El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron
Review by Snorlaxative
"And on the seventh day... God created bizarre Japanese action games."
El Shaddai is a biblically-inspired action game featuring side-scrolling style platforming, weapon based combat and some crazy visuals, all from developer Ignition Entertainment, a British developer and publisher who recently opened up their Tokyo studio consisting of many staff formerly of Clover Studios (Viewtiful Joe, Okami, God Hand), with development led by Takeyasu Sawaki of Devil May Cry and Okami fame. Sadly with such a staff recognised for creating great games it appears little effort has gone into their latest project.
Anyone who's played any recent action games like Devil May Cry 4, Bayonetta or Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 will be disappointed by El Shaddai's combat. The pace is slow and the variety in weapons and techniques is really lacking, to put it simply and fairly the combat is dull and uninspired. It isn't deceptively simple as I've read others state, it's just simple, there's a single attack button, a special attack performed while blocking and besides regular combos a guard breaker can be performed by timing presses of the attack button. After dealing a certain amount of damage to an enemy eventually the player's weapons become weakened, at which point the player has to press L1 to purify the weapon back to full strength, there's also a timed boost to Enoch's powers executed when the guard and purification buttons are pressed simultaneously, so long as the character has the flaming aura around him that signals to the player that the ability is available, which seems to be completely at random. There are three weapons the protagonist can use that he must take from his enemies once he's done enough damage to them to put them on the ground, one is ranged, one is a fast blade and the other is a slow heavy hitter. Without any depth, combos to master, methods of upgrading or anything the combat becomes repetitive when facing the same few enemy types again and again. The platforming also doesn't fair well, it's got a floaty feel to it that makes it feel more like a cheap browser game. There is also little challenge in the platforming segments and performing the same double-jumps and floating from platform to platform that adds more tedium than variety to the game, especially as jumping can be unforgiing when the character won't change direction much mid-air, making missing a jump and being forced to start the section over again all the more frustrating. The game changes dramatically a few hours in for the sixth chapter though, Enoch's transported to an incredibly cool looking location I won't spoil and the gameplay switches to a racing section, which is actually a lot of fun though it's sadly short-lived before the game returns to the mix of platforming and combat.
The visuals are interesting, they're trippy ranging from the celestial, colourful and pure to the dark and detailed, but even they get repetitive and the level design consisting of linear paths through trails or over floating platforms is really less imaginative than one would think having seen one of the trailers. Personally I found that the game became a mess that tried to look artistic to the point of the game suffering for it, another example of this would be the music, a little way into chapter 2 I could hear some traditional African singing in the background, there wasn't any reason one would expect the developer to choose such music considering the setting but it was nice enough to hear, but then as a battle starts with two incredibly boringly designed, detailless enemies some crazy jazzy stuff starts playing over everything, going from one extreme to a completely unrelated other. It feels like a mess and there's no method in the madness, just a load of cobbled together nonsense in the name of looking and sounding artsy, all without any real depth, there certainly isn't any symbolic reasoning behind the vast majority of the design like many great games that are regarded more as art like Silent Hill 2 or games that leave a lot of room for interpretation like Shadow of the Colossus. It even feels cheap at times, with a single colour, blank background not being uncommon, as if little work went into developing the graphics, it just adds to making the whole game feel cheap when considering the unoriginal gameplay and the shallow story.
The story is weak. I have no knowledge of the Book of Enoch from the Bible which the game is very loosely based, but I am pretty confident when I say the Book of Enoch must be a hell of a lot more entertaining a read than El Shaddai is to play. Basically, you play a silent protagonist, Enoch (imagine Brad Pitt with an excess of estrogen), and he's best mates with this guy Lucifel, the player travels throughout the game to defeat some fallen angels to save humanity on a whim because God told him to, that's about it. The developer has tried hard to take the religious influences and update them with their own style, this is obvious from Enoch's designer jeans outfit, Lucifel's meterosexual get-up and how occasionally when the player passes Lucifel (who functions as a save point) he's always on his mobile phone having a chat with God about how great Enoch is. I was left wondering if I'm supposed to have knowledge of the Book of Enoch and if that would make it more enjoyable considering there's so little story that's coherently presented through the course of the game, but ultimately given how weak El Shaddai's narrative is I'm sure that regardless of knowledge of the Bible this game definitely disappoints with its poor storytelling. The story isn't portrayed in any emotionally meaningful way, nor does it attempt to really educate or entertain with the setting from which the game has loosely borrowed its characters and scenario, which leaves me wondering was the religious theme of the game only used to try and sell it to the Christian audience? At any rate it certainly wasn't handled well considering the developer could have done so much with the vast amount of deep material that one would expect a religious scripture would have to offer.
I like that El Shaddai attempts to be a little bit different, even if it's in a completely superficial way, and it has its own kind of style which is cool I guess, but really it's a completely shallow, cheap experience with lackluster combat, dull gameplay, yawn-worthy level design, a like or dislike art style and no replayability. El Shaddai looks like it's interesting, cool and original, but sadly I found it failed to be all three, it's different though, and as someone who enjoys playing a wide variety of contrasting games I got some enjoyment out of this trippy biblical adventure, but I couldn't recommend this game, not even the visual style, its strongest asset, is enough to make it worth buying at full price, though I doubt it'll be long before the price drops significantly for those who are curious enough to take the plunge.
El Shaddai isn't an abysmal game but it just isn't a good one, it's completely average, it's not very entertaining, it has zero charm, it's pretentious, it's short and it completely favours style over substance. I stand by the guidelines of the GameFAQs rating system when I give it a 5/10, "playable - nothing special about it."
Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 07/26/11, Updated 07/27/11
Game Release: El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron (JP, 04/28/11)
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