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Nintendo Switch Just Quietly Released the Most Artistic Action Game Ever

Like playing a painting.

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron
Crim Co Ltd

You hear a lot of discussion about whether video games are an art form, but few games take that quite as literally as El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron. An utterly overlooked cult classic released in 2011, El Shaddai is like an action RPG grafted onto an art museum. It’s experimental and a bit rough around the edges, but I guarantee you’ve never played anything quite like El Shaddai. Finally, this hidden masterpiece is easier to play than ever, with a remaster that quietly released on Nintendo Switch this week.

The story of El Shaddai is loosely based on an ancient Hebrew apocalyptic text called the Book of Enoch, and the game heavily ties religious themes and figures into its narrative. You play as the immortal scribe Enoch, who is sent by God to find seven fallen angels and save humanity from a great flood. Enoch is accompanied by the guardian angel Lucifel, who acts as your constant companion, and even your save point. That may sound a bit heady on paper, but El Shaddai does a fantastic job of grounding its story in the personalities of its characters, and then layering religious themes on top of that to make its cast even more compelling.

El Shaddai is an action RPG in the same vein as the likes of Devil May Cry and Bayonetta.

Crim Co Inc

At a glance, El Shaddai is a hack-and-slash game, where you’ll take on a variety of enemies using different weapons and combos. It’s similar to something like Devil May Cry, but the big twist here is that you can steal the enemy’s weapon, and use it against them. The other unique mechanic is a corruption system, as “corruption” will build up around your weapon as you attack enemies. Once fully corrupted, you’ll need to purify the weapon, or it’ll cause significantly less damage.

The action combat in El Shaddai is solid, but it’s accentuated by the game’s true strength, a complete commitment to artistic expression. There’s no User Interface or HUD (Heads-up Display) to muddy up the screen the first time you play the game. Instead, you gain all the info you need through the game’s environmental cues. The durability of Enoch’s weapons is displayed through their changing color, the enemy’s health is represented through their armor, and there’s no save menu as conversing with Lucifel saves your game.

El Shaddai isn’t afraid to experiment with one-off gameplay ideas or changes in perspective.

Crim Co Ltd

Everything El Shaddai does is about immersion. It’s an experience that feels ethereal and otherworldly, wanting to take you on a metaphysical journey. The game’s primary art lead was Sawaki Takayasu, known for their work as character designer on Devil May Cry and Okami. It feels like Takeyasu was given a blank check to run wild with their imagination.

Every single level in El Shaddai brings something new to the table, guiding you through an abstract dream world that makes it feel like you just went through a modern art exhibit. One area dwarfs Enoch with its gargantuan stained glass paintings, while another area feels like Vincent Van Gogh might have spent a week painstakingly brushing the lines. The game’s visual popped in 2011, but seeing everything remastered and touched up is enough to take your breath away.

On top of that, much like the NieR games, El Shaddai constantly plays with wild camera perspectives. The 3D character action sometimes abruptly swaps to a 2D platformer, or moves the camera to a top-down position to make it feel isometric. While the core combat doesn’t grow a ton across the experience, El Shaddai constantly keeps you on your toes by experimenting with its camera and dazzling art styles. You’ll absolutely never be bored, El Shaddai makes sure of that.

Each area in El Shaddai feels entirely distinct, with a kaleidoscope of colors and styles.

Crim Co Ltd

Everything about El Shaddai is a bit cryptic but it’s part of the experience. Its world and story are left intentionally vague and mysterious, all to support its astounding art design. You don’t play El Shaddai thinking about how to improve your character or discover secrets: you play it to see what astounding sight is going to come next. All the gameplay elements, like combat, are well throughout and solid, but this is an experience where you need to revel in its storytelling and aesthetic ambitions.

El Shaddai was, and still is, an important piece of evidence for video games as an art form. It’s nothing short of a masterpiece.

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is available on Nintendo Switch and PC.

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