Still Playing: Asura’s Wrath

If Asura’s Wrath doesn’t seem like much of a game, think of it instead as interactive anime. Viewed that way it’s not showing you incredible things you can’t control; rather, it’s allowing you to augment the show with your own input. Whether you’re pushing both thumbsticks apart to stretch Asura’s arms wide in order to grasp the continent-sized finger of a god, or hammering face buttons to pummel a rival to death, your role is to heighten the physicality of the anti-hero’s actions. The thick lines, vibrant colours and ferociously expressive animation give you a sense of his unstoppable anger; your interactions only serve to enhance that sensation. Sure, the exertion involved might not come close to matching Asura’s efforts, but if your thumbs ache afterwards, that’s no accident. Asura’s being put through the mill: you should feel at least a little of his pain, too.

It’s Quick Time Events done well, in other words. Capcom set the standard with Resi 4’s sprints, slashes and suplexes so it’s not entirely surprising the publisher should get them so right again. They’re wonderfully consistent, so even if you’re caught unawares thinking you were watching another cutscene – possible, though there’s usually a visual clue or two that it’s time to pay attention – it’s entirely instinctive, the input proving a good match for the on-screen action. You’ll always know whether it’s time to hammer X for all you’re worth or to rotate both sticks until it feels they’re about to come loose from their moorings.

During production, developer CyberConnect 2 admitted it wasn’t quite sure whether Asura’s Wrath was a game or not, but the more traditional beat-‘em-up sections – which take their cues from the studio’s Naruto titles – are surprisingly enjoyable. It’s a fairly basic brawler, sure, but it’s also responsive and satisfyingly weighty, with a host of ferocious finishers. Indeed, its simplicity may be a boon: Asura’s rather basic moveset feels entirely in keeping with the single-mindedness of its lead. Even the repetition makes sense in the context of the narrative. It’s a tale of an angry man who likes to solve life’s problems by punching them repeatedly in the face. There’s not an awful lot of room for subtlety or nuance here.

Besides, it’s more a means to an end than anything else, as each skirmish gradually fills an anger meter until you squeeze the triggers to launch into a pyrotechnic display of concentrated rage. Anger in its purest form is, after all, an uncontrollable emotion, so it’s entirely fitting you’re no longer in control of Asura once you’ve unleashed his wrath. And the results are always spectacular: Asura pounds enemies until his arms fall off, before resorting to headbutting them when he has no more limbs to whack them with. This is a man powered by such unceasing fury he makes the Hulk look like the Dalai Lama.

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