The problem's right there in the title: El Shaddai's handle makes it sound like the child of a lesser-known Transformer and an Old Testament demon. The game can be rather hare-brained in places, admittedly, taking a scriptural setting and pasting in phones, motorbikes and dance-offs. But where it really counts, it's disarmingly simple: this is Bayonetta without the sass and crotch shots, an elegant corridor beat 'em up that does a lot with a little.
Seven angels have descended to live among mortals, and your job, as celestial bruiser Enoch, is to "purify" (read: pummel) these escapees before God loses His rag. Aiding you on this quest are Lucifel, a laconic pretty boy who's permanently on the blower to the Man Upstairs, a quartet of angelic swans and (eventually) a girl riding a giant beige sausage. Confused? Don't worry. El Shaddai's plot gets its act together a couple of hours in, but is basically there to justify lots of surreal locations.
And surreal is putting it mildly. The fallen angels have erected themselves kings and queens of an enormous tower, each floor modelled on the traits of its ruler. The layout remains roughly the same between floors - combat arenas linked by platforming sequences, some of them 2D - but the trappings fluctuate madly. Ezekiel's realm, for instance, is a windblown organic tapestry, trees billowing like clouds, while Baraquel's is composed of slanting needles of glass.
Fights all turn on the same principles too, with little evolution over the course of the 10 hour story, but the well-judged basics enable a lot of choice. Enoch can only carry one of the game's three weapons at once, and must steal alternatives from stunned foes: you'll need to be good with one toy, in other words, if you want to get your hands on another. Enemy types are few, but different line-ups keep you varying tactics - tossing Gale darts to keep swordsmen at bay, then swiping an Arch blade for melee jollies.
There's a tonne to say about El Shaddai - volumes of purple prose might be tipped over the intricacies of each environment, waterfalls of ink poured on some of the more outlandish boss encounters. But here's the upshot: if you're stuck for a Devil May Cry substitute, give this a whirl. It's a little too scanty to qualify as God's gift to action gaming, but it's definitely going to heaven when it dies.
El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron hits stores today.
A poised and uniquely beautiful experience
- Looks like a painting in motion
- Finely honed combat
- Dazzling visual variety
- Light on features
- Chaotic story