Review: Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma Episode One

Some folks simply can’t catch a break and poor Jinno is one of them. He gets betrayed by a close friend and sees his family slaughtered. He gets “saved” by some insane cult, The Empty Seven, in a bid to stop said friend. He loses a fight to this same traitor and finds himself at the bottom of a cliff. Not only does he endure all of this, but his pain and suffering is now fodder for the exceedingly odious game found in Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma. Much like learning that drinking a glass of ghost pepper juice does not bestow super powers, this release manages to be simultaneously painful and disappointing.

To get the positives out of the way first, the music isn’t too bad until it gets repetitive. Oh, and Jinno/Kuma’s character model is alright. It did not infect my PlayStation 4 with leprosy. It is also mercifully short, much like this paragraph.

Now that that’s out of the way, Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma’s story focuses on Jinno. It begins right after the epic battle between him and Afro in the first series and proceeds to recount Afro’s betrayal and how Jinno came to be the teddie bear headed Kuma. This mostly means spending the game controlling a crawling, weeping thing through a series of self-pitying vignettes. While this is accurate for the character, he is also a robo-swordsman who can duel wield blades with aplomb. Given the choice of these two aspects of the character to focus on, it must be said that Redacted Studios chose…poorly.

This story is mostly told using static in game assets with the controls torn from the player’s hands. In an action game with so little action, why remove moments that could have been resolved with some hacking and slashing? As it is, the combat doesn’t start in earnest until chapter seven of nine. That is when it is discovered that the way to win is to choose master style, one of the three selectable, land a few hits and then press circle, murdering everything. This is assuming that the unpredictably laggy controls and dropped frames don’t prevent this. If the fickle game deities notice how the player is spending valuable gaming time and decides to punish the transgressor, said player will spend a few seconds mashing buttons until movement occurs. This movement is typically Kuma getting knocked down. But he gets up again. Bad controls won’t keep him down.

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The previous comment that this game is painful was not humorous hyperbole. With the exception of The RZA’s musical procurement, the sound is just abysmal, particularly the dialogue. Voiceover work recorded on separate days based on the actor’s and actress’ availability is normal. Usually, when this happens, the sound engineer makes notes to themselves to ensure that the recording levels are accurate so that the various sessions can be put together in a cohesive whole. That is not the case here. A scene of two people, speaking to each other at the same volume, is a mess of sound leveling. It typically comes across as:

Dingus 1: Boy, I sure am glad that I am currently unstabbed and that my limbs are attached.

(Sound is turned up to be able to hear)

Dingus 2: You can (*pop crackle*) say that again. Being alive is super keen. (*hiss pop sound of TV speakers blowing out*)

Heaven help those using headphones. This is accompanied by what seems to be the tell tale sign of the needles being buried in the red during recording, as though it was the sound engineer’s first day and he took Spinal Tap’s advice seriously. It is either this, or a new, terrible form of audio compression.

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Speaking of audio issues, voice acting ranges from passable and almost like what the returning actor did in the shows all the way down to “somebody must be getting blackmailed for this part” quality. Phil Lamar does what he does, though somebody should have left some of his stuff on the cutting room floor. It seems strange that he basically becomes Kuma’s version of Afro’s Ninja Ninja. Everyone else doesn’t do so well. The obvious way around these sound issues would be turn the dialogue down and use subtitles. Those do not exist in this game, lamentably.

One last thing: with the exception of the title screen, the PS4 version plays entirely in a window on the TV. This was not a stylistic choice, like letterboxing. The window was at the perfect aspect ratio. It is almost like there where issues rendering at 1080p and windowing it was all that Redacted could get to work. There was no option to adjust this setting. Having an inch cut off all around the screen was annoying, but it could be construed as symbolic of the developer’s and publishers value of the player’s time and money.

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Closing Comments:

Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma is a petulant child who has just discovered the joys of flipping the bird. Everyone gets it. The series creator Takashi Okasaki gets the bird. This series is something that he has worked hard on and takes pride in. He contributed work to this project and it has been abused. Returning actors get it. The professionals who know what they are doing are having their name tainted because the editors and sound engineers aren’t doing their jobs. Pairing them up with folks who would flunk out of community college drama is insulting, as well. Series fans get a double bow finger. This franchise doesn’t exactly flood the market with new entries, so having it return with the promise of a new story is enticing. Most of it, however, is a retread of the cartoon. Finally, gamers in general get the big double deuce. This title plays like a sarcastic version of a real game. I don’t mind being mocked if I can laugh along, but this is just mean.