El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron Review

By Morgan Webb - Posted Aug 16, 2011

Fantastic visuals are unable to save this game from what it is: a dated Japanese PS2 game with shallow combat mechanics; however, if you find yourself interested in the visuals I encourage you to rent or borrow it, you may find it to be well worth your time.

The Pros
  • Stunningly creative art direction is unlike anything seen before.
  • Visually creative and entertaining 2D platforming is where the game really shines.
  • Forgiving yet fair save points keep the gamer on track and interested.
The Cons
  • Dated combat mechanics create a frustrating experience.
  • Lack of camera control and odd viewing angle combine to make the 3D platforming frustrating.
  • Potentially interesting boss battles become tiresome as you fight the same bosses multiple times.

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron Review:

As a game reviewer (who has been at this for more years than I would sometimes like to admit), I have to say that a score of 3 is usually equivalent to an uninterested Meh. A three is a game, nothing more, nothing less. This does not apply to El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron. This three has passion on both sides.  Some parts of this game deserve a five, while others deserve a two -- or dare I say it -- a one. So get ready for a passionate, heart wrenching, emotional, completely unsatisfying yet utterly deserving three.
 



A Tranquil Heart Is Life to the Body, But Passion Is Rottenness to the Bones.


Right off the bat, I want to talk about why El Shaddai is special. If you are interested in art direction, or are a person drawn to the visual nature of gaming, you should -- no you must -- check out this game. I loved the visuals. Maybe I need something stronger than loved. How about unequivocally adored? I unequivocally adored the visuals. Sometimes the screen is so bright it hurts your eyes.

Sometimes it's a 2D black and white pencil drawing. Sometimes it's a perfect cell shaded cartoon. Sometimes you are surrounded by abstract neon, sometimes it is drab industrial, sometimes you are in Tron. You really never know what look you are getting next, and you never see the same thing twice. It bravely challenges the notion that a game has to have a cohesive art style, and that feeling of never knowing what comes next, then being dazzled when you get there, is what makes El Shaddai a stand out game. The artists worked overtime, and they created beautiful, trippy, acid-coated magic.

The music however, is not so good. As a visual person, the quality of the music is usually lost on me. If I don't notice it, it's fine. I leave it to others to judge such things; however, if I notice how bad it is, and actually turn it off, that's not a good sign. You could make your own soundtrack. Pink Floyd should do you just fine.

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I Pursued My Enemies and Overtook Them, and I Did Not Turn Back Until They Were Consumed.

El Shaddai is a 2D platformer, a 3D platformer, and a brawler all in one. The 2D platforming? Brilliant. Fantastic. Utterly under-represented. By the time you've made it through the first third of the game you will have enjoyed all the 2D platforming the game has to offer. There are some bonus (yet boring) Darkness 2D levels peppered throughout the rest of the game, but since failure at these levels means an agonizingly long and dramatic death scene followed by the game's credits, you quickly learn the unexplained advantages are not worth the potential downside, so you mainly avoid them.

Then, there are the 3D platforming levels. This is where I tried to find out if a 30-something video game host could actually rip an Xbox controller in half in utter, bitter, miserable  %^&**R$^&^%'ing frustration (the answer is no, but my dog did leave the room for fear that things might soon get violent).

Now, before you get all your boy-panties in a bunch about how I couldn't actually be good at games because I'm a woman, I will say that 1. I have a mean headshot and 2. I can platform the &*%$ out of anything, being, as I am, of the Greatest Generation (the Nintendo Generation. What, you thought I was talking about war?). I love challenging platforming. No, I need something stronger than love - lets go with unequivocally adore. I unequivocally adore challenging platforming.
 

 

This platforming, however, has a fundamental flaw. The static camera is mostly positioned at an odd three-quarters angle. Combine this with the lack of camera control and the often abstract visuals, and you are basically platforming without depth perception. There are jumps you should be able to make without a second thought, but the controller-ripping problem is that they won't work except by chance. You can tell where the platform is on the x and y axis, you just can't tell where it is on the z-axis. You will fall again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and, not to put too fine a point on it, you will fall again. Then you will polish up your swear words, make sure your dog isn't in the room, and let a giant, jagged, pissed off f-bomb fly.

The brawler sections don't fare much better. The game would have been saved if they had just ripped off God of War like everyone else. Instead El Shaddai looked for inspiration somewhere in 2002. The simplistic, yet frustrating, combat is hindered by the lack of camera control but defined by the long animation and the cheap shot. An enemy finally gets close enough to get one shot in? That means he gets five brutal shots because you're down for the count.
 

 

The main problem stems from the fact that you are constantly locked into attack animations while your enemy is barreling down upon you. You spend most of your time hopping around like an idiot trying desperately to stay as far away from your foes as possible. There is a ranged weapon, but it spends most of its time shooting at the wall due to a tragic lack of target lock. You get your one shot in at the boss, and your stupid weapon not only shoots the wall, it locks you into shooting at the wall for several seconds while you can see your doom about to rain down upon you. Then you let another giant, jagged, pissed off f-bomb fly because you have already fought this boss three times.

And thus, we get to another odd part of the game: for some reason you fight the same bosses multiple times. In one case they are similar bosses (Foola & Woola are pretty much the same thing as Boola - they are all pigs with armor and you defeat them the same way), but in most cases you fight the exact same bosses you have already fought, with the same exact moves and the same cheap shots. It is just such an odd choice, and I can't figure out why they would do that. If you were happy that you accomplished a certain boss victory, and happy again you defeated him in his second monster form, you might find it frustrating to have to go through the whole process again a second, and even a third time throughout the game.
 



There Is No Speech, Nor Are There Words; Their Voice Is Not Heard.

You make this redundant journey mostly as the mute Enoch, sent by God to battle seven fallen angels and lock their souls away for eternity. They even have you go through the unnecessary motions of opening each of their prisons at the beginning, ready, no doubt, to receive the remains of your easily vanquished quarry. Right away, though you realize things are not going to follow this nice linear path, and, at the slight risk of spoiling too much, you're fairly far in the game before you actually manage to lock up anyone.

For our purposes, this is all you need to know about the plot, and while it's not earth shattering or transcendent, it is serviceable; however, you realize some plot points were cut. For example, in a cut scene at the end of a chapter, someone tells you your next task is to go see a Freeman named Sin and do whatever tasks he asks of you. Then in the loading screen it tells you that you did some tasks for the aforementioned Sin and now you are doing something else. Why bring it up at all if it wasn't originally intended to be included in the game?
 



I could nitpick for an hour, but let me just get to the meat of it. For any instant that the game is transcendent, the game has three moments of %^&**R$^&^%'ing frustration. The combat is so dated I sometimes felt like I was reviewing some low budget PS2 Samurai game from 2002. Having everything look different was a great conceit that I adored, and I also loved the idea that one game can have many different styles of gameplay. The problem comes from mixing a very modern game with some very outdated mechanics. I felt like this game was not the vision of one genius but the result of a number of strong wills each fighting for their own piece. It's too bad; El Shaddai could have been a classic.

I know there are a lot of people out there that will love this game, so if the visuals interest you, please check it out, I don't think you will be sorry. There were parts of this game I enjoyed a great deal, and I'm glad I played it, though the gameplay limitations will turn a number of people off so I can't unequivocally recommend this game. Maybe that is the true definition of a three -- perhaps it is not a Meh, but a game that walks a very fine line. Some people will love it, and some people will hate it. I hope that you choose to give it a shot.

Still want to play it? Why not rent it at Gamefly?