Asura's Wrath might just be one of the strangest games I've ever played, let alone reviewed. While the blend of science fiction and Hinduism might initially throw you for a loop, it's the game's structure that really sets it apart. When I heard it described as anime I incorrectly assumed this was in reference to the game's over-the-top style, but the game actually is laid out like television episodes, complete with interludes for non-existent commercial breaks, previews and credit sequences throughout. The concept of interactive anime is really intriguing and Asura's Wrath is pretty entertaining overall, but unfortunately it's a jumbled mess of gameplay mechanics, visual styles and long cinematic sequences, to the point where it might be hard to truly consider Asura's Wrath a game.
For most part you play as Asura, who is really good at four things: being angry, yelling, getting his arms broken off and crashing into Earth. Luckily with regards to the last two, Asura is a demigod (one of eight Guardian Generals) and is frequently growing and fighting with up to six arms, only to lose them again. The Guardian Generals, along with a massive spaceship fleet that seems to serve no other purpose then to evoke scale and be cannon fodder, are stuck in a neverending war with the Gohma, impure and destructive creatures. After driving the Gohma back into dormancy, Asura is framed for the murder of the emperor, his wife is killed and his daughter is kidnapped by the other seven Generals . They believe she is the key to ending the conflict with the Gohma permanently. It's great to see villains who are not simply evil for the sake of being evil, but actually believe themselves to be in the right.
The fights with the game's various bosses, typically your rival generals, are the real treat of the game. While many action games have been pushing for a grander scale lately, Asura's Wrath really exists on another level. The visual spectacle is something to behold as you fight it out with some planet-sized enemies . One boss fight has you fighting with a single continent sized finger. If you're a fan of shows like Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann or just that general dial-to-11 approach, you'll certainly be pleased.
Where the issues start however is in how many methods Asura's Wrath uses to relate this story. There are cutscenes, quick time events, visual novel type sections, shoot-em up sequences and action gameplay all vying for attention. One of the cleverer gameplay mechanics of Asura's Wrath pertains to the transitioning between these various elements by using the Burst system. Enemies will actually spawn endlessly and even bosses will not have actual health, but the entire goal instead is to fill your gauge by pummeling them, then triggering your Burst to start the next sections. An episode might start with a cutscene that moves into a shoot-em-up until you've filled your Burst gauge, then a quick time event transitions you into the action game. Another filled Burst moves you into another QTE, which then ends the episode, and some text over images explains some of the in-between episode story. There are actually one or two episodes where it all flows together seamlessly, but it's in general really awkward, like Asura's Wrath can't quite decide what it wants to be.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the game's ratio of watching to playing. It's honestly kind of hard to consider Asura's Wrath a game when a 20-30 minute episode can have less than a minute of actual gameplay. Later episodes do tend to have more even distribution or at least become harder and force repeat play, but the game also has an annoying habit of wasting your time. On more than one occasion you'll have to walk Asura 30 feet with no other purpose than to trigger the next cut scene.
The game is also really short. It's about six to seven hours to complete, and that's with watching all the credits and previews. I'd be one of the first to argue that there are merits of quality over quantity, and Asura's Wrath certainly has over-the-top popcorn fun in spades, but there's a limit, especially with little to no replay value. One bonus episode is the only unlock of note unless you care to change the visuals of the UI or interludes and even though it's chock full of QTE, they almost always result in the same outcome. You're not going to get a very different experience through playing an episode again better or worse than your first run-through.
Bottom Line: Asura's Wrath is a novel idea with some poor implementation. It often feels strained into too many directions, but there is something undeniably fun about certain outrageous moments. There really isn't much else quite like Asura's Wrath.
Recommendation: Asura's Wrath might very well be the poster child for rental titles. Play it, enjoy what's fun and unique about it and avoid spending full price.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.