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A.P.I Review: Akuji the Heartless
Developer: Crystal Dynamics OPTIONS: S.SHOT
No.1   No.2   No.3
Distributor: Eidos 1 Player
Game Type: 3D Action Memory Card
Review Date: March 1999 Dual Shock/Analog Compatible

Setting the Scene

On his wedding day, Akuji was murdered by his brother Orad, a powerful voodoo priest, in an attempt to disrupt the 'unnatural' peace. Orad's minions killed Akuji by ripping out his heart. Akuji was condemned to hell. To escape, Akuji must locate the spirits of his ancestors and use their to power break the barriers between hell and Mamora.

You are the voodoo priest Akuji. Claw your way through the underworld to exact your revenge on your murderous brother.


Akuji the Heartless is a fearsome voodoo-themed 3D action puzzle solving game. Players will guide the fierce voodoo priest Akuji through gruesome 3D worlds full of voodoo spells, ritual sacrifices and grisly denizens of the underworld.


3D Playstation platform games have certainly moved on a long way since those painful days when we had to endure awful titles such as Bubsy 3D. Of course many lessons have been learned from other developers failings and most of them have eventually been put to right. Sadly, this still leaves the emphasis highlighting the word most. There is so much to be praised about the graphical content within Akuji The Heartless and only a single flaw.

First the good news. The FMV intro sets the scene superbly, depicting the bloodthirsty murder of Akuji as his heart is ripped out and cast aside. As soon as the polygon scenery of the first level unfolds before your eyes you are struck by the realism of it all. The rock surface Akuji stands upon is not simply a slab of flat grey material but a moss covered undulation that looks part of the earth's crust. The stream that flows through the mountain valley could easily have been the motionless blue splodge that decorates our golfing games. But no, it's transparent, it ripples, it flows... Akuji can actually wade across it. In the distance blazing torches of flame omit a warming glow that generates a flickering light across nearby landscape. The appearance is so captivating.

The games lead character, Akuji, could almost be a living, breathing entity. Jogging around the set his movement is so life-like. His chest expands and contracts with each gasp of air. He leans into a bend when turning a corner. He raises his head and flings back his arms as he screams out his war-cry. He actually spit's on the ground... Gob-smacked!

While some enemy characters do not move a smoothly as our hero Akuji (such as the Grim Reapers), others are so slithery it is difficult to take them out (especially the Zombie torso that moves around by using it's fists for feet). This offers a challenging variation in foe, keeping the player alert and the game interesting.

Unfortunately there is one major problem with the visuals... the damn camera angle. It is initially set from the third person perspective but can be moved around using the shoulder buttons. There is also a button which is used to switch into the first person perspective (sniper mode). In fact a quick tap of this same button returns the camera to the standard position behind Akuji. Now this probably all sounds as if everything has been catered for, but the grim fact is that it takes far too long and it gets much too fiddly while fending off enemies. Croc failed in the same way, while Spyro got it right by always returning to the default above and behind the character. When will these developers learn that we gamers need to see what is coming ahead... not behind or to the side of us. It doesn't wreck the gameplay, but it certainly spoils it. Such a shame.

Sounds and Effects

The exceptional visuals (although slightly tainted by the camera problem) are helped along by a truly electric soundtrack. The Voodoo jungle rhythm ebbs and flows along with the pace of the game, rising when Akuji faces a battle and then easing after to soothe his wounds.

The sound effects are also respectable. Each of Akuji's movements are complemented by a realistic utterance as he heaves himself around the stage. Monsters roar, weapons explode and a helpful commentary by Richard Roundtree keeps the brain in neutral.


Playing the game is fairly straightforward and follows the usual platform formula. Collecting 100 Voodoo Dolls increases Akuji's health meter. Hearts and Bone Masks restore health. Skulls represent 10 different weapons. Attacking a diamond allows you to save your progress and Spirit Orbs offer an extra life. Most of these items can be found out in the open, stuffed inside totem poles, or hidden in dark corners. Occasionally simple puzzles must be solved to activate doors and gates where previously unreachable areas may be accessed.

In order to progress through the game Akuji must discover and collect tablets to unlock the final door, and several Ancestor masks to unlock new levels. The gameplay often reminded me of the original Pandemonium (still one of my favorite platformers) although the inclusion of a 3D environment bore more similarities to the recent Ninja: Shadow of Darkness and Small Soldiers.

The character handles very well using the Analog control stick, although I would suggest switching back across to the D-pad for those jumps which require a little more accuracy. Face buttons may be configured to choose and activate a spell weapon, jump Akuji in the air and grab onto ledges. The attack/action button is used to trigger switches and use his standard Claw Attack. Buttons may be combined to reveal many secret moves such as attacking somersaults and swinging kicks. Shoulder buttons allow Akuji to crawl and switch into sniper mode for more accurate aiming of magical weapons.

Apart from running all around the place seeking lost Ancestors, Akuji is capable of double jumping, climbing ladders, rope sliding and moving hand over hand across nets. This adds a certain amount of adventurous investigating to the gameplay.

As you progress through the levels several Boss characters must be defeated. Usually this involves blasting a giant creature a certain number of times before 'it' gets you. Akuji differs slightly here. You still need to shoot the Boss but only after several of it's protectors have been quashed. For example the only way to get to the Spider Boss is to destroy six small nests that are constantly pumping out miniature spiders. Once the flow has been halted and the small pests have been exterminated Akuji must then avoid 'Mummy Spiders' fiery attack as he clambers the web collecting weapon upgrades. Only then can the final battle commence. It certainly adds a little strategy to the usual end of level task.

Value for Money

Akuji should keep the average gamer occupied for a couple of weeks. Once completed you may wish to play certain levels over again to collect all of the Ancestors, but I don't think you would replay the entire game more than once.

GRAPHICS: 17/20 I really enjoyed the game... good to look at, atmospheric sounds, enjoyable to play, but not too brain taxing.

Had it not been for the annoying camera angle Akuji could have possibly been a classic.

SOUND: 8/10
VALUE: 15/20


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