Ascension of the meta-platformer
El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is one of those rare and unique gems in gaming. There were no reviews on the game at the time and I decided to pick it up and give it a shot. I’m so very glad I did. It is a mostly three dimensional platform game with a few areas in 2D. Right away, the visual style of the game is unique and keeps you locked in. The various terrains and the way the colors fade in and out depending on your location is executed fantastically. The story is inspired by the Book of Enoch, an ancient Jewish religious text. The game itself does not preach anything about religion, but you have to at least be somewhat intrigued. No? How about if I tell you that your save point is Lucifel whenever you encounter him, and he communicates to God via cell phone about your progress? Read on!
You play as Enoch, who is tasked by God to find the seven Fallen Angels before God decides to flood the world. Enoch is followed and watched by Lucifel and the archangels Uriel, Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. Enoch wears holy armor which loses its pieces as he takes damage, and the armor can be restored via hearts you find by breaking objects. If you take damage while he has no armor, you have a certain amount of time to rapidly press two buttons before Enoch hits the ground in order to not have to continue from the last checkpoint. Each time you successfully hit the buttons fast enough, you’ll have to do it faster the next time. I’m no button masher, so I learned how to not take hits as much, except in the case of Bosses.
The combat system is surprisingly simple, and one of my favorite parts of the game (other than the visuals, of course). But don’t let that fool you. You see just how deep the combat system can get near the middle of the game. You have three weapons you can acquire from enemies or from icons on certain platforms: The Arch, The Gale, and The Veil, each of which has its own strengths and weaknesses. They also give you extra abilities outside of combat. The Arch is a close range weapon that allows for quick attacks, and lets you descend more slowly when jumping, which comes in handy as you play the game. The Gale calls little sharp objects by your side and awaits your command to throw them at long range. It also allows you to dash in mid-air. The Veil is a slow and heavy, but powerful weapon that easily damages enemies and allows you to break some objects for hidden pathways and other items. They all act as rock, paper, and scissors to each other in terms of which one has an advantage over the other, so nothing too crippling. As you use these weapons, they lose their shine and also lose their power. So, every so often, you must have Enoch purify them or you’ll be fighting for longer than you need to. Later on in the game, you gain the help of Uriel, who will help you fight and allow you to perform a special move call Overburst which will vary depending on which of the three weapons you have equipped. This comes in very handy as the enemies become relentless and the levels get even larger.
I won’t beat around the bush: while mini-bosses are somewhat challenging, boss fights are incredibly difficult. All of them. However, they’re sufficiently cool enough that I never really got frustrated. What makes the bosses difficult is that you’re almost always in a circular arena and they almost always have a powerful AOE attack as well as another attack that tracks your movement. Don’t think that getting close range solves that problem either, because these fallen angels are pretty adept at hand-to-hand combat as well. Yes, there are patterns to their attacks, but nothing on the scale of the boss fights in Mega Man 2. You’ll have to think harder in order to get past these fights.
My only real gripe about the game is the sheer vastness of some of the later levels. In particular, the level where you find that a few of the angels are being worshipped by humans, is so well hidden that not even God can see them. I remember spending around two hours in there because some of it is a maze and you have to find “keys” and switches to advance. But, the level itself is gorgeous. The level where the Nephilim are located is very interesting, but can get annoying with them bouncing around everywhere throwing you off.
The plot, gameplay, and combat system are very well thought out and the simplicity of being able to pick up the game and play with it guiding you through certain points that are new was a good reassuring factor. I highly recommend this to everyone who wants something completely different to play.