TGS ’11: Asura’s Wrath is a badass Buddhist beat em’up

By Brenna Hillier
16 September 2011 06:52 GMT

CyberConnect2 and Capcom have joined forces to create Asura’s Wrath, blending sci-fi with ancient myths and a steep learning curve. In Tokyo, Brenna Hillier discovers what it’s all about.

Asura’s Wrath

CyberConnect 2 handling dev duties, with Capcom publishing.

Story sees Asura, who was once a deity, try and save his daughter from the fellow Gods who betrayed him as they attempt to claim her powers.

Announced at last year’s Tokyo Game Show.

Is due out early next year on PS3 and 360

Asura’s Wrath is not what I’d been led to believe.

I’m a button-masher fan, deep in the bone, and what little I’d seen of Asura’s Wrath convinced me I was in for a treat. Press keys, defeat hundreds of enemies, and watch explosions – that about wraps up my expectations.

“It’s not really about trying to damage your enemy,” said Capcom Europe’s eternally cheerful PR rep, Leo Tan, speaking at Tokyo Game Show yesterday.

“It’s about not dying. But everybody dies on their first go.”

This wounded my pride. Sure, I’m not fighter fan – my miserable attempt at UMVC3 and Street Fighter X Tekken moments ago had proved that – but this is an action game! How hard could it be?

I studied the helpful control sheet. Light attack, heavy attack, ranged attack, jump. But two special modes activated by triggers once enough damage has been taken and dealt. That seemed simple enough. It didn’t even have a dodge, or block! I laughed a scornful laugh.

I died three times before Tan returned to lend me assistance.

“You can’t really interrupt his attacks,” he explained.

“You can only really damage him when he’s recovering from … that move.”

Later on, he helpfully wandered back to advise me again, just as I was about to put the controller through the screen.

“You need to not be recovering when he does that, and then catch the button prompt.”

Suddenly it all fell into place. I wasn’t playing a brawler. I was playing a sh’mup. Okay.

Watch on YouTube

The game’s TGS trailer. Looking a bit hot.

Asura’s Wrath is a really fun sh’mup. All the basic mechanics are there – spotting the one gap in the attack patterns which lends you to safety, learning the cues for each kind of attack, and moving in for the kill whenever an opening presents itself. The fact you’re a six armed man running around on the surface of the moon is kind of secondary to this simple but very satisfying experience.

In some ways, it’s not fair, because you’re unlikely to get it right the first time. Do I attack after he dashes at me from across the room? Or do I wait for the thing he does where the whole ground explodes? Each encounter is like a puzzle with only one solution, and unless you’re quite lucky, it’s a matter of trial and error. But when was a sh’mup ever fair?

The sting of having to have another go is lessened by a very friendly structure. CyberConnect2 never makes you go back and repeat a lengthy section, peppering checkpoints around like all there is to eat is boiled flour forever and ever. Moreover, each of the short sequences presented in the demo was compelling enough that I was extremely disappointed to put the control pad down at the end.

This compulsion to see more isn’t a chance occurrence. Capcom’s Kazuhiro Tsuchiya and CyberConnect2’s Hiroshi Matsuyama, the game’s two founding fathers, have cobbled together this Frankenstein’s monster of Buddhist canon and precisely timed action in order to create a TV drama-like experience, in which the player is always left wanting to know what happens next.

And I really do. Between each bout of fighting I was treated to a short cut scene, but not only were they refreshingly brief, they were just over the top enough that I didn’t even consider press skip, because I was too busy exclaiming “Ha ha, did you see that? Badass.” In fact, and I kind of can’t believe I’m writing this, I even got a real kick out of the quick time events that popped up during the cut scenes.

What makes the QTEs so unconventionally enjoyable is the humour, personality and sheer baddassery of the scenes themselves. Jamming the analog sticks to make Asura catch a blade between his palms seems much more immediate – and awesome – than just watching him do it, and the events you’ll trigger with your rapid button presses are always just as badass.

I have no idea who Asura is, or who his opponent was. I don’t know the identity of the two mysterious strangers observing our battle. But the storytelling in Asura’s Wrath takes its cues from the best of cinematic and narrative traditions, in that the sparse dialogue fills you in on the most important parts – who these people are to each other. As in the soap operas CyberConnect2 apparently drew inspiration from, I don’t actually need to know what the characters’ names are and what they had for breakfast yesterday. All I need to know is broad archetypical strokes – the mentor turned enemy, the powerful overseer, the aide de camp.

And most importantly, the badass hero with a cause. Asura is a guy who can survive being driven through the Earth’s atmosphere and impaled on its surface with a sword so large it comes out the other side, and still throw a punch that makes his opponent’s face do a terribly satisfying cartoon shockwave wobble.

That, combined with a tantalising “to be continued” around every corner and a solid set of sh’mup features, makes me more than anxious to see what Capcom do with this strange and beautiful beast.

Asura’s Wrath launches next year for PS3 and 360.

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