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El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron

19:5418/09/2011Posted by Simeon Paskell4 Comments

To say that it’s something of a rarity to play a game based on an ancient Jewish religious work would be a massive understatement. In fact, games directly inspired by any religion are few and far between, with the most common reference being the crucifixes that are wielded by videogame vampire hunters of various guises. It’s refreshing then to stumble across a game like El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron that draws inspiration from The Book of Enoch. Wisely, developer Ignition Tokyo has not opted to deliver a digitised sermon and have instead produced a tightly engineered, visually stunning and often surreal action adventure which, you could say, brings a very literal interpretation of the term ‘Bible-basher’.

El Shaddai’s development was lead by Takeyasu Sawaki who had previously worked as a character designer on both Devil May Cry and Õkami, and the influence of both these titles is clear to see. Visually, the game shares the latter’s penchant for highly stylised art design and its combo-focused combat would make DMC’s Dante feel perfectly at home (actually, that’s not entirely true, as a demon hunter might feel a little out of place when surrounded by angels, fallen or otherwise). Despite the obvious influences, El Shaddai is nothing if not unique, even if much of its individuality is only skin deep.

In some ways El Shaddai is actually quite superficial in that it places so much emphasis on looks; from the game’s gentle opening to bombastic finish, Ignition Japan flit through a staggering number of visuals styles, colour schemes and camera angles; one minute our hero Enoch is running through a three dimensional, sparsely-forested ethereal plane, the next he’s hopping and skipping through an abstract – and almost childlike – 2D platforming-world. Finishing any level, you can never be sure exactly what sights will be waiting for you when the short loading screen has finished its work. These disparate visual styles are tied together by two things – firstly, they all share an ethereal otherworldliness that remains cohesive with the celestial setting. Secondly, they are – almost without exception – all utterly, utterly gorgeous. Completely ignoring that age old argument as to whether or not games are art, there is little doubt that El Shaddai’s visuals would look absolutely at home on a gallery wall – something the game is well aware of, frequently asking that Enoch (and the player) do little more than gawp at the hypnotic colours, shapes and designs that waft across the screen.

El Shaddai’s dazzling visual eclecticism is far bolder than its gameplay, but – underlying the gentle mix of Devil May Cry-esque combat, the odd bit of platforming and the occasional puzzle solving – there are still some interesting ideas at play here, most obviously in the combat mechanics. Though in action it may mirror other fighting greats (such as the aforementioned Dante and the magically-haired Bayonetta), Ignition Tokyo have implemented a control scheme that is accessible, deep and as elegant as Enoch’s flowing fighting style. Rather than demand that the player learn complex combinations if inputs, there is a greater emphasis on timed presses of three buttons. In less capable hands, this could have resulted in shallow button-mashing, but here that is far from the case.

Further depth is provided by the three heavenly weapons that are at Enoch’s disposal – known as the Arch, Gale and Veil – each of which has very clearly defined strengths and weaknesses. The Arch (a mix between a bow, light-sabre and band-saw) is the all rounder, imbuing Enoch with a fair degree speed, athleticism and range. The Veil (a gleaming white shield that breaks down into a pair of heavy-duty boxing gloves) is slow but powerful, and the Gale (which surrounds Enoch with a small fleet of ethereal paper-aeroplanes) provides long-range power at the cost of close-range vulnerability. Adding a final layer of depth to the combat is the fact that each of these weapons has to be wrenched from the possession of enemies, which in turn makes them more vulnerable to attack. The upshot of this is that you must constantly balance your desire for specific weapons with the necessity of disarming your opponents. On paper, this may sound quite complex, but in practice it makes for a satisfyingly unique spin on a tried and tested formula.

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  • Ray Crowe said:

    Thank you for the in-depth and intelligent review of this great game! The art style is only part of the joy of El Shaddai as far as I’m concerned. The gameplay is elegant, exciting and of high value, and the plot unique and unconventional. One of the best games of the year IMO.

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