Though the gameplay in “El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron,” feels a lot like a stripped-down version of what you’ll find in games like “Bayonetta,” “Ninja Gaiden” and “Devil May Cry,” it looks like nothing else you’ve played.
“El Shaddai’s” story takes its cue from a noncanonical religious text called the Book of Enoch, found within the Dead Sea Scrolls. Its plot revolves around Enoch’s trip to the Tower of Babel to bring seven fallen angels back to justice. In typical video game fashion, each of the seven archangels presides over a domain that represents his or her ideal world, with this “ideal world” construct laying the groundwork for some far-out visuals.
I played a portion of Act 3, on the floor of a tower created by the archangel Ezekiel. As in all the game’s levels, Enoch begins play unarmed, and has to seize divine weapons from enemies. The Arch is a curved sword that looks a bit like a scimitar, while the Gale is a projectile weapon that enables a dash attack. The third weapon, the Veil, is a powerful shield that also unlocks a heavy melee attack that’s required to pass through certain areas.
Unlike a lot of action games, you can only carry one weapon at a time, and even then, you have to swipe it from an enemy. There’s no deciding to go into an inventory screen so you can bring a different death dealer to a particularly tough fight.
One similarity to other action games is “El Shaddai’s” timed combo attacks. But even here the game forges a bit of its own path as the combos are based more around timed presses of a single button, rather than letting your fingers dance as quickly as possible across multiple buttons, the way you would in a game like “Ninja Gaiden.”
Because of the relatively limited arsenal, the star of “El Shaddai” for me was its dreamlike watercolor-inspired visuals. In one portion of the game, the perspective shifted from that of a 3D, third-person action game with an over-the-shoulder view to a two-dimensional side scroller in which I ran from left to right.
During this portion of the game, billowy clouds could be seen cresting like waves on the level, and I was able to guide Enoch across the shifting skyscape. Coasting atop the clouds was a little bit difficult, and took some getting used to. Likewise, some of the three-dimensional jumping sections were made more difficult by the game’s joyfully bizarre art style. I imagine this is something players will adjust to, and I can see mastering “El Shaddai” being a lot of fun when the game hits this fall on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.