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RZA-produced soundtrack can't save 'Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma' from crashing

The sequel to the 2009 game does nothing to improve on its predecessor and fails nearly completely.

Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma
(Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma screengrab)

Before I tell you why you shouldn't play "Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma Episode One," let's delve into a bit of backstory.

"Afro Samurai" in its manga and anime forms gave us the journey of a swordsman called Afro who hunted the No. 1 headband worn by the man who killed his father. Backed by a soundtrack produced by the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA, Afro’s revenge-fueled story is filled with a mix of Japanese culture and science fiction, with gruesome yet satisfying action doled out by someone who would stop at nothing to have his revenge — even if it meant betraying the only friends he ever knew.

We were graced with an official "Afro Samurai" game back in 2009 that stayed (mostly) true to the original formula, a surprising feat for the inconsistent Spark Studios. Maybe someone should've tapped them instead of Redacted Studios for this new iteration; they probably would've given us something better than this mess of a sequel.

“Afro Samurai 2" gives us the titular anti-hero, a former friend of Afro whose sword school family was murdered by a rogue clan in an attempt to gain one of the two headbands. Kuma blames Afro for the deaths, and after his body is repaired by the shady Empty Seven Clan, he seeks his own revenge.

The thing is, that revenge is mucked up by too many different issues that pop up one right after the other.

To get the good marks out of the way, RZA is back at the music helm, producing a tight, well-rounded soundtrack that has me craving an official release. The game carries the cel-shaded design of the original, and it’s mostly done well. Colors pop where they need aside from a few muddied areas, and they look fantastic at some points.

Rounding all of this out is Takashi Okazaki, the creator of the “Afro Samurai” manga, who’s dropped a few great pieces of artwork in the game that look like they were ripped from the book. Overall, the game doesn’t look half bad.

What is bad is everything else. The combat, for lack of a better word, is slippery and prone to misdirection. Kuma has three “styles” that he can pick from, with each supposedly having their own abilities. "Afro style" can vault over enemies, "Kuma style" is made for racking up combos and "Master style" is meant for long-range attacks.

The styles work, but that’s a moot point. It’s way too easy to lose control of where you’re going. The targeting reticule can slide from enemy to enemy as you try to focus on one target, and it becomes common to end up on another side of an area, completely opposite from the baddies in question.

And sure, each style has upgrades and you earn skill points to make them stronger, but it’s all window dressing. I felt no tougher after each upgrade and mashing the sole attack button felt all the same that it did before.

The story is haunted by overlong cutscenes where characters will wax poetic about gods and revenge and how Kuma will die in any particular situation, which brings the action to a screeching halt every time. It tries its best to be stylish in its approach but comes off as pretentious. This is especially true when it's surrounded by a “try-too-hard” presentation style that’s less about making a statement and more about being unintentionally comedic.

One of the early missions takes place in Kuma’s head, and is a flashback to the attack on his school. The objectives are sublimely awkward, with tasks such as, “Confront the guilt of dying alone.” The story tries way too hard to emulate elements of the show, which did the guilt trip theme much better and with more control.

To add to the game's problems, we’ve got janky animations where characters will float in the air or stick to Kuma as he’s running, slipshod voice acting with poor lip-syncing to character models and audio issues with volume skipping from the level of a church mouse to distorted speakers almost instantaneously. Oh, and the supposed “blood” that fires off enemies is more akin to low resolution ketchup.

“Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma Episode One” is bad. Amazingly bad. Instead of being an improvement over its predecessor, we’ve arrived at something much worse. With poor combat, a story that’s presented in a way that tries too hard and a host of other issues that can’t be ignored, I can’t recommend this to even the most die hard of “Afro Samurai” fans. 

Unless Redacted Studios fixes things up for the next two episodes, then don’t bother. Just watch the show.

Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma Episode One
Platforms: PS4, PC (Reviewed)
Released: 9/22/15
Price: $14.99 for single episode, $34.99 for all three

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