Reviews

Blade Strangers review – Suupaa Kawaii Ne

Crossovers were once confined to niche Japanese anime games, bar the odd exception. These days, though still fairly niche, far more make the move to the West and with the interest in the upcoming Jump Force and the recent release of Blazblue: Cross Tag Battle, the sub-genre appears to have found a larger audience.

Blade Strangers is an interesting prospect as, while Jump Force takes big name anime characters like Naturo, Goku, Gon and Luffy, Blade Strangers developer Studio Saizensen draws from previous games in their own catalogue as well as characters from developer/publisher, Nicallis’s ever-growing library of well-respected indie names. With a couple of surprise extras.


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Immediately on booting up the game, you’re met with a decent-quality anime-style opening sequence complete with a gloriously cheesy (in the best way) intro song. Menus are slick, loading times, quick, cut scenes skippable. The quality of production value should not be understated; for what’s presumably a modest budget, they really went all-out here!


Plenty to Quote Back at You


This extends to modes, too as you’ll see the genre staples (well, generally staples, you know how it is these days): Arcade, Versus, Training, Tutorial with Online play for good measure. This makes for a decent package, but the inclusion of Story mode and Challenge mode (read: combo tutorials), which also houses a survival mode, make it even better. Options are limited to number of rounds, round time limit, difficulty, of which there are five settings. Online options contain quick ranked and unranked modes with matchmaking and ‘causal match’ where you can create lobbies. Some modes also contain a standby option to give you something to do while waiting for your next online battle. However, there’s one major drawback, at least for Switch European servers, we’re less than month after release and I simply could not connect to a match. Accordingly, I can’t comment at all on online play.

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The story is the kind you often find in gatcha mobile games, where random heroes are transported to same place to team up or fight for some arbitrary reason. I mean, it’s a crossover, what do you expect? Having said that, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad and certainly the writing is pretty sharp. It’s serviceable and entertaining enough to keep you playing to completion and the dialogue has plenty of funny moments. The premise revolves around a network of sentient super computers known as ‘motes’ who set up a tournament formed of people from different worlds, the purpose being to gain aid in protecting against the malevolent, data-jacking, Lina (aided by weird floating headgear-dude, Devian), with the winner ultimately crowned the next ‘Blade Stranger’. It’s completely tongue-in-cheek and all the better for it.

 

Don’t Talk to Strangers… Thump Them


The roster contains a total of 14 playable characters from Code of Princess, Umihara Kawase, Cave Story and Isaac (from The Binding of Isaac) in addition to indie megastars, (buff) Shovel Knight and Gunvolt from Inti Creates’, Azure Striker Gunvolt, rounded off with two original combatants. The diversity of this line-up makes for a creative set of moves, with each unique personality shining through. Those familiar with the source material will certainly get a kick out of some of the quirky match-ups. My first bout was sushi-chef pacifist, Umihara Kawase, utilising her rod and bag against Isaac’s knife, bomb and angel attacks… which ended with Kawase’s terrifying sushi knife finisher. Stuff of nightmares. Still, I’m sure for the unfamiliar it’s wonderfully bizarre enough to hold your attention. Plus, you know, everyone’s at least played Cave Story, right? My personal favourite is one of the newcomers, cybernetic nutjob, Lina. She really enjoys wielding those massive Mu-12-esque floating blades and that enjoyment just adds to the fun of finishing your foes off with a massive laser cannon.

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The developers have evidently gone for accessibility, which separates it from the genre’s more technical takes – namely the likes of Guilty Gear and Street Fighter. While Blade Strangers certainly takes the simpler approach to a 2D fighter, with auto-combos and a straightforward control scheme, there’s enough depth to keep local multiplayer sessions interesting, once the story mode has been wrapped up. In this regard, though comparisons can be drawn with the Marvel vs Capcom franchise and, to a lesser extent, Persona 4: Arena, the closest match for the game’s control scheme is probably Super Smash Bros. Blade Strangers employs charged attacks and single-direction-plus-face-button presses for most moves, no quarter circles in sight. The flashier, Ultra Skill attacks are easy to pull off, not requiring any tricky combinations. Again, this isn’t for the competitive crowd.

Speaking of the controls, playing the game with the JoyCon sideways is never ideal in any situation (especially if you don’t get the left one, sucker) but it works well here, given how forgiving and simplified the control scheme is.



Jan, Ken, Pon!


Aside from the usual rock-paper-scissors guard mechanics (holding back while standing or crouching) there are light, heavy, special and unique attacks, with the unique attacks being unblockable depending on your opponent’s position, guard-breaking throws, defensive counters and Ultra Skills. Ultra Skills trade a bar or two of your energy meter, built up by giving or receiving damage, and are typically as over-the-top as you’d expect. With each character owning multiple Ultra Skills, there’s lots of visual finesse to enjoy. Finally, there’s the gimmick named ‘Heat Up!’ which, on having a powered up energy bar but low percentage of health, allows you to enter a powered up state in which you will not flinch during the first attack of an opponent’s combo, giving you a much larger window to counter.

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There’s nothing particularly new on display here then, it’s really the character personalities taking centre stage with decent spritework animation, competent anime-themed visuals and expressive movesets. If you’re not one for cute anime visuals or casual fighters, there’s not much for you here. Stages, of which there are 15 including a generic training stage, are made up from games the characters originate from and contain varied interesting backdrops with some bits of animation. The stages are nothing to write home about as, though moderately detailed, aren’t interactive or dynamic, however, do speak to the fanbase of their respective games.

 

To the Point


Performance on Switch is fine, I didn’t notice any frame drops which, to be fair, should be expected. Graphics-wise there’s noticeable shimmering and aliasing in the backgrounds but these are minor blips, and this isn’t a AAA title. And it’s portable. And I don’t care.

If you’re a fan of anime (subbed), you’ll be familiar with the type of over-the-top voice-acting and, while there’s no dub option, the voice cast does a fantastic job, though it’s mostly battle grunts with a few snippets of dialogue during the story mode. Music is broadly a mix of catchy rock/light metal and synths, with most tracks being high energy remixes of tracks from the character’s respective games. And damn, I love that character select screen theme.

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Verdict:

Graphic & Presentation: 3.5/5

Sound: 3.5/5

Gameplay: 4/5

Overall Score: 3.8/5


All-in-all, Blade Strangers, as cliché as it’s now become, is a great fit for the Switch (awful d-pad, aside). The quick-burst matches are a blast, there are enough modes to keep it from going completely stale and the local multiplayer also makes this a great option for a party game. There’s an upbeat, colourful tone to it all that draws you in, but the lack of depth in mechanics will make a chunk of the fighting crowd feel like strangers.

If you enjoy the tone of this game and like puzzlers, you’d be wise to keep your eye out for Nicalis’ forthcoming game, Crystal Crysis.


Formats: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PS4, Steam
Price: £35.99 (UK Nintendo eShop)
Publisher: Niscalis
Developer: Studio Saizensen
Release Date: 28/08/2018
Age Rating: PEGI 12

Review code provided by publisher

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