Asura's Wrath review: Limited enragement

Game Info
Platform 360, PS3
Publisher Capcom
Developer CyberConnect2
Release Date 2012-02-21

Epic. Stunning. Mind-boggling.

Flagrant overuse has robbed each of these words of their power in game criticism. So why do I feel so comfortable applying them to the exceedingly odd Asura's Wrath?

Well, I'm pretty sure the critics who came before have used those words positively, whether the praise be deserved or hyperbolic. And when I tell you that this Capcom/CyberConnect2 collaboration earns those adjectives, that Asura's Wrath is like nothing I've ever "played" — more on those quotes soon — I'm still not sure if that's a good thing.

This journey of a furious demigod, this demi-cinematic, has carved out such a narrow niche for itself that it's tough to say how well Asura's Wrath is filling it.

Asura_large_red

Asura's got plenty of reason to be angry. The seven gods that protect our planet have framed him for crime he didn't commit, cast him to Earth, killed his wife, and abducted his daughter to help them harvest human souls (which are used as a fuel called Mantra).

In much the same way that Enslaved was a Western retelling of Eastern folk tale Journey to the West, think of Asura's Wrath as an Eastern take on America's most beloved mythology: God of War. Like Kratos, Asura's been wronged, and plans on killing deities until he gets his satisfaction.

Unlike his multi-dimensional counterpart, Asura is limited in how he extracts his revenge. Either he punches enemies in the style of a fairly rudimentary brawler or, occasionally, he blasts them with auto-targeted beams of pure hate in stages oddly reminiscent of Panzer Dragoon or Rez.

Asura's anger bar fills with every attack

Asura's enemies don't even really have health indicators to speak of. Asura's Wrath only has an anger bar that fills with every attack until, finally, Asura's furious enough to punch his enemy at murder velocity — with wrath, if you will — and win the fight.

The brawling and rail-shooting don't mesh particularly well (especially when you're tasked with both shooting enemies from the sky as you punch land-based foes), but destroying waves of enemies does a great job of communicating Asura's rage and considerable power. (Unfortunately, that feeling dims when the hyperactive camera performs dizzying cinematic shifts that make it impossible to keep up with the action.)

YOU CAN IMAGINE WHY HE'D BE UPSET.
Asuras7

The mechanics wouldn't be deep enough to support a full game, so it's lucky nothing like that is required of them. In fact, you'll really only be "playing" for a fourth of your 6-7 hour time with Asura's Wrath.

You read that correctly: For around three-fourths of Asura's Wrath, your only involvement with the action is in the form of frequent timed button presses or thumbstick rotations. This is, fundamentally, an anime series that requires limited input from the player to stay on course.

Being more not-game than game would force me to disqualify most games for the linguistic contradiction alone. So why not shun Asura's Wrath, burying it on the same shelf as the Choose Your Own Adventure books and 3DO FMV "cinematic experiences"? Well — and it doesn't make me sound particularly erudite to admit it — but the stuff that happens underneath the timed button presses ... well, it's all really goddamn cool.

Remember how I said Asura punches stuff a lot? Did I mention that he sometimes punches things so hard that his arms fall off? No? Well, he does. Like, repeatedly. This is a thing for him. This is an issue he has to deal with more than once.

Asuras8

Remember I said he was fighting gods? Did I neglect to include the fact that they are sometimes bigger than planets? No? Well I probably should have, because that's a pretty insane thing to put in a game. And the madness is all so beautifully rendered with incredible scale and a woodcut-inspired aesthetic that adds a surprisingly fragile undertone to burly characters that often seem to be carved from mountains.

If you can ignore the fact that all you did was press "A" when then screen told you to, it's pretty thrilling just to be involved in these epic battles. And after all, if you want to be reductionist, isn't timed button presses all any game ever asks of you?

... OK, you're right, that's a stretch.

Wrap Up:

ASURA WOULD BE AT THE TOP OF ITS CLASS€“ IF IT WEREN'T THE ONLY ONE IN IT

I don't mean to explain away this core truth: If you're looking for a classic experience, something that's, well, a game, you're going to be frustrated. No question. But if you're in the mood for a sweeping anime epic that requires only occasional participation, Asura's Wrath would be at the top of its class ... that is, if it weren't the only one in it.

Asura's Wrath was reviewed using code provided by Capcom. You can read more about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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