I came to own El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron only after it was featured in an Xbox 360 Games on Demand sale at the bargain price of $2.99. At the time, I played the prologue and about half of the first level, and couldn’t get the game to “stick” with me in the slightest. It was pretty, to be sure, with a sort of abstract watercolor aesthetic, but I didn’t know that I could handle 8 hours of abstract watercolors.
Recently while looking at the short list of Xbox 360 games I had yet to play, I came very close to simply putting El Shaddai on to the “won’t play this” pile.
Fortunately, before I did that, I decided to man up and give it one more shot. This turned out to be a fantastic idea, because this is one of the most gorgeous games I have ever seen. As soon as you’re past the second level, the game starts throwing wildly varied art styles at you – a world of floating platforms that wouldn’t look out of place in a Tron sequel, a futuristic highway straight from Bubblegum Crisis, a surreal 2D level with hints of the whimsy of a Loco Roco… weird, beautiful, fantastic environments.
The game is mostly a platformer, switching between 2D and 3D levels as it pleases, with occasional bouts of combat. Your character can pick up one of three different weapon types (or fight unarmed), and each of your opponents is weak against one of the three and strong against another. The fighting system, as much as I’m not really qualified to comment on it, was pretty easy to pick up. It uses a lot of pauses and long presses of the “attack” button rather than complicated button combinations, so it was pretty easy to learn how to pull off the “break opponent’s guard” move that is pretty much essential to survival. Once I got that down, the fighting bits became the least dangerous parts, and I tended to just die from my eternal quest to explore the bottom of bottomless pits.
It also turned out to be quite educational. I’d never heard of the Book of Enoch before, and having a video game protagonist based on the titular Enoch made me go and look up the Wikipedia entry on the topic after finishing the game. It’s pretty heavy stuff, and it does make it somewhat difficult to critique the plot without being a lot more familiar with the source material. On the other hand, I certainly FEEL like El Shaddai does a decent job of interpreting the events from the scripture and making them into game moments, and that will have to do for me.
This is very near the top of my mental list of underrated and obscure games. I can’t imagine that it’s going to reappear at the $2.99 mark any time soon, but I also can’t imagine that it could possibly cost much more to pick up a used disc copy.
I’m down to three Xbox 360 games to play – the Anniversary edition of the first Halo, Deadly Premonition, and Earth Defense Force 2025. I’m not sure which is going to wind up in the tray first, I’ll just need to let whimsy guide me.