Release Date: August 16, 2011
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Teen

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is an action platforming game developed and published by Ignition Entertainment. Although Ignition’s focus is primarily geared toward the handheld gaming market, they did make a splash on consoles publishing the heavily Twin Peaks inspired underground title Deadly Premonition. A game that is horribly redundant of every survival horror game ever and whose only saving grace is a mind-bending plot that features a protagonist who frequently talks to an imaginary friend/alternate personality named “Zach.” Although completely different from El Shaddai in nearly every way, these two games do share one commonality. Both manage to be derivative and innovative at the same time, although with varying degrees of success.

To most gamers, El Shaddai will be both very familiar and unique.The action platforming gameplay will be immediately recognizable to fans of games such as God of War or Castlevaina: Lord of Shadows. Here’s a platform. Jump on it. Here’s a switch. Flip it. Here’s a room full of bad guys. Take them out. Your weapon becomes filled with the darkness of the souls you’re slaying. Purify it. Um, that last one might be new actually. Also new is that the game makes heavy use of 2-D platforming segments to round out the typically 3-dimensional combat.

Where this game shows its true originality, however, is in the game direction and environment design. Not level design so much, as most areas are pretty linear affairs, but the environments themselves. From the backgrounds to the set pieces, El Shaddai is stunning in its beauty. And not in a bleeding edge graphics, ultra-realistic kind of way either, most of the game looks like it could have been rendered on a PS2. The game just oozes an artistry not typically seen in many video game titles. Takeyasu Sawaki, the lead developer of this game, was also character designer for Okami and the influence can be seen here. In fact, take Okami, throw in some Tron, and add a touch of psychedelia (an old Bob Masse concert poster perhaps) and you might have an idea of what to expect here.

The game’s plot is also novel in that it borrows from a source not usually mined in the video game arena. While games based on Roman mythology or sci-fi are commonplace, El Shaddai is one of the few games that is set within the mythos of the Bible, with all the principal players that come with it (Angels, Demons, God, Satan, etc.). In the game you play as Enoch, a human chosen by God to find and imprison seven fallen angels. Lucifel, an agent of God will guide you, and four archangels, Gabriel, Uriel, Raphael and Michael, will lend you their power in your mission. Although steeped in Biblical lore, the game doesn’t claim to be anything but fiction. El Shaddai even further separates its story from the actual Bible by loosely basing its plot on the Book of Enoch, an apocryphal book that isn’t included in the texts used by the majority of Bible-based religions, and is widely considered to be non-canonical by Jews and Christians alike.

Of course, some players don’t care who they’re fighting, or where they’re fighting, as long as the fighting is good. And although early on it’s all satisfying enough, the combat does start to stale after a bit. There’s only one attack button, with a limited number of combinations dependent on your timing or whether you’re blocking or jumping at the time. The “purifying” your weapon device quickly becomes a chore as only a clean weapon will yield maximum damage. The ability to simultaneously disarm your enemy and /purify his weapon does help alleviate the need to purify mid-battle however. Still, in a game like this it all boils down to the fighting system, and I find this one a little lacking.

All in all, the aesthetic and vision of the game are totally worth the price of admission. The innovative look and feel of the game is a breath of fresh air to the genre, and fans of games like Ico and Okami will be the most likely to fully appreciate El Shaddai. From a gameplay perspective, however, I felt the combat was tepid and held Ignition Entertainment’s action platformer back from greatness. While a beautiful game, El Shaddai just misses being a standout in the genre.