who was defeated in the original story and presumed dead, until the opening of the game finds the bear-headed rival regaining his strength and looking for revenge. The developers should be given credit for wanting to take the story in a new direction, but that’s the only credit they’re due. Needless to say, Afro Samurai 2 is a trainwreck at just about every turn.
Consisting of a handful of chapters leading up to the inevitable Volume 2, this introductory entry barely clocks in at under two hours, and much of the first half is an acid trip through a manga that somebody rearranged poorly. An attempt is made to tell the story in a nonlinear fashion using “interactive” moments throughout the game, but they boil down to taking a few steps before a lengthy cutscene bores you to death.
At least six or seven of the chapters available involve simply moving from point A to point B in extremely minuscule, limited maps, triggering cutscenes, monologues and occasional combat. One level especially blew my mind, consisting of a short battle with four baddies that gets interrupted before ending. It’s astonishing how stuffed with hands-off animation Afro Samurai 2 is, and given how poorly it all ties together, it’s not interesting or coherent enough for even huge fans of the small series to grasp or pay attention to.
Remember how people poked fun at the moment in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare that asked you to express feelings by pressing a button? Afro Samurai 2 outshines that moment many times by setting objectives that tell you to come to terms with great loss and pain. It’s hysterical reading an objective marker that tells you to accept that Afro has killed everyone you loved.
When the combat finally becomes integral towards the end, it quickly becomes apparent that nothing has improved since the original game. A few ideas have been teased that, if they were properly implemented, could have served to save at least part of this mess, but they’re half-baked at best and broken at worst.
Combat involves the standard attack/counter/dodge move set found in most titles involving swordplay, but the twist comes in various fighting styles that utilize different aspects of combat to alter gameplay. Kuma can switch on the fly between Master, Kuma and Afro style, all of which have their own strategies and finishers that are useful for defeating different types of enemies.
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On paper it’s a solid thought, but in implementation, it just serves as a gimmicky way to defeat different enemies that’s not nearly as fluid as it should be. For example, some baddies need to be destroyed using the Dharman Rage Kuma can release using Kuma style, while others require deflecting projectiles with Afro Style. Rather than create a fluid combat system, it boils down to identifying which enemy you’re fighting, choosing that style to kill them, and then reverting back to Master style and using its insta-kill finisher to clear the screen every five seconds.
Adding to the poor gameplay, hit detection is pretty bad and enemies just aren’t that tough. I never once came close to losing a battle, and the only time I died came from a poorly implemented quick time event. There are glimmers of interesting moments throughout, including scenes that have you running away from a boss as the computer chips that fuel Kuma’s battle abilities recharge, but they’re so few and so fleeting that you can barely appreciate them.
Fans of the anime can’t even fall back on the gorgeous visuals of the series to pull them through, as Afro Samurai 2 is often ugly as dirt and its framerate chugs more than a sorority sister after finals week. At least RZA offers up a few great tracks here, once again infusing soul and hip-hop into the western/samurai mash-up that made the original such an entertaining work of art, both to watch and to listen to.
However, even these contributions fail to add much to the proceedings, since the sound mixing will cause tracks to drown out dialogue and the few songs that are present are repeated ad nauseam. Even the dialogue from characters is poorly mastered to the point of hilarity, with a lot of spoken sections crackling through the speakers like a Twitch streamer choking on his microphone.
Not that the dialogue is worth listening to in the first place. Afro Samurai 2 tells way more than it shows, with characters either screaming a name to show grief or monologuing to a degree that would make Hideo Kojima proud. This is a game that loves to hear itself talk whether it has an audience or not.
So if the combat is awful, the dialogue is too wordy and the presentation is just not suited for video games, Afro Samurai 2 begs a simple question: Why wasn’t this just made into an anime? There are enough interesting ideas that I could see Gonzo heading back to the studio to craft another entry, and some of the ideas in the story here could translate well to the screen. Why make Afro Samurai fans suffer through this game when an anime would be all-around better for everyone?
Regardless, we were given Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma Volume 1 instead and we may never know why. I really, truly wanted this game to be a surprise hit, and I loved watching the anime again to get into the spirit of the world before embarking on Kuma’s journey. This is a property that is begging to be translated into a fast-paced, gory hack-n-slasher, but so far it’s peaked at a mediocre adaptation and a piss poor sequel. With the bar set as low as it is, Volume 2 can only get better.
This review is based on a PlayStation 4 copy of the game, given to us for review purposes.
While the idea of a fresh sequel is enticing, Afro Samurai 2 squanders its material at every turn, boasting horrific graphics and sound design, poor combat and a nonsensical story.