I just finished doing something with the Asura’s Wrath demo. I don’t wholly know what it is that I did, and really, I’m not sure what kind of thing I did it with.
Ostensibly, Asura’s Wrath is a beat ‘em up—except, I think I maybe beat up three guys in the course of the demo, for a total of perhaps ninety seconds of gameplay.
The demo chiefly consists of cut-scenes and quick-time events; it plays like an interactive episode of Dragonball Z, where following the prompts progresses the story, chiefly by causing Asura to get angry and hit things harder.
Interspersed were a few brief gameplay interludes, where I actually had some limited freedom to move Asura and do what I would typically describe as “playing the game.”
These sequences involved A) running and blasting things, or B) running and punching things. In the latter section, I fought what would, in any other game, be called a boss battle—but strangely, even this brawl felt suspiciously as if it were on rails. Not that it was, not truly, but there was a pattern, there were prompts—and eventually, I understood that the game was trying to make me play out a cinematic with my own two hands. If the boss knocked me back, I could tap quickly and recover—if I advanced perfectly through his assault, I could attack. If I was exactly skilled enough, I would use all the right moves and the battle would simply look like a cut-scene.
It would look like a good one, too. The aesthetic of Asura’s Wrath is, in a word, brilliant. I’ve never seen a videogame look like this—like a painting come to life. What’s accomplished here is what so many games struggle endlessly with and never achieve; a true visual dynamism where the nature of the image can change, like a brush stroke, becoming smooth and calming or stressed and furious. The visuals alone demand attention, insisting the game be played.
If there is a game, that is. At the end of the demo, a title screen thanked me for playing, and I sat there, wondering: had I played? I had mashed some buttons, sure—but whether there’s a game here? Whether this is a videogame? I really don’t know.
I do want to find out.