El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron Review

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Thanks to Wikipedia, I found out that El Shaddai is one of the Judaic names for God and is conventionally translated as ‘God almighty’. Thanks to a Kevin Smith movie, I found out that the Metatron is the one true voice of God and probably looks quite a bit like Alan Rickman. The thing is though, none of this really matters. Sure, El Shaddai offers an intriguing twist on biblical text and applies it to the wholly unsuspecting world of videogames, but this isn’t anything like bible class or Sunday school. This is a unique take on the literature and one that, if nothing else, provides a truly unique canvas for the developers to work on.  As Dante’s Inferno was to poetry, so El Shaddai is to religion. It takes the characters and themes of the source material but then expands upon it and subsequently pushes the concept of artistic liberties to the very limit.

Biblical overtones aside, El Shaddai is essentially a combat heavy third person action adventure in the mould of the Bayonetta’s and Devil May Cry’s of this world. Like those games, El Shaddai is a game that feels uniquely Japanese…..and well, just plain unique at times. With its breathtaking water colour-styled visuals and bizarre mix of the ethereal and the futuristic, El Shaddai provides one of the most arresting visual experiences of this generation.

On top of the traditional 3D combat, El Shaddai also offers up a collection of 2D platforming sections which, while basic and occasionally infuriating due to some tricky to judge platforms, does offer up a pleasing change of pace and, above all, gives the developers and director, Sawaki Takeyasu, yet another excuse to go bat shit crazy with their virtual paint brushes. The first few hours of both the 3D and 2D sections seem to have a similar visual theme, with the crazy cast of characters and locations somehow linked to the game’s religious overtones thanks to its dreamlike art style and dreamlike tone. But then, after a few hours, things go even crazier with the developers all but abandoning those weak links to the source material in favour of the kind of outlandish artistic design that could have only come from the land of the rising sun.

Motorbikes, topless angels, tribe-like enemies, armoured pigs and visuals that can simultaneously call to mind the electronic themed world Tron, the works of Studio Ghibli and the sheer madness of Salvador Dali. El Shaddai is a world of beauty, madness and inspiration. The thing is, all the beauty in the world would count for naught if the gameplay wasn’t up to scratch. Luckily for El Shaddai, its mechanics live up to its majestic visuals.

Although never quite in the same league as the genre leaders, El Shaddai is nonetheless home to an extremely competent, highly enjoyable battle system. It may run out of ideas a little too early in the game, and the platforming sections in both the 3D and 2D worlds can prove a tad inaccurate, but the overall experience is tight, challenging and largely rewarding.

While relatively simple in its core mechanics with only one button used for attacks, blocks and jumps, El Shaddai offers up depth via its rock, paper, scissor style counter attacking combat. Using one of the games three weapons which can be stolen on the go from attacking enemies, you will find that each weapon’s abilities are uniquely suited to certain enemies and situations, with each enemy type being linked to a specific style surrounding each weapon.

At its best, El Shaddai’s combat can be balletic and brutal with dodges, strikes and counters coming together into one fluid, combo-based attack. Sadly, while there are basic upgrades in the shape of boost and overboost powers that can regenerate your strength and call upon allies to assist in the biblical ass kickery, there is no actual upgrades of moves or powers for the three main weapon types. Be it the Arch, the Gale or the Veil, all three offer up a variety of attack options and approaches but none offer anything beyond mastering their initial powers and move sets. While you’ll happily get by for the first few hours on experimentation alone, I found myself eager for a change to mix things up later in the game.

If the limited choice of weaponry fails to keep you on your toes, the extremely challenging enemies certainly will. From beginning to end, the world of El Shaddai is one fraught with danger and enemies all too eager to hand you your ass if you so much as let your guard down for a second. The same goes for the game’s multitude of boss battles that, although rarely doing anything entirely new, do offer up a consistent and very demanding challenge. It’s not quite Ninja Gaiden II but this certainly isn’t a game for the light hearted.

There’s a story somewhere amongst all this involving a an angel by the name of Enoch who, with the occasional assistance of the mobile using, suit wearing, plastic umbrella holding, Lucifel, must gather up the angels that have abandoned heaven in favour of Earth in order to save humanity from God’s wrath…..or something like that anyway. The story, like the visuals, is quite insane. I never knew quite what was going on, but I was more than happy to stick around for the ride.

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is equal parts unique and beautiful and home to some of the most breathtaking and utterly bonkers art design seen in a full retail release in quite some time. The combat is tight and intuitive, but it’s the visuals that will stick with you long after the final credits roll. The title of the game might suggest a game full of religious storytelling but make no mistake about it, other than a few loose links to biblical text, this is very much its own beast. The difficulty might put some off, the utterly bonkers design might put off others, but for those willing to submit to this truly transcendent piece of gaming, an unforgettable experience awaits.

Bonus Stage Rating - Very Good 8/10

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox 360 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to press@4gn.co.uk.

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