Enoch doesn’t get around as much as he used to. He still holds his place in the Old Testament’s book of Genesis, but it’s his great-grandson Noah that usually gets the nod. The book of Enoch, his first greatest hit, is rejected by most canons today. Still, it was a big one, telling the story of how a group of angels rebelled against God by going to Earth, then breeding with mankind to create Nephilim. Then the archangels imprisoned the rebels. In the second book of Enoch, Enoch pulls a reverse Inferno, ascending through the seven heavens before meeting with the big cheese, who asks him to document everything before the Flood, and gives him angel-like powers.
Enoch is making a comeback, though. His two apocryphal books loosely form the story in Takeyasu Sawaki’s El Shaddai: Ascension Of The Metatron. There are key differences. For one, Enoch is now a sexy badass who looks good in skinny jeans and can wield angelic weapons like a flaming bat’leth. Second, Enoch takes over angel-imprisoning duties. Third, the seven heavens are levels of a tower on Earth, each one a separate full world shielded from God, where the rebels pervert human evolution. A cell-phone-wielding, pre-fall Lucifer serves as a handler, sent by God to keep you and the archangels on task as you ascend the levels, fighting angels and their minions.
Your average action-game story this isn’t. But that’s appropriate considering the overall lack of anything average in Shaddai. First, there are no rules governing the game’s presentation. One chapter sees Enoch traversing an indistinct water-colored plain on his way to fight Ezekiel’s giant boar-children, but in the next, he leaps about a candy-colored 2-D abstract platforming level where blobby Nephilim ride balloons. Then he has to fight a horde of zealots on an underwater stage while a fallen angel does a Michael Jackson dance number in the middle of the screen. Right.
Then there’s the gameplay. Shaddai rejects the combo-driven button calisthenics of most post-Devil May Cry 3-D action games in favor of simple, elegant fights. There are only four buttons: attack, block, jump, and purify. Attacks are varied by timing button-presses, but the real strategy comes in purifying, which you use to steal weapons from enemies. There are three weapons, including the aforementioned curved blade, a sweeping projectile set, and a heavy, defensive pair of gauntlets. Fighting is a dance of quick attacks to weaken enemies, steal their weapons, then use them on opponents vulnerable to the stolen tool. Then there are the obstacle fields, Mario-style gauntlets in two and three dimensions that require careful, quick jumping. It’s simultaneously wholly familiar and unlike anything else.
At the end, Shaddai feels somewhat less than the sum of its parts. As graceful as it is by design, it’s equally cumbersome in storytelling, never choosing between oblique understatement and exposition-heavy grandstanding. One or the other would work, but the melodramatic cutscenes sprinkled throughout are more confusing than informative. Under a better pen, Shaddai could have been profound. Instead, it’s just brave and fun, two things most games only dream of being.