Vibrant explosions of colour, sprite animations, lovingly-crafted scenes and enough Japano-fun to leave your brain sizzling like a hunk of meat on a George Foreman grill, BlazBlue: Continuum Shift is wacky enough to send just about anyone round the twist. This fighter departs the shores of realism, trading in its last semblance of sanity for its wide host of beautiful nymphets in short skirts, surprisingly agile steampunk robots and long, long, long swords that couldn’t be anything other than compensatory. Step into the world of BlazBlue, please leave your coats, gloves and mental stability at the door.
Having played the previous instalment, Calamity Trigger, vague concepts were already flying around as to what Continuum Shift could bring to the table to one-up its predecessor. Space flight, ninja turkeys, eight breasted alien pole dancers. The possiblilities were endless. And while none of these things made an appearance in the game, setting virtual feet into BlazBlue, I was carried kicking and screaming into an animé-induced delirium where all that mattered was beating the endless, unrelenting tutorial stages.
I might be hamming it up a bit, this game is not the next big hallucinogenic substance, nor is it likely you’ll find any life-changing philosophical answers here. The fact is, however, that it is all too easy to wile away hour after hour pounding a range of wacky characters into submission and traipsing through the vaults of some mad Japanese designer’s nightmares in search of the ultimate combo.
This addictive quality is strongly encouraged by a tight control system which, while unforgiving, will always seperate the black belts from the boys. Combos have to be worked for and the player, endowed as they will be after hours of practice with Hendrix-like dexterity, is always rewarded with an elaborate sprite animation for all their hard work – along with a dangerously low health bar for their opponent.
Since the last title, the developers have incorporated a raft of new features including an enhanced tutorial and practice mode, a more polished online experience and most notably, “Legion” mode, which sees the player conquering a map area by area, one battle at a time, to assert their fighting prowess and dominance in a bewilderingly pugnacious flurry of punches, kicks, slaps, stabs, slashes, stomps and superultimatebeatdowns. In reality, this simply proves an extension to the ‘story’ Arcade mode seen previously in the last title, but any excuse to return to the fray is good enough for me and this new feature significantly augments the title’s lifespan.
In the past, BlazBlue games have been criticized for being inaccessible to newer gamers and while the tutorial and practice modes alleviate this issue to an extent, the problem still holds true. Never before have I come across such an intimidating 2-D fighter as this, struggling even to beat the AI on the most modest of difficulty settings. Stepping into the online ring, then, felt like walking through an abbatoir streaming with geysers of my own blood, I was well and truly out of my depth and all of my ‘competitors’ (I barely earnt the right to call them that) knew it. In this sense, BlazBlue is quite a cliquey game and will require dedication and commitment if the player is to rise to the upper echelons of its fanbase. Happily, I found a few fellow rookies online that I could turn to mush, but as soon as my ego began to inflate there was a veteran waiting in the queue to rapidly and efficiently burst my bubble with apparent ease.
While the game itself is inarguably crafted for the hardcore players, its market is opened up by its animé niche, presented as much as any of the popular cartoons (See Bleach, Death Note et al.), securing it a relatively dependable demographic. I must admit, its visual charms had me at hello and its presentation, with a lengthy animated introduction, blaring J-rock soundtrack and ill-scripted yet obsession-inducing arcade mode won me head over heels. I may never be the best online but it will always remain an infuriating and intoxicatingly absorbing joy to play.
The range of features has undoubtedly been cranked up a few notches and the roster has expanded a touch, but the barebones of the previous BlazBlue experience remain, for better or worse, and the title does little of note to justify its place as a game in its own right – more just an elaboration on what’s come before it. While that’s no bad thing, my review for the last title received a sweet 76% rating, it’s a shame that this new title fails to bring anything of utter, shimmering brilliance to the table.
Nevertheless, the soundtrack, the voice acting, the distinctive sprite animation, the lack of restraint and abundance of total and utter insanity in character design leave BlazBlue with a very favourable spot on my games shelf. It’s one that’ll have you throwing the controller at the wall more often than you string together a decent combo, but when you do get that combo, you’ll feel as if you’ve been born again. A rather numinous experience indeed. With individual stories for each of the fourteen playable characters, there’s plenty to slash at with your man sword but this isn’t one to keep going at for long spans of time – you’ve got to keep that sword arm fresh for the fightin’. The plot is thinly spread like a small knob of butter over a whole loaf of bread and the rigorous tedium of slaving through hours on end would drive the best of us to an enraged psychosis. Local multiplayer, however, is always a nice touch and if you’ve got some friends who are fans of virtual brawling, slip in the disk and prepare for a more subdued form of Fight Club to make its nest in your front room.