Very rarely do I experience a game that presents me with such a blending of fantastic artistry and epic story telling. Okami, Shadow of the Colossus, and Ico; all these titles have presented us with such a mix. Now El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron can join these titles in the ranks of great examples of video games as art. Skylines melted away in the sky before me, a kaleidoscope of colors and patterns swirled around me as I acrobatically dismantled my foes, and fallen angels fell to my weapons as an angelic soundtrack played in the background. All this as the world prepares for its end. These aspects merge to create a gaming experience of literally biblical proportions.
As some may be able to tell from the first look, El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is the creation of Takeyasu Sawaki, the man responsible for the character design on Okami and Devil May Cry. Though it plays a lot like a typical third person hack and slash/platformer, as stated above Sawaki and Ignition created something not only artistic, beautiful, and…a little trippy, but also blended it perfectly with a story based on the apocryphal Book of Enoch. You control the book’s titular character Enoch and take him through a landscape of beauty and color as he hunts down the Watchers, a group of fallen angels, and return them to Heaven to be imprisoned for their sins. Enoch must storm a tower created by the Watchers. Each floor is unique both visually and platforming wise, from the milky whites and runny grays and baby blues of the beginning’s skys, to the rainbow colors set to the dark hues as you approach the tower, to the futuristic Matrix/Tron inspired world of Azazel. These diverse environments ensure that dull gameplay is something rarely experienced.
As you may imagine, the Watchers can probably hold their own against Enoch, God’s chosen one or not. That’s why the Lord has sent his Archangels to perch on your shoulder and give you a hand or wing from time to time. The Devil is there to help out too. Weird, I know. He goes by the name of Lucifel and is constantly keeping the big man upstairs up-to-date via cell phone. All these companions add some much needed depth and voice to the story, due to Enoch’s role as a mainly silent protagonist, and keep the journey from getting too boring, helping you fight evil with special skills, and Lucifel keeping you interested with his modern-day wit and humor.
While Archangels and a comical sitcom version of the Devil are great to have in a pinch, it wouldn’t mean anything if Enoch couldn’t fight for himself. The combat system in the game is very simple, but is the main staple in the gameplay. However, it isn’t overly simplistic. You attack with one button, but with three different weapons that present completely different play styles, and a timing system that produces different strikes depending on whether you delay pressing the attack button at certain times, El Shaddai’s combat is simple enough to be easy to use, but diverse enough to look and feel rewarding when executed. It’s also enjoyable to mug your opponents for their weapons and use them against them. The only down side is the vulnerability you experience while attacking a single enemy. It isn’t the easiest thing to stop a combo or turn in the middle of an attack before you are sideswiped by another foe.
Taking damage isn’t as unnerving as you would think in El Shaddai. A health bar is absent from all life in the game. Instead, damage is seen through Enoch’s and his enemy’s armor. The more damage you or the Watcher’s lackeys take, the more armor lost. Not to worry, however. If Enoch loses all of his “life,” you can rapid fire on the buttons to keep Enoch alive. Enoch then jumps back to his feet with some flakes of armor back on, so death is almost non-existent.
Keeping death at bay is apparent in other forms of the game. When the player falls from a platform, which will happen often, you will spawn back very near where the fall took place with a minimal amount of “damage.” This is probably a good thing due to the lack of precision platforming. Though the platforms and camera positioning work well together to frame your jumps, the jumping itself is very touchy and imprecise. A single jump may keep you just out of reach of your destination, but a double jump may send you clear over the edge.
Aside from a few collectibles and some hidden areas, Enoch is pretty confined to a single “straight” path. However, it is a very, very pretty path. It seems the developers did not want you to forget this, since you will be doing a lot of running through the stages. There aren’t enemies around every corner, so prepare to enjoy the view.
Aside from a hiccup on the combat here, and a burp on the platforming there, El Shaddai offer an artistic and story driven experience that is not to be missed by anyone true gamer. From trekking through the wondrous dreamscape of damnation, to the epic confrontation with the fallen angels themselves, this piece of art is a rare find and a good one at that.
Final Grade: A