Wulverblade Preview | The beat ’em up is back

Wulverblade remembers the good ol’ days of playing side-scrolling beat ’em ups with friends on consoles like the Sega Mega-Drive and wants to bring that feeling back to modern consoles. At the Play Blackpool retro gaming expo it’s finding a lot of new fans, as many attendees were brought up on the likes of Streets of Rage and Double Dragon, so have no problem diving straight into Wulverblade.

Unlike many modern titles leaning on the nostalgic angle, you won’t see Wulverblade sporting a pixel art style or looking like it could have run on a console twenty years ago. Instead the art direction shows a stunning cel-shaded style more akin to Castle Crashers. But with additional limb-lopping.

Wulverblade is immediately accessible for retro fans and newbies alike as shown throughout the day by the grinning gamers settled into their seats in front of the Fully Illustrated stand. The game is set in Britannia in 120AD and sees you playing as members of a northern tribe repelling the 5000 strong 9th Legion and odd rival clan too.

The final game will feature a proper side-scrolling campaign mode, but today is all about showing off the core combat, so we’re thrust into the game’s wave-based survival mode. Multiple characters were available to select, so we went for a pairing of Guinevere who made up for her lack of power with whipish speed, and Brennus, a skin-headed hulking mass of anger who favoured an sword/knife combo over freeing a hand up for a shield. Combat is simple to pick up one main attack button dishing out melee combos with your sword, one-handed axe or knife attacks. There are a few extra variations too, such as the dashing knock-back attack via a double press and hold on the d-pad to sprint and then barging in with a blow to stagger your enemy. The uppercut move features similar controls, but is somewhat trickier to pull off. When you do, it leaves enemies open up to a bit of juggling.

Any Roman soldiers that fall to the ground can be leapt upon with a vicious finishing move. Grapple attacks see you pull an enemy close for a personal perforating or face pummelling. You can opt to throw them across the battlefield too, or better yet, straight into the nearest campfire.

Extra weapons are hidden in breakable crates along with whole turkeys to top up your health. Everything from knives, giant two-handed axes, or rocks are available to stab, swing and hurl to your heart’s content. Expect a relatively high age rating for this one, as despite the cartoony visuals, limbs can be hacked off and even thrown at your enemies. Nobody likes a face full of the wet end.

Defensive options include an ability to block most attacks and summon wolves. That’s right, the Y button calls in a pack of wolves to tear through your enemies in one of the coolest rechargeable abilities we’ve seen in a game for ages.

Most enemies encountered during our playthrough were pretty easy to slice up, but there were a couple of tougher foes in later waves, the larger shielded Centurions either had to be barged into to stagger them, or attacked from behind. A bit of teamwork certainly helped here, I’m not looking forward to taking them on solo though!

Fingers crossed there are some extra moves, abilities or combos to unlock in the final game, as it would be a shame if the combat was to get stale. Although, considering my girlfriend and I have sank nearly 100 hours into Dragon’s Crown, it might not be that much of an issue as playing scrolling beat ’em ups always works better in co-op. The less taxing they are, the better they are for chilling out and playing with pals during a catch-up visit. Well, chilling out with an aggressive undertone of trying to outscore each other at least. Just like Street of Rage, friendly fire is a thing so be careful not to ‘accidentally’ sweep them up in one of your frenzied combos.

Wulverblade is set for release later this year on PC and Xbox One and should be on your radars, especially if you enjoyed retro beat em’ ups in your formative gaming years. Never played any? This is looking like a great place to see why it’s one of the best multiplayer genres around.

Developers: Fully Illustrated | Darkwind Media
Platforms: Xbox One (tested) | PC

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