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El Shaddai preview: Confusing my religion


El Shaddai is the most bizarre possible amalgam of seemingly random elements: simple, casual-friendly controls, exciting action, thoroughly abstract visuals, side-scrolling platforming ... oh, and Bible stories. And pants. I don't know what publisher Ignition Entertainment envisioned for its first internally produced, original retail game, but there's no way in Hell this was it.

El Shaddai, though, is much more interesting than most of the games at TGS -- you know, those games that show evidence of having been made by sane people.

Based on the biblical Book of Enoch, El Shaddai puts the player into the stylish jeans of Enoch himself, fighting rogue angels in a psychedelic fantasy world. His friend, guide, and possible rival (as well as the omniscient narrator) is Lucifell, a pre-exile ... Satan. He pops in to chat with Enoch a few times in the demo, showing off his time-travel-acquired niceties, like his umbrella.

Between pow-wows with the father-to-be of lies, Enoch fights weird, stretchy-looking creatures using what seems like one of the more elegant systems in recent action games. Enoch has but a single attack button (well, and a modifier button that changes the attacks into launchers when held), with variety coming from different jumping attacks, charged attacks, jumping charged attacks, and weapons. In order to get one of those weapons, you have to stun an enemy and then use a special attack to steal it, at which point Enoch "purifies" it, turning the weapon white in a brief cutscene.

I saw two weapons in the demo: a sword-type thing that looks like a bow with a glowing orange string, and a pair of shields. Each of these changed the feel of combat significantly, carrying completely separate sets of attacks. One of my favorites was the jumping charge attack with the sword, which causes Enoch to spin into enemies wheel-style. The shield weapon has a satisfying pause between attacks, giving you a nice feeling of impact.

El Shaddai also includes platforming levels -- which are displayed as side-scrolling 2D stages. The first such stage was presented in silhouette over an enormous stained glass artwork. This stage was simple, danger-free, enemy-free platforming, and didn't really do anything for me. Then I got to the next platforming level, which had me jumping from floating platform to floating platform, occasionally riding a sort of swirling cloud that would come up like a wave. There was challenge here! It wasn't Mario, but it's more than competent as a platforming component of an action game. The director, Sawaki Takeyasu, later told me that some platforming stages would have enemies, and some would be presented in 3D, but the demo contained only sidescrolling challenges.

It's a confounding combination of elements, but I like what Ignition has come up with: it's interesting to look at, funny, and brings a new feeling to the combo-heavy action genre. It's definitely worth more attention than the title would have you believe.

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