Blade Kitten Review
Developer: Krome Studios
Available on: Xbox LIVE Arcade, PlayStation Network and PC (XBLA Version reviewed)
Xbox LIVE Arcade and similar download platforms have been hailed as the future of gaming and of creative development. However, so many of the new and exciting titles released by this method take hark back to times gone by. For example, Trials HD (a wildly successful and fun game) is, at its heart, a 2D motorbike game. The excellent Plants Vs Zombies is really a spruced up castle defence title. And then we have games like Blade Kitten, which seem to take cues from side-scrolling action-platforming classics such as the Contra series. So, does looking backwards for inspiration produce forward-thinking gameplay or would the past be best left alone? Read on for the full review.
[singlepic id=244 w=320 h=240 float=left]STORY: The game is based on a series of comic books created by Krome Studios Creative Director, Steve Stamatiadis. These books, created in a Japanese Manga style, tell the story of intergalactic Bounty Hunter “Kit Ballard” (a “Felion”, cat-human hybrid), the titular Blade Kitten. With her unique hovering sword, Darque Blade, and her small alien pet “Skiffy”, the game puts gamers on the trail of small-time misfit “Terra-Li”, on the planet “Hollow Wish”. However, as the game progresses the player discovers a dark secret about the planet and its evil rulers. The game never really reaches great seriousness, as it has been split into two chapters – with the second expected later in the year.
You control Kit throughout the entire game, aided by sidekick Skiffy when the opportunity arises, such as squeezing through spaces too small for Kit to get through. There is quite a cast of interesting characters who pop up throughout the game In fact the characters and cinematics are definitely one of the main strong points about the title. Cutscenes are quite well-written and snappy, and there are some very likeable creatures introduced as you complete later levels.
GRAPHICS: The graphics are the other big thing the game has going for it. Drawn in a Japanese Anime style, featuring cell-shaded graphics, the models are very impressive and allow for a great range of expressive facial and bodily animations. Movements are fluid and dynamic, helpimg to further flesh out the individuals on-screen. This has obviously been based on the style of the source material and playing the game does almost seem like you are within a cartoon.
[singlepic id=240 w=320 h=240 float=right]Backgrounds and environments are implemented in a 2.5D fashion (in a similar way to XBLA title Shadow Complex), which does a good job of giving off the feel of depth and scale even though the game is only really set on one plane of movement. These too are intricate and detailed, and quite some time was obviously dedicated to making sure each level held its own distinct look. The settings the player finds themselves in vary quite greatly from stage to stage and the developers certainly weren’t afraid to use the entire colour palette. This is perhaps something more unusual for side-scrolling action games, as level design can traditionally be quite repetitive and unimaginative.
SOUND: Sound is a fairly mixed bag. Voices range from quite good (Kit has quite a pleasant voiceover) to pretty bad. The worst offender here being the voices for the average guards encountered throughout the game. They have two or three standard responses to all situations which are then replayed ad nauseam every time you might encounter them. Other characters such as rival bounty hunter “Justice Kreel” have average voices which seem to have been delivered with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. Music and sound effects are fairly standard for a title such as this, neither do they annoy or particularly stand-out. Although, considering some of the levels can be quite long compared to others, more variety in the music found in those levels would be appreciated.
GAMEPLAY: This is the games mains tumbling block and quite a serious one at that. The game isn’t all that fun. A huge issue is that the game employs floaty physics. Floaty physics have long been a bugbear of many gamers and is especially true of platformers. In a game where some sections require quite precise jumping, the fact that the character always takes two or three steps more than you would like after you release the directional buttons can make you want to tear your hair out. Any gamer who has had to replay sections of a platform game because they keep sliding off platforms will certainly agree on this point.
[singlepic id=242 w=320 h=240 float=left]Another issue is unresponsive controls. Sections that require you to jump from floating rock to floating rock, in order to reach secret areas can become horribly annoying. This is down to the fact that sometimes Kit can perform a swinging leap which projects her upwards (higher than a normal jump) and sometimes she can’t. There is no real method to this, it just seems to work sometimes and other times the game just won’t be having any of it.
This also applies to wall climbing sections. Due to her feline prowess, Kit can scale most walls and swing along from ceilings and ledges. The idea is that if you direct her into a climbable wall, she will stick to it and you will be able to climb up or down. This doesn’t always work as you would expect either. Sometimes, when falling from above, you can grab onto the wall to climb it. Others, you will just keep falling off that wall even though you are walking right into it several times. Bad controls are a pain, inconsistent controls are really irritating.
The final gameplay issue I really found was combat. Krome have created a simple, yet intuitive two button attack system. This is easy to pickup, yet contains a few different variations that can be pulled off, with a little skill. The problems are that firstly, you are likely to go through most of the game just spamming your primary attack button every time you find a bad guy – using the ranged attack simply for accessing panels and switches. Secondly, the unique “hovering” sword is completely unsatisfying. Want to get that feeling of slashing your enemy to pieces and smashing him to the ground? You won’t, because you don’t even hold the weapon. It floats around Kit at all times and attacks enemies remotely when you press the attack buttons. There is no tangible feeling to this and it ends up separating you from the experience in fights. It makes you feel a lot less involved in what is going on.
[singlepic id=246 w=320 h=240 float=right]LONGEVITY: The game is surprisingly big and consists of two main acts made up of nineteen levels in total, with one boss battle thrown in for good measure. As mentioned earlier, some of the levels seem to stretch out for quite a long time – especially if you choose to explore them and find all of the secret items dotted around each stage, rewarding you with some achievement points or trophies. These features plus the desire to earn as much money as possible so you can upgrade your health, stamina and blade in the shop or jut buy new cosplay-style outfits for your hero, add up to a respectable length of play time for a downloadable title and does justice to the price tag. After having played the criminally short Kane & Lynch 2 the day before, Blade Kitten seemed epic in this regard. There is no multiplayer to speak of though, so don’t expect to be going up against your friends in this title.
VERDICT: So, can classic gameplay models be successful in the market today? Games like Castle Crashers and Braid have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that simple ideas, given a new twist will work. The problem with Blade Kitten is that although the presentation and writing is nicely implemented, the basic gameplay is flawed. The game is still enjoyable, but can frustrate all too often. This keeps it from being an essential download and more of a fan service for people who know the character. You get a lot of game for your money with this title and it has creativity in spades, just don’t expect the action to match up to the promise.