- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2009

The hippest of hip-hop warriors makes his debut on entertainment consoles in Afro Samurai (for Xbox 360 and PS3, Namco Bandai Games, rated M for mature, $59.99). Based on Gonzo and Spike TV’s animated series, this third-person action game takes a single player into a hyperviolent one-man war of revenge.

What’s the Story: From the manual - The Number One headband is the symbol of the greatest fighter alive, whose form and skill transcend all to become a work of art. Only the warrior who wears the Number Two headband has the right to challenge Number One for the sacred powers he possesses, or so the legend goes. Afro Samurai wears the Number Two not for glory, but with vengeance in mind, for the greatest fighter in the world killed Afro’s father.

Play the role: This stylish button-masher brings the animated series to dynamic, cel-shaded life and will not disappoint fans. In control of the quiet but determined Afro - think Clint Eastwood melded with Jimi Hendrix - a player chops, slices and dices a swath of slaughter across a high-tech feudal Japan. He gets narrative and directional help from his sidekick, Ninja Ninja, a guy who can appear in a puff of smoke to offer the most biting of profane insults while leading the hero to new adventures.

Star power: Actor Samuel L. Jackson once again voices Afro Samurai and hilariously handles Ninja Ninja. Also, just as in the ‘toon, Ron “Hellboy” Perlman is back as Justice, while Kelly Hu again is Okiku. As important, the hypnotic rapping, hip-hop musical score of Wu-Tang Clan member RZA greatly adds to the action as strokes and maneuvers timed to the beat turn the game into a ballet of death.

Get to the action: Afro wields a sword much like an aloof, serial-killing surgeon. He has the power to finely dissect his enemies or kick them into a blood-soaked pulp. He’ll face familiar adversaries, including the Daimyo, the Sword Master, the Empty Seven cult of assassin monks and, of course, Justice. As he kills, he unlocks more than 100 combination moves with goofy titles such as Pimp Hand, Back and Fro, and Ground Beef. His most dangerous weapon is a time-thickening focus ability, presented in black and white, often overused to dismantle foes.

Memorable moments: Afro can use his focus attacks to deflect a bullet back at a gunman and take him down. It’s a breathtaking maneuver brought to life through an artistic presentation befitting framing and a place in a gallery.

Violent encounters: It’s hard to imagine a game more finely tuned to allow a player to revel in controlling a killing machine. Afro’s focus ability enables him to slow the action and set his blade to cut off a body part of his choosing. He can decapitate, lop off an appendage and even bisect his enemies with perfect timing.

To top off the carnage, besides a minigame called body-part poker (pretty self-explanatory), a player can read his stats on gruesome numbers such as the number of enemies beheaded, bellies sliced and even gallons of blood spilled.

Read all about it: The Afro Samurai source material, Takashi Okazaki’s beautiful manga, originally published in the magazine Nou Nou Hau, is available and translated into two volumes of sequential art ($10.99 and $12.99) from the Macmillan imprint Tor/Seven Seas.

The bad: Oh, that camera with a mind of its own will cause some distress during boss battles and a headache-inducing sense of vertigo during the tackling of environmental obstacles. Also, the supposed platform levels are a weak imitation of anything Lara Croft or the Prince of Persia could pull off. They also seem unnecessary in a game that lives for blood-soaked combat.

Pixel-popping scale: 8.5 out of 10. It pins me to see how much care and passion went into making this game - just look at the character modeling detail and cut-scene comic paneling. I wish it were more than a repetitive hack-and-slash event.

What’s it worth: Namco Bandai‘s very mature Afro Samurai brilliantly re-creates the animated legend better than any video game I’ve seen tackling a cartoon universe. The desensitizing levels of gratuitous gore are disturbing. However, it’s the ultimate stress-relieving experience for any adult having a bad week at the office.

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