It's important to really convey just how seismic Asura's beatdowns are. This is a guy who can kill a god with a headbutt, or punch his way out of a demonic fish that's the size of America. You see, while Asura's Wrath is hardly the most serious game in the world, it's a surprisingly clever one. Every molecule of its design ties back into the idea of his undying, unquenchable anger, from the impeccable sound design making every strike sound like a thunderclap from Thor himself to the immaculate timing of the QTE inputs - every blow, every explosion, even every beating you take... you can feel it. The struggle to fill the Wrath bar, be it through relentless Ghoma pounding, QTE button mashing or even the on-rails shooting sections (which pay homage to Rez, of all things), is exactly that - a struggle - and the release when you finally do burst is so cathartic you'll be tempted to tear your shirt in half like Hulk Hogan and let out a guttural roar.
For all the ridiculousness, Asura's Wrath's narrative works because it's a human story, one about a man seeking vengeance for his family. For every continent-sized explosion, there's a touching unspoken moment between well-written characters. Asura's motivations are always clear and always compelling, and even though the game is cutscene heavy its storytelling rarely feels laboured. Instead it's snappily paced, funny, sharp and unexpectedly easy to follow.
Special mention must go to the static storyboards that fill the gaps between episodes (of which there are 18 in total - the game plays out like a DVD boxset, with cliffhangers and credit sequences). Not only do they look fantastic, the accompanying text toys with the story in ways other games just don't do - different perspectives, false narration and even historical eulogies. And while pinning down a direct inspiration is tough given the game's pick n mix approach to different religions and mythologies, there are clear and sombre nods to Japan's own 20th century nuclear history - the threat is always from above, and when it comes, it's merciless.
Amidst all this praise, though, it's key to remember that earlier point - at times, Asura's Wrath is barely a game. The curious combination won me over, despite generally despising QTEs and boasting a short fuse for hammy cutscenes. Regardless, this is a short game, and only a third of it is actually playable. That's going to be enough to deter many. It's made the thing bloody tough to score, and Capcom's effort is sure to polarise opinion in a way few games ever manage. While I wrestled with my own opinion throughout the playthrough, though, one sentence kept spinning around in my head: you've got to play Asura's Wrath.
Good or bad, game or no game, you've just got to play Asura's Wrath. And, in truth, that probably says it all.
Version Tested: Xbox 360
VideoGamer.com Score8 Score out of 10
- Amazing, unique spectacle
- Oddly involving and brilliantly paced
- Barely interactive for large chunks
- Combat is shallow