Approaching a new beat ‘em up name for the first time can be a tricky affair, with no familiar character to go for at the character select screen, your first impressions of the game are severely at risk. Do you pick the huge mass of muscle, the one with a sword, the one made up of a Studio Ghibli oil slick nightmare or simply the one with the biggest boobs?
Choose carefully my friends because you won’t pick up a brawler this year with such a diverse set of fighters. There might only be twelve to choose from, but any similarities are minor. There aren’t any Ken, Ryu and Akuma-style remixes of characters here. Pick the wrong one and you might get a rough start. However, things start to look up once you find a character that suits your own individual style.
Using the X button works as a type of combat modifier, but in a different way for everyone. For Litchi Faye Ling it means she’ll stick her staff in the ground and fight unarmed. Pressing X again will make the staff spin its way back to you wherever you are, usually catching your opponent round the face on route. For Noel Vermillion X acts as a combo starter for the other face buttons, making for some excellent fact paced moves with some powerful, short range firearms. An excellent character to start with.
Much has been made of BlazBlue as an immediately accessible game for newcomers to the genre. However, the extra difficulty of some characters goes totally against this. There are a few button-basher friendly ones here but not many. Some characters are hugely outbalanced too, with nippy characters generally battering the likes of the lumbering Tager. The game’s presentation outside of the retro-styled graphics is very hardcore too which can be quite off-putting. Rounds are called ‘Rebels’, characters are selected with a mouse-style cursor off a dial and the screen can become very cluttered with mystical dials and other such crap before fights.
Command lists are anti-newbs too as they list moves with buttons not corresponding with the PS3 pad, but rather the original arcade ones. Sure it’s not hard to remember which is which, but why do we have to do the extra work? I can almost hear someone hitting their screen with their Horai arcade stick in disagreement.
To give newbies a bit of an advantage though, the right stick can be casually flicked to activate all manner of special moves, even the Distortion (bad-ass combo) moves. That’s all very well, but if you’re planning on going online you’ll find this option is generally turned off.
Online Win Streak
Just before an online fights start, it looks like lag is affecting the characters as they stutter through their face-off animations, but it disappears as soon as the fight starts, making for some wonderfully smooth combat. Honestly, it looked like it never dropped a frame. You can select ranked matches from a lobby list or just ask to have one matched for you where it suitably matches two signals. A job well done.
Don’t be too put off by everyone’s high level rating as it doesn’t take much to climb. After getting battered in my first fight, I won the next three and climbed to level 12. Still, look out for players boasting a Level 98.
There are options to view other fights too, which is a feature that Super Street Fighter IV will be borrowing later this month.
Local two player matches work well too, especially between two new players, not because it’s newbie friendly, rather because it’s a new experience for them and nobody knows who to pick. If you turn off the right-stick activated specials you’ll get more spontaneous matches filled with sudden bursts of “how’d you do that!” as the screen erupts in blue fire for insane combos.
The old-school 2D graphics are nicely drawn with no rough edges or blocky sprites to be seen and the animation runs smoothly enough against the CG backgrounds. There’s nothing particularly amazing about it, as we’re still ga ga for SFIV’s sexiness. It look’s a hell of a lot better than last year’s King of Fighters XII though which seemingly started off as a project aiming for SFIV-style visuals before backing away in defeat, resulting in a blocky, sprite-bleeding mess.
Playing through the Arcade mode with a character will unlock their Astral Heat move as an even more devastating combo. Score Attack is like a survivor mode where you see how far you can go without losing a match. The Story mode is a bit of a let-down, filled with languid dialogue that takes up more time than the actual fighting. Occasionally there is a dialogue branch, which is where you’ll need to come back as you play through multiple times with each character to unlock the whole story. It wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t so blandly presented as a constant stream of familiar RPG-lite, motionless talking heads above text boxes.
- Each fighter is unique enough to make up for small roster
- Online and multiplayer matches are wonderfully smooth
- Highly polished 2D graphics
- Might take a while to find a character to your tastes
- Story mode is poor
- Not a huge range of moves available
The Short Version: As a new name in the brawler arena, BlazBlue has made a good start, especially with its online capabilities. Stick with it until you find a fighter that’s right for you and you should have fun. It will work best if you enjoy multiplayer though.