I never know what to expect from games that I’ve seen so little of. I prefer to keep my judgment objective and my expectations fairly low, so that I don’t over-expect from a product. But, with El Shaddai‘s premise of a biblically-inspired adventure mixed with high-art visuals, I was already starting to demand a high level of delivery. One of Ignition’s previous releases, Muramasa, has been one of my favorite games this generation, so El Shaddai need to be in the same league as, if not top, the Wii game.
From the onset of our time with the game at PAX, it didn’t do anything to lessen that expectation.
El Shaddai is, for all intents and purposes, one of the most visually striking games you’ll have come across. It seems to mix the character visuals of Suda 51’s No More Heroes with the backgrounds of Muramasa, sprinkled with a little influence from The World Ends With You‘s slightly-futuristic Japanese technology and culture.
The game’s director had a clear vision for what he wanted the experience to be, going as far as sketching every character design and environment himself. As an experienced artist, he wanted every section of the game to be unique and inspiring, with stimulating visuals based on dream-like sequences. Some levels are done in Sumi-E, some are like photographic negatives. Others, like a few of the 2D platforming levels, look like exploding watercolors on canvas.
The demo section we tried began with an open field populated by cloud-like trees inspired by classical Japanese art. The section was the home of one of the seven fallen angels, each which has crafted a world specific to his/her tastes. It’s impossible not to give major props to Ignition here for allowing an artist to take control of a new property almost all by himself. The team essentially trusted an artist to be an artist, and it’s
reflected in an almost ocular orgasm that takes place.
It’s enjoyable just to sit back and watch someone play the game, but perhaps even more so when my hands finally got on the controller. Having just come off of another bout with Devil May Cry 4, the controls were familiar: simple attacks based on just a few buttons, but focused on the timing of the presses to give an good sense of depth. Weapons, which include the prerequisite giant swords, can be switched at certain points in the game, or during boss battles, and provide unique abilities to go along with them. For instance, one might make the character’s combos longer or more efficient, and others might improve jump height and length. Jumping was an issue, though, as I found myself falling into pits often. Perhaps it was the absence of a perception of depth thanks to the background design, but thankfully the game doesn’t penalize you too much for doing so.
The battles, though they can range from multiple smaller enemies to giant bosses, all felt like choreographed dances that were both meaningful and enjoyable. I felt as though each opponent had his own way of attacking me, instead of being a carbon copy of a previous enemy. The battles were strategy-focused instead of hack-and-slashing my way through dozens of goons. While I only faced a few specific enemy types in the demo, the assurance is that there will be many more varieties when the game is released.
Here’s how excited we at SideQuesting are for El Shaddai: when it came time to come to our appointment with Ignition’s Shane Bettenhausen and preview the game at PAX, four of us made it a point to drop what we were doing and attend. After our preview, Eric put it best when describing to me what he thought: we have boners for this game.
When the game releases this Summer in the US, you probably will too.
All images courtesy UTV Ignition. UTV Ignition is publishing El Shaddai in April in Japan and in late Summer in the US.