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El Shaddai Ascension of the Metatron: A rival for DmC?

Japan whips up some Archanger delight...

Well, if it isn't good old El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron. That could be one of the worst game names since Risky Woods on the Amiga ("These woods aren't dangerous, they're just very... risky.")

The name's so iffy that it briefly gave rise to a new noun in the office, e.g, "this freezing weather is a load of El Shaddai". That was until we discovered 'El Shaddai' is Hebrew for 'God Almighty', anyway.

The thought of several large Rabbis battering us to death with crowbars ruined our fun somewhat. So, er, let's just concentrate on the videogame at hand, shall we?

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El Shaddai's strange name is symptomatic of its intentions: this is a typically Japanese game that has no interest in conforming to Western conventions.

Take the plot as a case in point; it couldn't exactly pass as a Michael Bay script. Based loosely (very loosely) on The Book Of Enoch. Quick theology lesson: it's a Judaist religious text, although it's also referenced (admittedly in passing) in the Christian Bible too. See Jude 1: 14-15, Bible fans.

El Shaddai follows the fortunes of a priest who has been chosen by Yaweh to hunt down seven fallen angels, with the purpose of preventing a great flood that will wipe out humanity (we thought God was all for those kinds of floods, but hey, we're no theological experts).

So right off the bat it's not your typical boy-meets-girl story, but it gets properly snog-your-own-cat bonkers when you dig further still. Enoch is accompanied on his quest by Lucifel, a time-travelling guardian angel who often brings back souvenirs from his favourite era in time, which just so happens to be the 2000s.

This explains why Enoch is wearing jeans (a gift from Lucifel) and sort-of explains why he owns a mobile phone with Mr God on speed dial. The Creator Of All Things will pop up from time to time to dispense in-game advice - which is great and all that, but where was he during last night's Black Ops session?

El Shaddai's main calling card (by Sawaki's own admission) is its celshaded visuals. Wispy, surreal and gorgeous, this is a game that above all things is designed to be looked at. Large sectors of the game are quiet, serene 2D platforming sections which take place across striking backdrops such as a huge stained glass mosaic.

El Shaddai isn't the kind of game that grabs you by the horns and drags you from set-piece to set-piece; it's happy for you to just savour the act of existing in the brushstroke dreamworld it has created.

The visual style is designed to be "divisive and disruptive". Ignition freely acknowledges that not everyone's going to get on with the cutesy anime graphics. But paradoxically, they want to ensure that those that are drawn towards it find it welcoming and accessible.

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No mean feat when the main bulk of the game is going to be a third-person hack-'n'-slasher in the Ninja Gaiden/Devil May Cry mould - that is to say, a paid-up member of perhaps one of the most unforgivingly difficult genres in all of gaming.

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In its search for immediacy, El Shaddai has shed much of the complexity that defines its rivals. In fact, the combat reminds us more of Fable III than anything else - and if anything, it's even easier.

El Shaddai uses just three buttons - defend, attack and jump - with special moves activated by rhythmic button presses during battle. In the middle of a fight, Enoch can rip his opponent's weapon from their grasp and use it against them.

There are three basic weapon groups, offensive, defensive and heavy duty, which form a basic rock-paper-scissors triangle.

Ascension of the Metatron. It's a game of undeniable beauty, but the combat is acceptable at best and the platforming sections, on their own merits, are pedestrian. Similar art-house titles such as Okami and Viewtiful Joe had killer gameplay to back up its looks; let's hope that El Shaddai's beauty doesn't turn out to be only skin deep.

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