Bear-ly Competent | Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma Review
Afro Samurai started as a manga series back in 2000, but gained immense popularity when it aired on the Spike TV network in animated form in 2007. The anime series eventually received a video game adaptation in 2009. Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma is the sequel to the game. Instead of the series’ titular character, the game follows Kuma as he regains his memories and attempts to destroy the headbands that Afro is after. Afro Samurai 2 is a 3-part episodic series. After it’s six year absence from popular culture, how does this new incarnation of Afro Samurai stack up? Terribly.
With the subject matter that Afro Samurai uses, it should make an easy transition into video games. However, a lot of design faults and terrible arenas make it a chore. The controls are fairly simple; the X button jumps, the Square button does all of the attacking, Triangle will defend or reflect attacks and the circle button will activate finishing moves. On top of that, you can switch between three “different” attacking styles; Kuma, Afro and Master. All of which are inspired by three main forces in Kuma’s life. I emphasize the quotation marks on “different,” because functionally the three styles are practically identical. Kuma mode enables a Rage meter that helps defeat certain enemies, Afro mode allows for deflecting attacks or vaulting over enemies to attack their weak spot, and finally Master mode which has a finishing attack that can incapacitate several enemies around you. It feels like the development team really wanted the styles to be mix and matched when fighting enemies, but it felt very cumbersome trying to flawlessly switch between them on the fly. The modes can be upgraded through skill points, and those points flow like wine at a Roman orgy. I completely leveled up all three styles before the end of the game with incredible ease. I think by the last fight I had around 4 extra skill points I couldn’t use. Speaking of which, each of the modes has an ultimate attack that becomes available to use. Unfortunately, the ability is locked out of the first volume of the game; like a poor tease of what’s to come in subsequent episodes. It’s not like you can get used to the combat for any long period of time, as the game will switch gears quickly and awkwardly. Fights that feel that should be over quickly drag on a little too long while fights, like this episode’s final fight, feel incredibly short and remove any semblance of tension or importance.
Visually is where I am the most split. There are portions that the game doesn’t look half bad. The character models are pretty good in and of themselves. There is a light amount of cel-shading going on that can look decent. The problem lies in the very low quality textures. I had to double check the platforms the game was released on, because I honestly thought the game was release on last generation hardware. Nope, Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC. All of which can definitely muster higher quality textures. And to add insult to injury, the framerate is godawful. Painful, even. I’m normally okay with a lower framerate, as long as it is locked. It is all over the place between action sequences, cutscenes, and just simple world traversal. It is absolutely jarring and for an action game, completely unacceptable. Going from defending to a finishing move will slow the game down completely.
I’m not one to often comment on sound design in games. As long as I can hear what’s going on, I’m pretty pleased. Afro Samurai 2 feels like a beginner’s course in what NOT to do in sound design. The most glaring issue I have is the complete unevenness of the voiceover, both in terms of performance and sound quality. Yuri Lowenthal who voices Kuma and Phil Lamarr who does Brother 3 of the Empty Seven are both fantastic in their roles. A lot of the other voices leave a lot to be desired. The audio quality in the game is frustratingly terrible. Some voices come in very low and almost inaudible while others would make your ear drums bleed. I tried on both of my headsets and through my receiver, and it was the same across the different devices. The game does feature a few songs from indie rap artists in the game, however, they are haphazardly used. Instead of punctuating a pivotal action sequence or story moment, they are put in random scenes often cutting in and out at random. Which is a shame because, even through I’m not a huge fan of rap, I liked a few of the songs.
If you get down the brass tacks, Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma has some interesting ideas that do not quite get off the ground. The poor performance, the subpar combat, and the migraine inducing sound design make this an absolute slog to get through. The game is also over before you know it. If you’re a fan of the Afro Samurai series and need more of the lore, you’re better off just rewatching the series and movie, there is nothing here that’s enjoyable. If you aren’t a fan of the Afro Samurai series, stay the fuck away. I haven’t gotten upset at a game in a long time, but everything just kept adding up to a miserable experience. Maybe I’m optimistic, but hopefully the other two upcoming episodes will actually fix what’s wrong with this Afro Samurai 2. The game, however, feels like fifty different people brought different sunset jigsaw puzzles to to the same party, dumped them in a big pile, tried to make one big puzzle, all the while listening to your non-English speaking aunt yelling at you with a megaphone just three feet away.