El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron HD Remaster Review

Flawed But Crazy Old School, Linear, Hack and Slash Classic Still Feels Great

The PS3/Xbox 360 era of gaming delivered us a plethora of quality linear hack-and-slash games. The PS3 had six God of War titles alone, never mind other great games in the genre like Devil May Cry 4 and Bayonetta. There were also lesser-known but equally fun games such as Conan, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, or the cult classic El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron never had the notoriety of the other bigger published titles, but to those that played it, it was certainly a game that stuck in the memory. The reason for this was that it was, well, very unique in a few ways but enjoyable nonetheless. 

Now, seemingly out of nowhere, this 2011 game has received an HD remaster for the Nintendo Switch, and what a “trip” down memory lane it’s been. 

If you are unfamiliar, “El Shaddai” is one of the names of the God of Israel. The game is loosely based on religious texts, where you play as a character called Enoc. Enoc is tasked by God to find the seven fallen angels and to capture and bind them. 

Despite a simple premise, the game does all it can to confuse the player with an erratic presentation of the story and character dialogue. The literal opening moment of the game has a narrator say, “Let me tell you a tale. It took place 360,000, no, 14,000 years ago?!”. This character is also Enoc’s guide throughout the game. The story was never this game’s strong point, and nothing has been changed to improve this aspect. 

It also doesn’t help that one of the designs of the game is to throw the player into regular fights they are intended to lose for the purpose of moving the story forward. After dying, you suddenly appear at a new location, leaving you constantly asking yourself, “What on Earth is going on?”. At its worst, during Chapter 2, I found a location called “the Darkness”, where I assumed I had to platform my way higher up the level. When I failed, the end credits suddenly appeared with a game over screen!

Despite these literal road bumps of confusion, what the game excels at is its artwork. I’ve never taken drugs, but if I ever took a hallucinogenic one and was then told to make a video game, this would be the result. This is one “trippy” visual experience. Each level, and even sub-scenes within each level, are like pieces of abstract art you are participating in. Add to this the fact the game switches from 2D to 3D with various camera angles, and you literally won’t know what to expect from one linear moment to the next. 

For example, you could be a black outline in a 2D section, platforming your way across an achingly beautiful rendition of a picture on a stained glass window. The next moment, you could be fighting shadows or humanoids in a 3D arena, high on thin platforms across a structure while there is a firework party going on. It is a visual feast for the entire 7 to 8-hour playthrough. 

The art isn’t uber-realistic; moreover, there are lots of single-colour abstract settings that are a little bland in detail but still very beautiful. However, this blandness led to one of the biggest, most frustrating aspects I had playing the game. With so much single colour on screen and very little in the way of visual clues as to where your character was above the field, it messed with my vision a lot with the visual depth perception, especially when trying to land jumps. This made the 3D platforming incredibly “control-throwing” frustrating! Each time you fail, you also lose a little of your armour, and when it’s all gone, you have to start again from the last auto-save point.   

I have to be honest: I’d internally groan every time one of these sections appeared as they got progressively trickier, and sometimes they were just plain hard. Not because of the jumps you had to make, but because it was hard to tell on the screen exactly which direction you were supposed to jump to make that platform! 

A simple example of this would be that there are stationary items you can hit around the world that, when smashed, give you more health. At times, my character appeared to be standing right next to it, when in fact I needed to jump up to hit it. Imagine this kind of depth perception issue when you need to make jumps onto moving platforms!

The combat, although a little repetitive at times, did make up for this and even had its own unique aspects to be fun. Very soon into the game, Enoc will find three types of weapons: a sword, metal gauntlets, and shuriken-like objects he can throw from a distance. You can only have one weapon equipped at a time, and the enemies have access to these same weapons as well. A certain feature this game has is that when you reduce an enemy’s health to a certain level, they kneel in an exhausted state with a light blue ring around them. This means you can then disarm that enemy and use their weapon. 

While the game itself doesn’t explain the system involving enemy weaknesses, each enemy is, in fact, weak to different types of weapons. It’s very much a rock, paper, scissors type deal. This means as the player, you need to get comfortable with all three weapon types (and another special one later on in the game) and not just rely on your preferred weapon of choice. 

Despite having to use three different weapon types, the actions to use them are the same throughout. A combination of the same action buttons will produce different movesets. There are also blocks, parries, jumps, and special moves unique to each type of weapon you can launch from the blocking stance itself. 

Finally, although the weapons don’t break, they will need to be purged after continued use in order to cleanse them from the muck of hitting enemies. Once done, the full strength of the weapon returns. 

One of the game’s great quirks is that there are no health bars for you or the enemies, just visual clues in how much armour the character has left, which determines how much health they have. There was a nice variety of enemies to face, and they were most certainly a challenge, but this challenge was made all the harder when the camera angles, along with the aforementioned depth perception issue, hindered your ability to be accurate on the battlefield. 

As someone who rates hack and slash as my favorite genre of games, one thing I look for in combat is the game’s effectiveness to allow the player to express themselves on the battlefield as quickly and accurately as they would want to. The control systems of El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron are good, but as some combos have a slight pause in their finishing move, or if you whiff a strike simply because the enemy wasn’t exactly where you thought they were, this can leave you open to get pummeled. 

Blocking is essential, as is finding your moment to strike. It’s very balanced and frankly an excellent system. It’s just a shame the reason you can lose a lot of progress is down to shoddy camera angles blocking your view, invisible walls you didn’t realize you were backed up against due to the nature of the art style, and, again, a lack of depth perception due to a lot of solid colour per level. 

I found myself swearing in frustration as many times for these annoying game quirks as I did for a fight being tough. Be that as it may, the game made combat extremely satisfying as when you land blows and then see and hear the enemy’s armour chink and fall apart because of it, it gives a real sense of gravitas and heft to every encounter. 

The audio of the game really goes under the radar; there are some great audio effects despite the limited detail of the world, alongside some excellent orchestral soundtracks. I have to admit, having a sword weapon that sounds like a lightsaber from Star Wars helped encourage me to use that weapon more than I should have. The voice acting was, despite the dialogue and presentation, of excellent clarity and quality too. 

Finally, there is very little in the HD Remaster that has been upgraded. There is an option to switch the game between “action” or “fidelity”; however, for me, there was only one choice to use. Playing the game on fidelity, which on the Switch is at best just 1080p, slowed the frame rate down so much that it was very clunky. It also didn’t need a fidelity mode as most of the art, as mentioned before, was very simple: stark colours with little detail. Action mode most certainly improved the frame rate to what possibly appeared to be a smooth 60fps, but I’m not convinced it was always that high, if at all. 



As we bask in the glory of how well received the PS5 linear hack and slash game Stellar Blade is currently being received, as well as the excitement for the upcoming Xbox One exclusive Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, there is most certainly a thirst for gamers to get back into the linear hack and slash genre. 

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is a good example of what the genre can offer, but it ends there at just being good. Flawed gameplay design choices and a baffling presentation of what should have been a fairly simple story tarnish what could and should have been a much better experience.

Developer: Ignition Tokyo

Publisher: UTV Ignition

Platforms: Nintendo Switch

Release Date: 28th April 2024

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