A platformer action game based on the Book of Enoch from the Dead Sea Scrolls? Sure, why not? It's certainly a unique basis for a videogame plot, and it turns out that Ignition has developed quite a unique videogame with El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron. I had the chance to get some hands-on time with the game and find out exactly what to expect from the title that intrigued us all so much at last year's E3 with those giant posters of two hot guys!
Basically, you'll be playing as Enoch, who must track down seven fallen angels with the help of Luciel, who acts as your guardian angel. (He's the guy in the tight black outfit) As Enoch, you're the long-haired blonde who wears magical armor over a pair of tight designer jeans. With no on-screen hud, the way to tell how close to defeat you are is by how much armor you still have on. Taking hits causes your armor to fly away in pieces, leaving you a hot shirtless guy who goes down in defeat. This is also true of enemies, where I saw some lose all their armor, then their clothes, wearing only a loincloth before disappearing in a cloud of smoke. (Enoch always keeps his pants on!)
Ignition is trying to focus on the narrative and art style, so they've simplified the control scheme and are offering a variety of difficulty levels to make the game accessible to as many people as possible. There are just four buttons: One to attack, one to jump, one to block, and one to steal an opponent's weapon. Combos are all in the timing of how you hit the attack button. Oh, and if you do happen to fall in combat, the screen goes dark from the top and bottom as if your eye is closing, and if you mash all four buttons fast enough, you can instantly return to life with full armor and health for another try. You can do this as many times as you can pull it off, but with each defeat, the eye closes faster and faster, making it more difficult. So after a while, you might as well go and reload your last game save!
There are three kinds of weapons. The Arch is a kind of sword/chainsaw that you swing around and use like a propeller to help navigate some platforming sections. This is the most balanced kind of weapon, and the one I found easiest to use. The Gale is a projectile weapon, which was helpful in certain cases, but is actually quite weak. Although its dash ability comes in very handy for reaching those platforms to special areas that are juuust out of reach. Then there's the Veil, the strongest weapon, which looks like two gauntlets that you can hold together as a shield when not beating the tar out of the enemies. However, like all strong weapons, it's also the slowest. (I didn't actually get a chance to try this one out, though!) When an enemy has been weakened enough, you can take the opportunity to steal their weapon for yourself, although certain sections of the game (especially before boss battles) will offer you the chance to switch your weapon at will. Otherwise, you're stuck with what's around you. Oh, and also, making contact with enemies will cause your weapon to become corrupted, and it will darken and become less powerful. So you'll need to purify it, although that takes a couple seconds, and leaves you vulnerable. The best way to purify your weapon is to steal the same weapon off of a defeated enemy, which automatically purifies it, and you can then destroy the disarmed creature with ease.
There's 3D platforming levels, 2D platforming, and also a driving stage. Yeah, there's actually a driving level. I didn't see it, but I'm told it's in there. But in a game this weird, it probably won't even seem out of place! The art style of El Shaddai is simply gorgeous. The visuals are incredibly trippy, and the soundtrack is lovely. Character design is equally bizarre. I ran into a helpful little girl who was riding on the back of a angel/human half-breed, which I was informed was deliberately phallic in shape. She led me across a series of floating stone platforms, turning the correct ones pink. Yeah, pink. Landing on the wrong ones would cause you to fall and restart, so I very carefully followed the bouncing phallus across the pink platforms.
Seriously, are you starting to get a feel for how outrageously bizarre this game is yet?
The exceedingly psychedelic stages occasionally made platforming a bit tough. Is that a hole in the ground or a pool of black water? Look closely or fall to your death! I struggled somewhat initially with the jumping around, but found combat to be nice and smooth. Heck, I even made it through a battle with one of the bosses (modeled after David Bowie all the bosses are inspired by celebrities)! Experience will earn you new abilities, and you're scored at the end of every level. (Some of which can take hours to plow through, but there are plenty of conveniently-located checkpoints so you don't get too frustrated!) Speed also counts towards your score though, so sometimes it's even better to avoid combat. (Although in arena fights, you're required to defeat all your opponents.) I asked how long the game would take to finish, and the PR guy told me it took him about 13 hours (so longer for me, then!), adding that playing on Normal difficulty will unlock Hard, and beating Hard will unlock a harder setting, and there are alternate costumes for Enoch (love playing dress-up) and concept art to unlock as you go as well. So that'll help with the replayability. It's a strictly single-player game, so the only online component are leaderboards where you can check your score against your friends.
I also watched someone start the game from the beginning, where you actually play through the opening credits. Your silhouette moves along the bottom of the screen battling enemies in 2D while above, credits and images pass across the screen, introducing the storyline. There are two endings, and to make sure you get the good one, you'll need to collect all the bones of someone in order to bring them back to life. Who? No idea. Oh, and the game will feature both English and Japanese voices, with the option to choose between them as well as a variety of subtitle languages. And Ignition is also hoping to bring the beautiful companion book from Japan to the US as well, even maybe adding more content. I flipped through the Japanese one, and it's kind of a combination art book and strategy guide. Not that I could read any of the text! The pictures sure were pretty, though!
I was intrigued by the giant posters at E3, and when I heard that it was an action platformer based on the Bible, I was even more curious. And now that I have actually played some of it, I have to say that El Shaddai is one of the most unique games I have ever seen. From the wild storyline to the insane visuals, it certainly stands out from the crowd. I hope that they release a demo so everyone can get a taste for themselves before the game releases on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 this summer (definite release date is coming in a few weeks)!