previews\ Apr 18, 2011 at 8:00 pm

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron


Have you ever dreamed of playing a game where you save the world from biblical apocalypse while wearing snazzy designer jeans? If you have, El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is the game for you. Even if you aren’t partial to donning denim as you fight to preserve mankind, Ignition Entertainment’s latest actioner is still an experience to look forward to.

After going hands on with El Shaddai, one detail quickly becomes apparent: It’s a game produced by an art director. That’s only to be expected when you put Sawaki Takeyasu, the artist best known for his work on Okami, in the producer’s chair. The world of El Shaddai is best described as minimalism design splashed with a bucket full of surrealism.

Backgrounds are often blank slates, with only interactive props and platforms rendered, and the whole game looks as if a photo negative color effect has been applied to it. To top it off, the characters have been coated with a healthy dose of cel-shading, ensuring they stick out from the colorful environments. It’s a visual aesthetic unlike any other game before, a testament to Takeyasu’s talent, especially given his previous works.

The minimalist art direction even translates into the gameplay. El Shaddai sports perhaps one of the most approachable control schemes to grace a video game in the past decade. Players will use only four buttons to navigate the vibrant world of El Shaddai, with protagonist Enoch given the abilities to jump, attack, block and steal an enemy’s weapon. The rest of the buttons on the controller either do nothing or serve simply as duplicate functions.

For hardcore action fans, this limitation may sound alarming. With Bayonetta and Ninja Gaiden supporting dozens of different attack combinations and moves, a four-button control scheme may seem overly simplistic. Fear not: While El Shaddai is incredibly approachable, it also has a fairly deep combat system.

El Shaddai’s melee mechanics revolve around Enoch’s ability to disarm his enemy and steal their weapons. After taking enough damage, the demons in the game will be stunned. By rushing toward them and hitting L1, Enoch strips his opponents of their weapons, which can then be used against them. Enoch can only carry one weapon at any given moment, and it grows less effective as he continues to dispatch demon spawn, so continuously stealing weapons is the key to survival.

Though there is only one attack button, Enoch has access to a number of different combos by holding the button longer or delaying inputs. For example, jamming the attack button multiple times will launch Enoch into a combo string, but tapping it once, pausing for a second, and pressing it again will make Enoch do a guard-breaking jump attack.

As many as four weapons will be in the full game, each with their own unique strengths and weaknesses. The weapons play out like a game of rock, paper, scissors, so targeting the right enemy and stealing the best weapon for each encounter is crucial to making it through El Shaddai.

Stealing your opponent’s weapon isn’t as easy as it sounds, either. Throughout the course of the demo, I found the enemies were quick to block and parry my own attacks. This isn’t Dynasty Warriors, where you cut through hundreds of warriors without breaking a sweat--even battles against as two demons can prove to be a challenge.

Death comes often, even on the easy difficulty. Fortunately, when you die, the game allots a brief time window in which you can quickly mash the four control buttons to revive yourself. Dying subsequent times during the same encounter will shorten that window until you have no choice but to restart at a checkpoint. The checkpoints were my only big complaint with the demo. They seem poorly placed and force you to redo significant portions of the level if you miss the opportunity to revive yourself.

When you aren’t fighting, El Shaddai doubles as a platformer. The game will periodically switch to a side-scrolling viewpoint, and you’ll have to jump across various platforms to reach the end of the level. While these sections aren’t as compelling as say, a Mario game, they do break up the action well. According to Takeyasu, these platforming sections will account for as much as one-third of the game, so you can expect to be doing a decent amount of jumping.

While El Shaddai is out in Japan in two weeks, we gaijins will have to wait until summer to get our hands on it. Judging by the demo, the game is shaping up nicely, and with few other action games due out this year, El Shaddai could carve itself a nice niche in the genre.

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