Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Blade Strangers (NSW, PS4, PC) Review

The final days of August will bring a whole slew of new reviews to SuperPhillip Central. We start the week off with Blade Strangers, a 2D fighter releasing later today on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC. The Switch build is the focus of this review.

Stranger Danger

Forgive me for talking about another franchise here, but there are many reasons why I like the Super Smash Bros. series. I love how simple it is to pick up and play without needing to learn and memorize myriad moves and their respective inputs, and I love how it puts characters from a slew of franchises together for one big celebration of gaming. While Blade Strangers on the Nintendo Switch (also available on the PlayStation 4 and PC) might not have as heralded or as recognizable a roster as what you'll find in Nintendo's all-star franchise (and that's decidedly an understatement), what the game does have is an appealing and accessible fighting system that is engaging to use and a game in general that is engrossing to play.

Right away, I'd like to dive right in how accessible Blade Strangers is as a 2D fighter. The game uses the right Joy-Con's four face buttons, each corresponding with a different type of attack: from your typical lights and heavies, to something more skill-centric. As opposed to more technical fighters out there that demand a lot of "finger-fu" from players, Blade Strangers is a lot easier to pull off special moves and create killer combos while still delivering a good share of depth to combat. Whereas a series like Street Fighter utilizes a lot of half-circle, quarter-circle, and full-circle analog inputs that gives my thumb blisters just thinking about performing them, Blade Strangers merely uses one of the four face buttons in conjunction with a direction to pull off its characters' wide range of moves. Not only does this serve as a great way to provide accessibility to all fighting game skill levels (while again, maintaining a sense of depth in fights), but it also makes it so Blade Strangers is one of the few 2D fighters on the Nintendo Switch that isn't burdened by the Joy-Con's lack of a proper D-Pad.

Like each characters' gauge, this fight is certainly heating up.

You have two gauges to you in Blade Strangers, and one is obviously health. The other is a gauge that heats up upon taking damage as well as pulling off successful attacks. When it fills up, you can perform an Ultra Attack by pressing the right shoulder button. This is a devastating maneuver that can deal heavy damage to your opponent. Though, like any other attack in Blade Strangers, this can be blocked for small chip damage. If you opt to power up your gauge even more, you can use a stronger Ultra Attack by double-tapping the shoulder button, unleashing a varied, more powerful offensive strike to your (hopefully) unwitting foe.

Not the most gentlemanly thing to do, flinging a friend to the ground, but Cave Story's Quote is in a battle here!

Nevertheless, your gauge also helps you if you're on the receiving end of the butt kicking. When a character's health gauge enters yellow, they're ready to heat up, meaning that they can enter what is essentially a "last resort: state where they're much stronger and aren't as phased by attacks for as long as their Ultra Attack gauge still has some juice in it. What can result from this is some truly exciting come-from-behind wins, snatching victory from the disturbingly close jaws of defeat.

Coming fully featured with modes, Blade Strangers has a fair amount of content to enjoy. The main mode of focus for solo players is that of the Story mode, which has the same general, overarching story being told with each character's campaign. The only real differences between which fighter you play as are what characters your fighter battles and what dialog is spoken. Regardless of who you choose to play as, the structure of seven fights is always the same as is outcome of the story for the first batch of characters available to you in Story mode. You unlock the other handful of fighters (the more indie guest stars like Shovel Knight and Azure Striker Gunvolt's Gunvolt) in Story mode by completing the mode as multiple characters.

Do you think Shovel Knight battles for fun? No! He does it for shovelry!
No worries, however, as when it concerns every other mode of Blade Strangers, every character is available to you to play as soon as you turn on the game. That goes for the bog-standard fighting game modes like Arcade, Versus, Survival, Tutorial, and the Mission mode that tasks you with completing combos for each character, as a means to up your way of roughing up your opponent more impressively.

Each mode offers something for everyone, and I found myself quite invested in playing through each. Sure, playing through Story, Arcade, and Survival with each of the game's 14 characters to acquire relatively mundane unlockables--such as alternate character colors, portraits, and profile titles--might seem tedious (more so in the fact that I wouldn't have known I was actually unlocking stuff for completing these modes if I hadn't ever been observant to my Profile page), but it presents some longevity nevertheless.

Successfully got hit by the attack--hook, line, and sinker.
What brings even further longevity and replay value for Blade Strangers in the long term is something every fighter worth its weight in knockouts better have in 2018, and that's decent online play. I was able to test out the Switch version in a private, password-entry-only online match in Casual mode, where one's league rank isn't affected. Of the four online matches I played with an acquaintance, all four ran relatively well with no noticeable input delay. Hopefully that stays the course when Blade Strangers officially releases this morning. I'll be sure to update this review if I find any glaring problems, then.

The battle of the blondes begins in Blade Strangers.
While Blade Strangers may be a crossover game, it certainly doesn't have the gravitas of a Super Smash Bros., but then again, what does? My point here is that Blade Strangers offers an extremely niche variety of characters from even more niche games. For fans of titles like Code of Princess, Cave Story, Azure Striker Gunvolt, The Binding of Isaac, and Shovel Knight (okay, maybe that one isn't TOO terribly niche), you will feel well at home. For everyone else, you might be left with a clueless expression on your face as to who the heck these characters are. That said, the characters in general have varied enough tactics and move sets that you need not recognize every or even one of the characters to enjoy yourself with Blade Strangers. It sure doesn't hurt to recognize some of them, of course.

Some might call it a "who's who" of guest characters. Some might just ask, "Who!?"
When one thinks of the biggest crossovers in gaming history, one might think of Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. series, and to a lesser extent, one might also conjure up the image of PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. I mean, Mario and Sonic? Ryu and Cloud Strife? Kratos and Nathan Drake? Those are big names and worlds colliding. The characters of Cave Story and Code of Princess colliding? Well... perhaps not so much.

That notwithstanding, that doesn't make the crossover 2D fighter Blade Strangers any less of a satisfying and riveting game. With accessible (and more importantly Switch controls that work well for a 2D fighter), relatively pleasant visuals (a little over-pixelated with regards to the fighters), competent online play, a multitude of modes, and plenty of characters to learn and attempt to master, Blade Strangers delivers a fighting game that may not do much to distinguish itself from the big boys in the genre, but it doesn't screw up its attempt in trying.

[SPC Says: B] 

Review copy provided by Nicalis.

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