A few weeks before it came out, the executive producer of Afro Samurai 2 Revenge Of Kuma Volume 1 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC) — one of a bunch people at Redacted Studios who also worked on the original Afro Samurai — confessed that, “No one on the team was really happy with how the first game turned out.” Unfortunately, I doubt anyone is going to be happy with how this new game turned out, either.
Inspired by Takashi Okazaki’s original manga and its two anime adaptations, Afro Samurai 2 Revenge Of Kuma Volume 1 has you playing as Kuma, Afro’s childhood friend turned nemesis, whose Afro-inflicted injuries have resulted in him needing cybernetic implants that include a big teddy bear head, thus sending him down the familiar path of revenge. Which, given that this is a third-person, cyberpunk-flavored, hack & slash action game like its predecessor, means you’re going to spend most of your time slicing and dicing various bad guys. (Well, assuming you get past the fact that you don’t get to be Afro Samurai in an Afro Samurai game.)
It is during the slicing and dicing bits that Afro Samurai 2 Revenge Of Kuma Volume 1, the first of three episodic installments, has a glimmer of hope. The controls work well, and Kuma has access to three different combat styles — his own, his master’s, and Afro’s — which have their own special moves, can be upgraded individually, and can be swapped between on the fly. Though there are times when Kuma loses access to these stylistic enhancements, such as when he gets into a fight in a strip club where the DJ has EMP-emitting speakers.
Unfortunately, it also during the hack & slash parts that Afro Samurai 2 Revenge Of Kuma Volume 1 starts to fall apart. For starters, the combat here isn’t as deep as it was in the first game, even with the three different fighting styles. It also doesn’t make sense that Kuma can’t integrate these styles. Sure, it’s explained in the story, but it still would’ve been cooler if Kuma could use them in tandem without players having to physically make the switch.
When not hacking and/or slashing your enemies, Afro Samurai 2 Revenge Of Kuma Volume 1 occasionally has you doing a bit of climbing and jumping. Using his two swords, Kuma can scale surfaces like he’s Kratos from God Of War, while other bits have him jumping onto some large moving blocks. But, again, these bits never gets as complicated or as challenging as the similar parts of God Of War, let alone something like a Tomb Raider game. When doing the two sword climb, for instance, Kuma has trouble moving sideways, and never gets into a fight while just hanging around the way Kratos often does.
Afro Samurai 2 Revenge Of Kuma Volume 1 also employs a fixed camera like the original God Of War games. As a result, it not only suffers from the same viewpoint issues that all fixed camera, third-person games do, where objects in the foreground sometimes block your view, but it also makes this feel rather dated.
Along with these gameplay issues, Afro Samurai 2 Revenge Of Kuma Volume 1 suffers from a myriad of technical problems. So many, in fact, that after playing for a couple hours, I emailed the game’s publicist to make sure they had sent me the finished game and not an early version that hadn’t gone through quality control.
For instance, on several occasions I went one way when I should’ve gone the other, and ended up walking off the world. I even got stuck once and had to restart from the previous checkpoint. There were also several occasions when the framerate slowed to a crawl, mostly when there several enemies on screen at the same time (mostly), as well as moments when enemies got stuck because they were trying to run towards me but there was obstacle in their way and they weren’t smart enough to go around it.
Then there was the fight that wouldn’t end. During the first big battle of Afro Samurai 2 Revenge Of Kuma Volume 1, I had to face off against a guy in a suit of armor, and was told that the only way to beat him was to use one of the Afro style moves in which you’d flip over a guy’s head, kicking or slashing them as you come down behind their back. But unlike in the training mode, where I defeated him quickly, he wouldn’t die in the big battle, even though I did the special move correctly dozens of times. It was only after restarting from the previous checkpoint four or five times that I was able to beat him. And even then, I didn’t do anything that I hadn’t done before.
Even the most basic systems in Afro Samurai 2 Revenge Of Kuma Volume 1 don’t always work right. For example, if you turn the music volume down to zero, it doesn’t turn the music off. Sometimes it has no effect, and the music is just as loud as it was when it was set to 100, while at other times it just made it kind of soft, like a annoying buzz in the background. Even more annoying, to get to these settings, you have to quit the game and go to the main menu, you can’t get there from the pause menu.
Coupled with the shallow gameplay, all of these issues and easily-avoided problems make Afro Samurai 2 Revenge Of Kuma Volume 1 feel like a grind, something more endured than enjoyed. As someone who liked the first Afro Samurai game and loved the original animes and the manga, I was really hoping this sequel was going to be better than the original. But this comes up so short that this isn’t just a terrible game, it’s one of the biggest disappointments of the year as well.