Preview: Asura's Wrath

At first glance, Asura’s Wrath might seem like a fun, hack and slash action game in the mould of Platinum Game’s Bayonetta or Sony’s God of War series. It exudes the fervour, camp and drama that’s quickly become a hallmark of the genre, but playing it is a different matter entirely.

While most games in the genre have a few tricks up their sleeves to keep the gameplay fresh, be it God of War’s QTEs and balls-to-the-wall, gruesome action or Bayonetta’s dodge mechanic that gives it added depth, Asura’s gameplay can be surmised in one sentence – spam till you can hit R2. What does R2 do, you ask? Well, it triggers a cinematic sequence along with a batshit insane move that renders your opposition, be it gigantic world devouring bosses or air ships, completely useless. It’s the game’s version of a brutal finishing move that’s more or less a mandatory feature in every battle. This leaves you with a game that’s more or less one-dimensional, with no major incentive to progress from one section to the next.

I guess that’s where Asura’s Wrath’s story and presentation come into play. You’re the aforementioned Asura, a fallen god with no recollection of his past, who has to pick up the pieces of his life and find his daughter, who has been captured by seven deities. It’s told in traditional Japanese anime fashion i.e. over-exaggerated facial expressions, campy humour and over-the-top action that gives it a flair reminiscent of Capcom’s erstwhile cult classic, God Hand. Throw in some incredibly gorgeous art direction that combines the best of Street Fighter’s ink stylings and cel shading as well as surreal environments and characters and you have a certain finesse that would have you overlooking the game’s reliance on overtly simple gameplay or lack of a camera centre button. That is, until you’ve seen the giant R2 button flashing across the screen one time too many.

My playthrough saw me face off against one of the gods, sporting a curly mustache and a cheery disposition that matches his near pregnant belly, who decided to shoot missiles and swamp me with his henchmen. After sending back a few projectiles in his direction and decimating a swarm of enemies, he decides to swell up to the size of a mountain and try to beat me to a pulp. It’s at this point that you gain four more arms and push him away on the cue of a few button prompts. On successfully doing so, there was his giant air cruiser to contend with; a breeze to shoot down as all that was needed was to hold a button down and target with the left stick. Once this on-rails segment ended, it seemed that I had pissed off the morbidly obese god enough for him to expand to a size where he could pick up the entire planet from the cosmos.

Instead of doing that, he decided to crush me with a single finger. This was followed by another QTE button mashing session to prevent me from getting crushed. Soon enough the life saving cue of the R2 button showed up, leading to some heavily dramatised plot exposition and the loss of 5 out of 6 arms as well as the galaxy sized god’s thumb.

Yes, this is how the preview played out. I am not making this up. It’s too outrageous a sequence of events not to be real. As it stands, the gameplay has a lot in common with Ninja Blade, what with the emphasis on QTEs and cinematics, and while it did a great job of keeping me interested because of presentation and scenarios, I wonder how far Capcom can take it to maintain interest. Or perhaps there’s more to the gameplay that they’re yet to unveil? Either way, we’ll know soon, with this stylish, but apparently simple, action title releasing early next year.

Asura’s Wrath is scheduled for release on Xbox 360 and PS3 in early 2012

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