2011-07-06

El Shaddai: Ascension of Metatron – Art And Action Combined

by Yo Snyder

The first thing that springs to mind when I hear the name El Shaddai
is the old Amy Grant song of the same name. This game has nothing to do
with that song, just in case you’re curious. In fact, I’m still not
entirely sure what this game is about. Yes, I’ve played the demo, but it
was about as clear as mud as to what was happening. However, the game
has an amazing visual design, there’s nothing out there that looks quite
like it, and the action is fast and fun. Aside from the fact that it
felt like you’re playing through some sort of fevered dream, I enjoyed
what I played.

The demo begins with a little disclaimer about how the game is based
on “ancient religious texts” and how it was made by a diverse group of
people with a wide variety of beliefs and respect for the beliefs of
others blah, blah, blah. Truth be told, aside from the fact that many of
the characters’ names are Biblical and there’s some talk about God,
it’s pretty hard to equate anything that’s going on with the Bible (I’ve
read that it’s based on the Book of Enoch, which isn’t even a Biblical
text, but that’s an entirely separate issue). Still, the game is called
El Shaddai; a Biblical name for God that means roughly God Almighty, so I
guess the disclaimer is necessary for those who may think the game is
using God’s name in vain; which seeing as it has little to do with the
God of the Bible, it probably is, but the disclaimer absolves the
developers of any responsibility when it comes to that.

So what is this game about? I don’t know. Like I said, the demo is a
little vague on story details. You’re a dude named Enoch who apparently
was chosen by God to be his warrior in some sort of fight against evil.
You talk to this other guy named Ezekiel, who provides some less than
helpful commentary every now and then; he just says vague things that
are obviously pregnant with meaning, but minus any context for these
statements, they’re just obtuse. The game has an interesting blend of
contemporary and fantasy. Ezekiel is dressed like a modern guy, and
while Enoch’s armor is more fantasy based, but as you take damage the
armor is knocked off, and underneath you’re wearing…blue jeans. Yeah.
It’s all a little strange.

Visually, the game is still strange, but amazing. It looks like a
painting, like a painting of a dream, like a painting of an obscure,
fevered dream that is only dimly remembered but remembered well enough
to have form and color. Actually, it’s pretty hard to describe how this
game looks, but trust me, it’s pretty impressive and you likely haven’t
seen anything quite like it. While the colors around you shift and blend
like water colors that haven’t dried yet, your character moves with
fluid grace. Combat is  fast and silky and it looks great.

Most of the gameplay is made up of going into a…place (I hesitate
to call it a room), fight some creatures, and then move on to the next
place. There are a few sections of simple platforming, but mostly the
demo consists of combat. The combat is simple, but it has depth. You
don’t get a lot of detailed instruction in this demo, just enough for
you to understand the basics, so much of what you’re capable of is up to
you to discover.  Even though you only face two creatures at most, they
can take a lot of damage, so the combat sections require some tactical
thinking and a rhythm of getting close to do some damage and then
getting some space to avoid getting hit while looking for your next
opening. You can grab enemy weapons and purify them, which you need to
do after awhile as contact with enemies will slowly defile your weapons
and make them less effective.

While the combat is fun, the platforming sections are even more
interesting. In this…dreamscape, for the lack of a better word, things
are constantly changing. At times it can be hard to be sure what you
can jump on and what you can’t. This makes the side-scrolling
platforming sections both a bit frustrating and rewarding as you learn
to interpret the swirling colors around. There were more than a few
times where I leaped onto something that wasn’t really there and avoided
something that didn’t need avoiding. This game will definitely keep you
on your toes as you make your way through its fluid world.

It’s hard to say what sort of impression El Shaddai: Ascension of Metatron
left on me. The game looks amazing if a bit trippy. The gameplay is fun
melee combat and with some interesting platforming sections, with
simple controls that are tight and responsive (although jumping felt a
bit floaty, but I’m not sure if that was a deliberate design choice).
I’m not sure what exactly is taking place in this water colored painting
of dream, or how it relates to the Bible or why it uses so many
Biblical references. Still, once you see it in motion, you’ll be
mesmerized by the visuals, and the combat is simple yet very engaging. A
unique creation so say the least.