Developed by Gaijin Entertainment and TopWare Interactive, and published by SouthPeak Interactive, X-Blades introduces Ayumi to the world, the girl who never played with dolls when she was little. There’s no pretence here, the game doesn’t try to disguise itself as anything cerebrally challenging; X-Blades sits firmly in the hack-and-slash camp, the question is, does the game cut the mustard?

The story is set as the game boots up, straight into a cut-scene explaining how Ayumi found her map, and why she’s now on a treasure hunting mission. When two artefact pieces magically join together, they pave the way to riches and enemy creatures. While the cut-scenes are nicely animated, the story doesn’t really make a lot of sense, there’s some fluff about the powers of darkness and an evil curse, the normal clichéd adventure stuff, yet there’s very little meat to the story. The trouble is that the narrative doesn’t seem to lead you anywhere. The only thing keeping the player moving through the levels is the desire to see the next map, rather than finding out what lays in store for Ayumi. As the whole premise of the game is revealed right at the start, this doesn’t matter terribly, and given that the cut-scenes feel very disjointed from the action (it jars when the screen blacks out for loading), it’s probably just as well.

Controlling Ayumi is pretty straight forward; the right stick controls movement, the left stick controls the camera. In offence, the player has swords, guns and up to four different magical attacks at their disposal, these are unleashed via the face and shoulder buttons. Each creature has a weakness to certain attacks, although there doesn’t seem to be a lot of logic to which type of attack will hurt a creature. You might think that an enemy who attacks with fire would be vulnerable to ice, but it’s simply not the case. Fortunately there’s a guide which tells all that’s needed to know, though it does mean pausing the game and going into the menus.

The targeting can be a little erratic, at times never being completely sure of what’s being hit, and it seems to change at random. There is a lock-on allowing the player to concentrate on the main threat, but when killing the minions it’s not really needed – things still die. Thankfully the camera, which can be annoying in this type of game, is well done, and never puts the player at a disadvantage.

The enemies continue to spawn in the arena until the main threat has been destroyed, and considering how much is on show, the frame rates are fantastic. Through the levels there are main objectives, although these aren’t actually revealed, up to the player to work it out. As a general rule there is a boss element and a lackey element. Eliminating the boss part of the equation incapacitates the lackeys, but they can’t be totally ignored. In some areas it’s just a case of killing lots of minions. At the bottom right of the screen is a kind of enemy strength indicator that shows the condition of the opponent, giving the player some idea of whether their actions are having the right affect.

Once the level goal is complete, the player can walk about the environment at leisure, looking for the breakables, artefact parts and valuables. Here the music mellows out and is a welcome break for the harsh, even irritating sonics whilst Ayumi is in combat. The arenas themselves never give a feeling of being particularly large, and outside of the main battle arena tends to be pretty sparse. The player can run around it, but there’s not much to explore or discover, however, levels are very well lit, and look great on screen. In fact there are a lot of nice little visual touches, such as the sunlight glinting off Ayumi’s blades as she waves them about – it’s all nicely animated.

This placid calm is a nice breather from the frantic button mashing, and as artefact collection is somewhat important, given it grants weapon upgrades once a piece is assembled, it’s nice to be able to do this without having to contend with hordes of enemies. A little irritatingly, it’s possible to walk back out of an area in some instances. When this happens, the whole level has to be completely cleared again, even if previously cleansed. This is particularly irksome as it’s possible to do this by accident, this is down to the lack of a mini-map, although to be fair, the correct exit is lit up with a sparkling fiery twirly things.

At level exit, the player is graded on the amount of enemies killed, the number of destructible environment elements obliterated and the quantity of artefacts and treasures found – the higher the count, the higher the rewards. There is also some minor RPG elements allowing Ayumi to learn new spells and skills. These are gained by defeating monsters providing experience, which can be spent on whatever the player desires. It’s very light-weight, but given the nature of the hack-and-slash gameplay, it’s set at the right level – involved statistic tracking really would feel out of place.

Whilst the areas to investigate tend to be quite small, at times it’s simply not obvious what Ayumi’s objectives on a map are. For instance she might enter an area where there are no enemies, often prelude to a cut-scene, and suddenly Ayumi is in a pit of spikes for the next five minutes – is she suppose to avoid them, or should she be trying to escape? Exploring is nice, but having no clue what’s going on isn’t, and this is further compounded by the lack of the mini-map.

X-Blades isn’t going to set the world alight, there’s nothing particularly new or refreshing here, but then the game doesn’t really claim to be anything other than what it is. Ayumi’s is a dumbed down airhead heroine, in a title that’s simple and easy to play; it’s hack-and-slash all the way. From that view point, X-Blades wholly fulfils its raison d’etre.

Marty Greenwell

Marty has been gaming since the heady years of the ZX-81 and still owns most of the gaming systems purchased since those days, including the Atari 2600, ZX Spectrum, SNES, Jaguar, Dreamcast and GameCube. Being a collection junkie (or more accurately, hoarder), he buys more games than he can possibly play, far too many of which are still sealed in their packaging. Marty favours RPGs and Driving games when it comes to genres, and is possibly a little bit too addicted to Disgaea. When not gaming he’s out frightening OAPs on his motorcycle, clad in black leather.

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