In Asura's Wrath developer CyberConnect2 aimed to create a game that played like Japanese animation. Judging by the early reviews, someone forgot to tell them that you don't actively play Japanese animation.
Protect Heaven and Earth from the forces of the Gohma and what do you get? Your wife dead, your daughter kidnapped, and yourself framed for the murder of the Emperor. It's enough to make a guy go on a cosmic-sized rampage. Evil folks need to stop kidnapping loved ones. Just kill them. It breaks the spirit, and fives sidekicks a chance to calm heroes down with the old "It won't bring them back" speech.
Or give them fairly average review scores, as the assembled game reviewers have here. So far not one of them has gotten torn apart by a vengeful former Guardian General.
His wife murdered, his daughter stolen, cast down from the heavens - Asura has a right to be more than a little wound up. Developer CyberConnect2 really grinds this demigod's gears in its game-come-interactive movie, adequately providing impetus for his titular rage at every turn. Told over 12,500 years, Asura's Wrath shows off just how spectacularly mad a titan can get.
Yet it's usually only in these moments of pure anger that players actually get to do anything; Asura's Wrath stretches the boundaries of what a game can be while undoubtedly remaining in the medium's realm. Though interaction is minimal, there is just enough, more often than not at critical points, to justify its position as a video game.
The Sixth Axis
Asura's Wrath is different to what we've come to expect from a game. Rather than playing through the entire game and exploring for yourself, Wrath takes you from set-piece to set-piece through various cutscenes, littering the way with quick time events and boss battles, in the vein of a Japanese, animated television series; going as far as being divided into distinct episodes with introductions and cliffhanger endings.
Essentially, Asura's Wrath removes the necessity for getting to the objective and instead fills that with a relatively strong narrative, blending the line between animation and interactive media, and often combining both for action-packed sequences that prominently feature quick time events. If you're not a fan of QTEs or set-pieces, then this isn't the game for you. Yes, there are frequently regular real-time combat sections, in which you'll fight all manner of enemies, but these often end in another QTE or feature yet more interactive cutscenes.
Initially things seem promising, as the game transitions from one of those glorious animations straight into a shooting sequence that apes Rez in terms of its control scheme and lock-on mechanic. From there it moves swiftly into several QTE events that trigger action sequences and rarely punish failure, and then it's onto the surface to get to grips with a hand-to-hand combat engine. Each of the subsequent chapters is a combination of some or all of the above mechanics, with a quick break in the middle to stare at some boobs in a swimming pool. That's not even a lie.
It's the fisticuffs and running battles that provide the real meat in Asura, and fortunately the rather basic light-heavy attack combo mechanics hold up just enough over the course of the experience to make them worthwhile. There are two special meters to fill and deploy during the course of any of the fighting sequences, the first of which allows Asura to unleash a flurry of blows and unlimited heavy attacks for a short period of time, and the second of which basically annihilates whatever's left in the arena and triggers the next animation or battle sequence. Combo attacks can be chained together with a small suite of aerial, projectile or context-sensitive moves, but make no mistake, outside of thematic similarities, this is no God of War.
The problem is, as we've already hinted at, the two best boss battles are ones we've already seen (and you too if you've played the demo). Taking on the rotund Wyzen as he suddenly expands to the size of a small planet and tries to stub you out under a single finger is so hilariously over-the-top it had us begging for more the first time we saw it.
The fight with Augus on the moon is even better, and now one of our all-time favourite boss battles. Getting speared with a mile long sword as you hurtle to Earth is exactly the sort of outrageous antics gaming has been missing lately, but the sad thing is the game offers up very little else anywhere near as entertaining.
Another major shortcoming is longevity: Asura's Wrath is barely six hours long, which is very light for a full-price game. Replaying episodes on higher difficulties is a possibility, but because the story is what you're playing for, you won't want to have to sit through all the cutscene twice. Whichever way you look at it, a game that essentially constitutes maybe two hours of gameplay if you take out all of the cutscenes and timed button-pressing is going to have a tough time selling itself for the same asking price as, say, Skyrim. And even within that short runtime, there's a little too much repetition in the enemies and boss fights to be entirely forgivable.
Amidst all this praise, though, it's key to remember that earlier point - at times, Asura's Wrath is barely a game. The curious combination won me over, despite generally despising QTEs and boasting a short fuse for hammy cutscenes. Regardless, this is a short game, and only a third of it is actually playable. That's going to be enough to deter many. It's made the thing bloody tough to score, and Capcom's effort is sure to polarise opinion in a way few games ever manage. While I wrestled with my own opinion throughout the playthrough, though, one sentence kept spinning around in my head: you've got to play Asura's Wrath.
Good or bad, game or no game, you've just got to play Asura's Wrath. And, in truth, that probably says it all.
I'll wait for it to show up on Netflix.