Afro Samurai is one of the weirdest intellectual properties on the market. Originally conceived as a Doujinshi (independent or fan-made) manga by Takashi Okazaki (an amateur artist with a passion for Hip Hop and Soul Music), it wasn’t until friends of the artist made a limited run of action figures that the series got its shot at the big time. Gonzo, a studio known for its… well… gonzo shows (stuff like Desert Punk, Full Metal Panic, Gantz and Witchblade), loved the figures and began a three year undertaking to make the bloody manga into an Anime. Samuel L. Jackson caught wind of the project mid-production and fell in love, and from there it exploded. Wu Tang Clan’s RZA signed on to compose the score, an English cast was thrown together around Jackson’s singular talent, and the show premiered on Spike TV of all places, only airing in its native Japan later – in English, with subtitles.
During production, Gonzo signed a contract with Namco Bandai that allowed them to publish two video games. One was made in 2009: a bloody hack-and-slash for PS3 and Xbox 360 that faced criticism for being overly linear and straightforward. It was a solid beat-em-up, but not quite worth its initial 60 dollar asking price. Sales suffered, and it seemed the franchise was done with video games. Resurrection, the TV movie released alongside the game, went on to win an Emmy and it was announced that a live action feature film was in the works. Then, in the middle of last year, Redacted Studios and Versus Evil surprised us all with the news that they were making a sequel to Namco’s game.
Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma follows closely in the footsteps of its predecessor, which makes sense given that Redacted is largely comprised of ex Namco Bandai staff. This will be a fast-paced, visceral action game that’s heavy on stylization and heavier on blood. Music will of course play a prominent role in the experience, with RZA coming back to compose the soundtrack alongside Hip Hop artists from around the world. Many of those artists will have cameos in the game as voice actors, and Samuel L. Jackson will also return to reprise his many roles. Okazaki himself is collaborating with the developers to pen the game’s script, which will explore new aspects of the Afro Samurai fiction in ways that suit the game’s design. I can’t think of any way that Afro Samurai 2 could be more authentic, but the most important question is how it will play.
From what I’ve seen, it should be pretty great. Redacted has taken a lot of time to improve things that didn’t work in the original game, tightening the combat mechanics, fixing the wonky camera in place, and working tirelessly to squash bugs. Combat is still brutal, but it has a good flow and moves to the rhythm of the background music. Enemies are more varied, as are your combat options: playing as Kuma, you can adopt several different swordfighting styles and mix things up to carve a path of carnage through each battlefield that is uniquely your own. From the tight physics to the gorgeous cel-shaded graphics, it’s kind of hard to believe that the game was built in Unity.
Afro Samurai 2 doesn’t just improve on its predecessor in graphics and gameplay, though; Redacted also plans to follow a much smarter business model than Namco. The game will be released as a downloadable, episodic title, and the studio intends to listen closely to their fans as it progresses, tuning the game to suit audience needs. A more affordable price point will likely make the beat-em-up gameplay more palatable (enhanced though it is, these games can only have so much depth), and the AAA production values are sure to stand out on platforms like Steam and PSN. I can see Revenge of Kuma making a very bloody splash when it’s finally released.