El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron – Xbox 360 review

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron - Xbox360 box artReview by Johnus Maximus

What happens when you’re part of a cabal of rebellious angels who try to defy god’s will and set up shop on Earth, creating a perverse tower of falsely-evolved humans? You get to face one of gods most kickass, dedicated scribes – Enoch – that’s what.

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is a 3D/2D action-platformer developed by Ignition Tokyo, published by UTV Ignition Entertainment and available for PS3 and Xbox 360. It’s also one of the most visually stimulating games of this generation.

If like me, you’re not particularly well versed in Christian and/or Jewish mythology, then you may not be familiar with the character Enoch, who was the great-grandfather of Noah (yes, he of “Ark” fame). There’s a long and complicated story to this character and each of the major religions that deal with the events surrounding his adventures seem to have a difference of opinion over which is the correct canon.

So it didn’t really matter to me that the developers chose the events of “The Book of Enoch” as the foundation upon which to build their plot, because the characters, locations and situations ended up being just as avant-garde as some of the best, original Japanese games – Bayonetta, being one of the most recent, significant parallels.

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Beginning with a free fall ride on a giant hand, a pre-fall Lucifer (dubbed “Lucifel“, he wears fashionable suits and talks to God on a mobile phone) briefs you on your mission to bring back the souls of seven angels who have hidden themselves and their giant tower somewhere on Earth. It takes Enoch a few hundred years to do this, which you experience in a two minute side-scrolling romp through a beautiful credit sequence, which also explains his immortality.

His search complete, you then begin the game proper. It’s a daunting task, Enoch must scale the perverted spire and within each level, seek out its host and destroy them in combat. Of course, they are not going to just let you come and kill them, along the way you are faced with many platforming obstacles – large holes, spinning platforms, exploding blocks and other such staples of the genre.

In addition to a comfortable pair of denim slacks, Enoch is also entitled to wear a suit of heavenly armour that falls apart, piece-by-piece, as you lose health (akin to television classic Knightmare). With no control over the camera in 3D mode, you’ll be falling off a lot and with no visible HUD on your first playthrough, you must play close attention to the state of the armour, it can only be restored by certain items and if you lose it completely, you have to mash lots of buttons in order for Lucifel to respawn you.

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There is also a horde of foes who serve the angels – an army of humans and shadow creatures who can wield the same weaponry as Enoch – whom you must dispatch using whichever combat style you prefer. Like any epic quest from god, you never get given all the tools at once, you must literally take one of the weapons from your foes should you choose to wield something different.

Of the three weapons in the game, each has a different ability and inherent weakness, those canny enough will be able to adopt a fighting style best suited to their foe, but for those less adept the game is quite easily beaten by button mashing. Each weapon also grant benefits outside of combat – such as allowing you to glide after jumping, or performing a mid-air dash – which does help overcome some of the more frustrating platforming sections.

As you move from one part of the tower to the next, the gameplay itself does not discernably change – there’s a mix of 2D and 3D platforming, several fights against minions and occasionally an end of level boss – fortunately the developers saw fit to punctuate the differences between the towers’ sections by drastically altering the art style of each.

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It’s difficult to describe how breathtakingly beautiful this game can be at times. Despite many generic gameplay components, confusing storytelling and weak voice acting, the art style makes up for all the negatives. Each of the states of evolution the angels have forced upon their worshippers is truly represented in a unique manner and makes the reward for taking down the end of level bosses all that sweeter as you move on to a new and glorious explosion of eye candy.

Given the length of development time (it began in 2007), it’s a real shame that the weaker aspects of this game weren’t ironed out before launch. I’m more than happy to enjoy a contrived plot if it is presented in understandable manner, but there were times I really did not have a clue what was going on or which characters were talking to me. The relevance of an entire subplot was lost on me and I honestly feel that more could have been done to tell this story effectively.

There are some great moments that make this game worth looking at though – the jocular conversations between Lucifel and God (of which you only hear one side), the grandeur of a handful of the boss fights, the ascension to what I dubbed “the Tron level” – but those aside, the unique and awe-inspiring visuals are this games key selling point and what keeps it from being awarding a more mediocre score. Had more been done to flesh out the actual gameplay, this could have been a seminal piece of gaming history, but as it is, it’s destined to be overlooked.

6 out of 10El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron scores 6 out of 10.