The original Afro Samurai, released in 2009 and based on the manga and anime of the same name, was lauded for its look and music but launched to tepid reviews that agreed the gameplay was monotonous. The game sold well by publisher Namco-Bandai's standards at the time, but that's not saying much. Still, there's a core group of developers that still believes very much in the Afro Samurai brand, and they decided to take another crack at it, picking up the story where it left off. They've kept the voice acting from the first game -- and the original anime -- but they've brought on writer Jim DeFelice, best known for co-writing the Chris Kyle biography American Sniper.
The hands on demo focused on, not surprisingly, combat. This time around, there are three distinct fighting styles with different special moves and strengths. The playable character is now Kuma, robotic bear head and all, and he can switch between Afro Style, Kuma Style and Master Style. I liked Kuma style best because it was heavy on attack and didn't rely much on blocking. Some enemies, however, can only be defeated with a specific fighting style, forcing you to mix things up. There were differences in the various play styles, but what I found most memorable was the stylized anime violence inherent in the combat animations. This is an over-the-top, crazy IP set against beautiful backgrounds. The whole thing is more clash-up than mash-up, and I think that's what has led to the manga having such a loyal following.
The combat is mostly controlled by one button, and sadly, it was so loud in the hall that the franchise's best feature, the voices and soundtrack, were hard to completely enjoy even with headphones. However, the hands-on demo does show that the Afro Samurai team has listened to criticisms of its first game by focusing on making the combat more involved and interesting. At this point it's still impossible to guarantee that it will stay compelling throughout the whole game, but the game is being delivered in episodic format, so there's less risk right off the top.
Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma will be released sometime later this year.