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March 8, 2012
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By Matthew Scott Hunter

‘Asura’s Wrath’

(T)

**1/2

Capcom

Xbox 360

One of the strangest games ever

I’m tempted to call “Asura’s Wrath” the craziest video game I’ve ever played. I hesitate to do so, not because I have any doubt as to its craziness, but because I’m not entirely certain that it’s a video game. During the approximately six-hour running time, “Wrath” offers maybe two full hours of interactivity (and that’s a generous estimate). There is some variety in the scant gameplay. In one chapter, you’ll be button mashing your way through third person brawls, and in the next, you’ll be blasting a giant space octopus in an on-rails shooter. There’s even a level that tasks you to keep Asura from staring too long at a woman’s ample bosom. Seriously. But for the most part, you’ll be solving quicktime events with a few simple button presses while watching a series of lengthy anime cut-scenes.

“Asura’s Wrath” is less like a video game and more like an anime TV series DVD box set, complete with credits after every 20-minute episode. The animation is fantastic, and the outrageously over-the-top story is never dull. You portray (or — more accurately — watch) Asura, a perpetually perturbed fallen god who solves every problem with his vengeful fists. The bigger the problem, the more arms Asura sprouts to pummel that problem away. This calls for mindless button mashing during the “game’s” few playable segments — none of which ever offer the slightest challenge. “Asura’s Wrath” fails as a game because it forces you to be a spectator and never provides any feeling of accomplishment. It’s more successful when simply viewed as an anime program, but that just makes its occasional button prompts a source of irritation, as if you’re watching a DVD that only works if you occasionally hammer on the remote control.

‘Binary Domain’

(M)

***1/2

Sega

Xbox 360

With its robot uprising tale, reminiscent of “I, Robot” and “Blade Runner,” and its third-person, cover-based gameplay, reminiscent of “Gears of War,” “Binary Domain” is nothing if not derivative. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. The controls handle well, and your large assortment of mechanized foes explodes satisfyingly into piles of scrap when fired upon. If you’re willing to deal with occasional voice recognition software hiccups, you can even put on a headset and issue voice commands to your A.I. teammates.

‘Alan Wake’s American Nightmare’

(T)

***

Microsoft Game Studios

Xbox Live Arcade

Those hoping for answers to “Alan Wake’s” myriad unresolved mysteries are going to be disappointed by “American Nightmare” — a standalone tale that creates more questions than it eliminates in the haunted author’s growing mythology. The new, wide-open, Arizona locale is also less conducive to generating suspense than the dense forested setting of the original game. Nevertheless, the story has its moments, and the game has impressively ambitious scope for an Xbox Live Arcade release, including new enemy types and vastly improved combat.



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